A Matter of Consequence

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columnThoughtful, civil discussion about a long-standing bylaw

by Lisa A. Patterson

The Davidson community continues to grapple with a recent decision that has broad implications for the governance and perception of the college—to uphold a longstanding bylaw that places religious restrictions on who can be the college’s president.

The bylaw requires Davidson’s president to be a loyal and active Christian who affiliates with the Presbyterian Church (USA) and participates in the life of the Davidson College Presbyterian Church.

The specially appointed Trustee Committee on Church Relatedness was charged with reviewing the school’s history, relationship with the Presbyterian Church and the Reformed Tradition after questions about the bylaw were raised during the 2010-2011 presidential search.

At that time, Board Chair Mackey McDonald ’68, said, “The presidential requirement has been in place in some form since the college’s first constitution was adopted in 1839. The Board—and the broader Davidson community—will take the time warranted to examine the bylaw and assess its meaning in the light of who we are today.

After studying the issue for approximately a year, the committee announced its findings at an April meeting of the Board of Trustees.

Based on the committee’s report, the Board came to the following conclusions:

  • The Board reaffirmed the Statement of Purpose and the continued voluntary relationship between the Presbyterian Church (USA) and Davidson College.
  • The Board acknowledged that there are differing views among the Trustees with regard to the Presidential Bylaw and recognized that there does not exist sufficient support for any particular change to it.
  • The executive committee of the Board will evaluate appropriate methods for engaging the Board and the college community on an ongoing basis about the college’s faith heritage and relationship with the Presbyterian Church (USA).

Responses from college constituents have reflected Davidson’s diversity, from enthusiastic support of the decision to an online student petition asking that trustees reconsider, and resolutions passed by faculty and alumni boards.

In a letter to the college community, McDonald said:

“As always, Davidson remains strongly and passionately committed to its values of free inquiry, service and leadership, honor and integrity, humility, and diversity. The commitment to these values is driven in no small part by the Reformed Tradition, which upholds the dignity and worth of every person and therefore values members of the community who come from a different, or no, religious tradition. We admit, enroll, and employ the most talented students, faculty, and staff from all backgrounds with the belief that they all contribute to a community where faith and reason work together to foster growth in learning, understanding, and wisdom.”

The discussion remains thoughtful, civil and ongoing, as students, faculty, staff, alumni and college leadership debate what it means to be an inclusive institution with a religious heritage that has shaped the college’s distinct culture, from the Honor Code to Davidson’s emphasis on developing humane instincts and disciplined and creative minds for lives of leadership and service.

For updates, frequently asked questions, or to share your opinion, please visit talk.davidson.edu.

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