This is an ugly episode of political thuggery. It all started a while back, when recently installed President Gene Nichol at the College of William and Mary got a group of alumni and parents extremely upset by taking the step of removing the Wren Cross from the Wren Chapel. Yes, William and Mary (which is America's second oldest college and still one of the best) has a chapel, though it is technically a public college. Nichol thought that he might be able to make the chapel, which is a non-denominational building used for meetings as well as religious events by various groups, more welcoming to non-Christians. Problem is, the Christians did not like that idea. The cross is back, and Nichol took some political damage, though the majority of students still respect him and want him as President.
Fast forward to February 2008. More trouble at the college. Several student groups got together to request that the college host the Sex Workers' Art Show. Nichol really did not want any more trouble, and thought the Show to be an example of poor taste. But he thought it over long and carefully and said if you want it, okay you can schedule it. After all, there is nothing illegal in it and we are supposed to be letting you prepare for adulthood, not treat you like the children you used to be.
The Virginia House of Delegates was apparently contacted by some unhappy alums. They were all too willing to get involved in the culture wars by scheduling a public grilling of four members of the W&M board of visitors and governors. The grilling took place yesterday, and the board members kept their cool pretty well.
But this is unacceptable to me. I have studied the mcCarthy hearings of the 1950s, in which the U.S. Senate was perverted into a tool of the culture wars. Many creative people within the film industry were blacklisted and never worked again as a result of mcCarthy's efforts. - There were communist agents here in the 1950s, absolutely, but mcCarthy never caught any. His efforts were aimed primarily at improving the powers of the Republican Party by tarring liberals ("fellow travelers" or "pinkos") with the same brush applied to communists.
In 2008, we need to understand that the politicization of public colleges is not okay. Political polarization of non-political civil institutions seems destined to complete the process of dividing our nation into warring camps. Is this what we crave? Oh sure, the Republican delegates will claim that they are not trying to get Gene Nichol dismissed by his Board. Or they will say that would be fine if it happens, because he started the culture war, we are just setting things right.
But I think I know better. It would be better to choose long term values over short term political gain. We drink from this well. The bathroom is down the hall!