Jon Sanders

And there he ducks behind the enthymeme. He never explains how he derives his conclusion that Wren Chapel isn't open to students and staff of all beliefs when the cross is on the altar. And he doesn't have to, not in American academe. One-legged syllogisms that reach leftist conclusions are all the rage: A higher minimum wage will solve poverty. Basing admissions on skin color will end racism. Restrictive speech codes will make people nicer. Supplanting Shakespeare with Toni Morrison will inspire more black students to write. The sight of a 200-pound stripper in pasties and a G-string will help people take sex workers seriously and thereby "empower" them (no kidding, those were justifications for the event).

Unfortunately for William and Mary, its students and alumni, the college is headed by a man who believes some of its students and faculty – who surely cannot be unaware of the college's religious roots nor of what a chapel and an altar are – cannot handle the sight of a cross on that altar, in that chapel, on that centuries-old institution originally founded to teach Christian theology and train missionaries. That belief must surely be more insulting to them than a glimpse of an old, rugged cross.

What a pity it is that Nichol didn't first declare it against "the practice and province of universities" to remove religious displays just because they are conceivably controversial. He would have protected a vital part of the college's history while reinforcing the importance of freedom on campus – and the corresponding need for intellectual stamina to withstand offensive speech and ideas. Had he done so then, his later defense of the sex workers show would have rung true.

Nichol could have defended both the cross and the show and made an important contribution to the withered climate of debate in American higher education. Doing so would have lodged a significant challenge to the prevailing notion that, of all people, young adults in college need a big Mother Hen to protect them even from feeling "uncomfortable" by challenging or offensive ideas, images, and speech. It's no wonder so many bright, young intellectuals drop like Tennessee Fainting Goats at their first encounter with a racial slur. Years of mollycoddling have taught them it's something they simply can't endure.

Instead, Nichol's inconsistent approach to defending controversial ideas on campus prompts a search for a consistency elsewhere. It's not hard to find. He removed a Christian cross from public view, yet he defended a show that offended, among others, Christian mores. The search reveals, alas, just another illiberal wolf in free-speech's clothing.


Jon Sanders

Jon Sanders is associate director of research at the John Locke Foundation in Raleigh, N.C.