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Davidson College bylaw on religion faces scrutiny

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  • Learn more:

    To learn about the religious requirement of Davidson College’s presidential bylaw: bit.ly/104PU1W.

    To view the student-started petition site “Sufficient Support”: www.sufficientsupport.com.



Some Davidson College students and faculty are pushing the school to drop a bylaw that requires the school’s president to be a Presbyterian.

Since it was founded in 1837, the small liberal arts college in Davidson has been affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Some form of the religious requirement bylaw has existed, with modifications, for more than 100 years.

But as of the 2012-2013 school year, of the roughly 2,000 students who attend Davidson, only one in 10 is identified as Presbyterian.

After considering the findings of the specially formed trustee committee that studied the issue for nearly nine months, the board announced at its April 16 meeting that it would not change the requirement. It cited lack of “sufficient support for any particular change to it.”

The trustee committee was broadly charged in January 2012 with reviewing the school’s history, relationship with the Presbyterian Church and the Reformed tradition, among other things, after concerns were raised during the 2010-2011 presidential search.

The trustees’ announcement in April sparked growing opposition from students and faculty.

Since then, nearly 650 members of the college community signed a student petition online called “Sufficient Support,” asking school trustees to amend the religious requirement.

Davidson’s faculty and alumni boards also each passed resolutions this month expressing disappointment the trustees hadn’t acted.

On May 13, a Student Government Association Elections Council referendum found that 83 percent of the student body doesn’t believe the bylaw accurately reflects the school’s values. Thirty-three percent of students voted.

Graduating senior JD Merrill and junior Nick McGuire co-founded “Sufficient Support” and within two days of the trustees’ April meeting, the site was averaging 1,000 views per day, McGuire said.

Merrill emphasized that updating the bylaw isn’t about changing Davidson, but affirming the values the school already holds.

“The Davidson we know is all about inclusivity and integrity and honor and community. And the bylaw is the antithesis of that,” Merrill said.

Doug Ottati, a professor of reformed theology and justice, who presented the faculty resolution, called the bylaw “a misunderstanding of the religious heritage.”

“To adequately represent the religious tradition of the school, that bylaw ought to be changed,” he said.

Board of Trustees Chairman Mackey McDonald said inclusivity and nondiscrimination is just as important to trustees.

“Whenever you make changes like that, you don’t do it quickly, but after careful study, which is what we’re doing with this particular situation,” McDonald said.

“We are an inclusive family and open to members of the family that come from all races, beliefs, faiths. …

“We are open to getting input from all members of the Davidson family.”

Concerns about the bylaw were expressed to trustees during the 2010-11 presidential search in which Carol Quillen, the school’s first female president, was selected.

McDonald did not say when the trustees would next consider changing the bylaw.

The executive committee meets June 6 and the next full board of trustees meeting is Oct. 10-11.

Trenda: 704-358-5089; Twitter: @htrenda
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