DAVIDSON – After the Davidson College Board of Trustees Chairman Mackey MacDonald released a statement April 17 that the board’s Committee on Church-Relatedness decided there wasn’t “sufficient support” to make any revision to the college’s presidential bylaw, a petition sprang up online to protest the decision.
The bylaw requires that every college president be affiliated with the Presbyterian Church USA, telling the trustees 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 and active participation in the life of the Davidson College Presbyterian Church.”
The bylaw first came under review in 2010 during the search for now-President Carol Quillen, who took office in fall 2012. In the last year, the board formed a special committee of 10 members, including McDonald ’68 and Chairman William Rikard ’67, to explore the Presbyterian question.
The committee recently decided there wasn’t enough consensus on how to change the bylaw to bring it up for a vote.
"I find it troubling that Davidson preaches equality and openness, but does not practice it," Professor Scott Denham said.
He points to the fact that 22 of the college's 44 board of trustee members must be Presbyterian, with non-Christian members capped at 20 percent.
"Board membership is radically restricted in such a way that few alumni can ever be a part of Davidson's governance, since only about one in 10 current Davidson students identify as Presbyterian," he said.
The Davidsonian reported last week that the board considered student opinions on the presidential bylaw by reviewing a survey on the topic issued by the campus newspaper last November. Results showed that only 7.7 percent of the 494 students who responded agreed with the current bylaw.
Senior J.D. Merrill and Junior Nick McGuire created www.sufficientsupport.com, the online petition’s website, to make sure the board recognizes how many members of the campus community disagree with the bylaw as it now stands. They hope to provide the impetus needed for the board to directly vote on the issue.
The petition states, “We believe that a change in the bylaw is consistent with the values of our community, values which we recognize have been deeply shaped by our Presbyterian tradition, but that are by no means exclusive to it as made evident by the diverse members of the college community.”
As of April 30, the petition had 576 signatures, including current students, alumni and faculty members.
“As we continue to strive to be an inclusive community, we need to align our bylaws to reflect the worth, potential and capacity for outstanding leadership in all members of our community,” Merrill said.
He added that the petition demonstrates this issue is “not about the beliefs or ideas of a few individuals, but rather that it is a reflection of the collective wishes of our community to celebrate that which unites us – our commitment to developing humane instincts and disciplined and creative minds for lives of leadership and service.”
Mackey has publicly stated that the religious requirement clause of the presidential bylaw is “complex” and that there are “a wide range of opinions on it.”
“We welcome students and all members of the Davidson family to share their opinions in a respectful way, either at the student-led Sufficient Support website or at talk.davidson.edu,” he said.