Updated Friday, 6:15am
By LINCOLN DAVIDSON
Davidson College faculty on Thursday expressed disappointment over the Board of Trustees’ recent decision to reaffirm a requirement that the college’s president be affiliated with the Presbyterian Church USA. In a resolution adopted overwhelmingly at a faculty meeting, professors also said they oppose a college requirement that 80 percent of board members be “active Christians.”
Meanwhile, faculty were told before Thursday’s vote that the college’s Alumni Board also had issued a statement of disappointment with the trustees’ April 17 announcement. Professor Scott Tonidandel, the Alumni Board’s Faculty Representative, read a statement that was posted later on a college web page:
The Board of the Alumni Association believes that every alumnus/a of Davidson College and every other candidate should be eligible to be considered for the position of president of the college without regard to religious affiliation. Further, the Board believes that at those moments in time when future Davidson presidents are chosen, the best person to lead the institution may not always be found within a single religious denomination or affiliation. To the extent the governing documents of Davidson College are inconsistent with these beliefs, they should be modified.
After Tonidandel spoke, religion professor Douglas Ottati, a prominent theologian and the college’s Craig Family Distinguished Professor of Reformed Theology and Justice, made a motion to have the faculty adopt a resolution supporting a change to the Presidential Bylaw. Ottati’s role was significant: In addition to being a leading reform theologian, he is an elder in the Presbyterian Church USA.
The text of the resolution, obtained from multiple sources and later posted on the college website, reads :
“The faculty of Davidson College expresses its disappointment with the Board of Trustees’ decision to continue to exclude people from full participation in the life of the college because of religious affiliation. The faculty of Davidson College would like to express its solidarity with members of the board who continue to support equality.”
Faculty approved the resolution 87 to 10, with three abstaining.
Ottati said while other faculty members had drafted the resolution, he chose to make the motion because he is a Presbyterian theologian and he believes the board’s decision does not reflect the Reformed tradition.
The alumni and faculty statements joined the voices of many in the Davidson College community, both on and off campus, in expressing disappointment over the trustees’ April decision to leave the college police unchanged.
Critics of the college’s policy have been pushing for change. As the college admits more non-Presbyterians and non-Christians, non-Christian alumni have complained that they’re allowed to attend Davidson, graduate and even donate to the college. But they’re barred from helping to lead it.
The issue was raised during the search that resulted in the appointment of current Davidson president Carol Quillen, who is a Presbyterian. In a December 2010 statement, Board of Trustees chair Mackey McDonald acknowledged concerns about the policy, saying the issue had come up “in almost every meeting” with faculty, alumni, parents, and other constituents in the previous few months.
In early 2012, the trustees appointed a Committee on Church-Relatedness to study the issues. After a year, McDonald announced in April that the board had decided to reaffirm the school’s relationship with the Presbyterian Church (USA). McDonald hinted the board was not unanimous, saying that sufficient support for any particular change to the Presidential Bylaw did not exist among trustees.
At a meeting with students Wednesday night, McDonald said, “Members of the Presbyterian church endorse the Reformed tradition, which is really focused on making sure we have an inclusive, diverse student body on campus. That’s one of the ways we ensure we have that diversity, by appointing people out of that tradition. I think it has been a good way, I think it has worked, I think we have had a very inclusive, diverse community because of that.”
It’s not just a matter of changing the bylaws, McDonald added, but what changes are made in the bylaws. “We’ve got to be sure we don’t make a change that’s in the wrong direction,” he said.
Since the board’s decision was announced, a student movement known as Sufficient Support – after the trustees’ statement – has been mounting a campaign to demonstrate support for a change to the bylaws. An online petition started by the movement has collected 617 signatures of people who say a bylaws change is needed for the college to reaffirm its commitment to diversity and inclusivity.
The Sufficient Support petition is now being submitted to the Student Government Association, which is considering calling a student referendum on the issue. SGA bylaws say a petition that garners the support of 10 percent of the student body is grounds for a referendum.
According a posting Thursday on the Sufficient Support website, only 10 of the 100 faculty present at the meeting voted against the resolution, while 87 supported the resolution and three abstained.
Scott Denham, the college’s Charles A. Dana Professor of German Studies, said Thursday night, “The trustee decision does not represent faculty sentiment, and at the faculty meeting today we demonstrated that we are not in agreement with it. It does not represent what the faculty feels now, nor, according to the Sufficient Support petition, does it represent the feelings of the alumni or student body.”
In a statement following the faculty meeting, Davidson students and Sufficient Support organizers JD Merrill ’13 and Nick McGuire ’14 said:
“We are thrilled that both the faculty and the alumni board decided to formally express their disappointment with the Board of Trustees’ decision to continue the religious requirement of the presidential bylaw. This move affirms that the Davidson community is in alignment on this issue and that students, faculty, and alumni share the belief that the bylaw in its current state neither reflects the values of our school nor the values of the Presbyterian Church (USA). We are optimistic that sustained pressure from students, faculty, and alumni will cause the Board to rethink their stance on the bylaw.”
Apr. 23, 2013, Petition leaders say trustees ignore student wishes on bylaw
Apr. 19, 2013, Petition protests trustee decision on bylaws
Student petition as SufficientSupport.com
Talk.Davidson.edu, the college’s internal discussion site on the church affiliation issue, with the text of statements read at Thursday’s faculty meeting.
DAVIDSON’S PRESIDENTIAL QUALIFICATION BYLAW
“The trustees shall elect a President of the College who shall serve as the chief executive officer of the college. They shall elect only a person who is a loyal and active church member, whose life provides evidence of strong Christian faith and commitment. Such faith and commitment will be appropriately expressed by affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA) and active participation in the life of Davidson College Presbyterian Church.”