Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Davidson College: Our President Will be a Presbyterian

Davidson College is one of the best liberal arts colleges in the country. But unlike other liberal arts colleges with Christian roots that have long-separated from their founding religious traditions, Davidson has decided to hold on to some of its Christian identity.

Davidson, of course, is nothing like the schools in the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities--schools that identify themselves as "Christian colleges" and require all faculty to profess, in one form or another, the Christian faith. But the fact that Davidson will continue to require its president to be a Presbyterian is a clear sign that the Board of Trustees is not yet ready to completely abandon its religious founding as if it were some kind of relic from the past that needs to be discarded in the name of progress.

I have mixed feelings about this news.  On the one hand, it is admirable that Davidson wants to preserve some of its historic religious identity.  On the other hand, unless Davidson decides that its Presbyterian identity will somehow influence college life in a meaningful way, it does make sense to continue with a tradition (a Presbyterian president) that does not reflect campus culture (which seems to be basically secular).

Here is a taste of Scott Jaschik's coverage of the whole controversy at Inside Higher Ed:

Some religious colleges continue to educate only those of a single faith. But Davidson, like many colleges with religious roots, is now a place where most students and faculty members are not Presbyterian, where students aren’t required to study religion and where diversity and inclusion are values that are discussed more than faith. 

So when the college’s board announced recently that it had finished a review of the issue, many on the campus were hopeful for a change. But the news was that the board was sticking with the requirement. And that has angered many on the campus. 

The faculty voted on Thursday to oppose the decision. Students have organized a protest movement that is gathering petitions. And critics of the board say that it has shown a disregard for those who are at the college today and also for the values that attracted many to the campus.