Trustee Committee on Church-Relatedness – Summary of Committee Work

Trustee Committee on Church-Relatedness – Summary of Committee Work

During Davidson’s recent presidential search in 2010-11, the Presidential Search Committee met with groups of faculty, alumni, parents and others to solicit ideas and suggestions about who could best lead Davidson. At several meetings, constituents asked questions about the Presidential Bylaw, the constitutional bylaw that establishes the qualifications for service as the President of Davidson College.

The bylaw states, “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.”

The board agreed that it was appropriate to undertake a review of the Presidential Bylaw, but not in the midst of a presidential search. In December 2010, the board announced that the discussion would begin within a year after the new president took office. Carol Quillen began as president of Davidson College on August 1, 2011.

The Trustee Committee on Church-Relatedness was created in January 2012. The Board of Trustees appointed the following trustees as members of the TCCR: Richard Boyce ’77; Ed Kizer ’61; Elizabeth Brooks Mailander ’85; Mackey McDonald ’68 (Ex Officio); Sara Tatum Pottenger  ’79; Ernie Reigel ’80; William Rikard ’67, Chair; Carole Weinstein; Ben Williams ’84; and Janet Wilson.

The Committee’s Work
In April 2012, the Committee on Church-Relatedness began its work. The committee was charged with examining the Presidential Bylaw in the context of the college’s relationship to the Presbyterian Church and the meaning that the college draws from that relationship. Specifically, the committee’s responsibilities were:

  • To review the history of the College’s relationship with the Presbyterian Church and the Reformed Tradition.
  • To engage and educate the Board in a fuller understanding of the College’s religious heritage, relationship with the Presbyterian Church, and reliance on the Reformed Tradition for guiding principles and institutional practices.
  • To establish a foundation from which the Board of Trustees can have an ongoing discussion about the meaning and significance of the College’s church-relatedness.
  • To make such recommendations, if any, to the Board of Trustees as it determines appropriate.

The committee’s process included:

  • Educating themselves about Davidson’s heritage with the Presbyterian Church and the college’s grounding in the Reformed Tradition. This step included presentations by College Chaplain Rob Spach ’84 and Doug Ottati, the Craig Family Distinguished Professor of Reformed Theology and Justice; and reading books and articles about the Reformed Tradition.
  • Reviewing legal and historical materials related to the trustee bylaws and the Reformed Tradition.
  • Understanding more fully the role of faith in the “Davidson Experience.”\
  • Identifying and studying more than 20 church-affiliated colleges and universities to understand each school’s historical church relatedness and how it had evolved over the years.
  • Designing a community conversation that is respectful and candid, and that allows for every constituent to participate and hear others’ thoughts. This community conversation included on-campus meetings with various constituent groups, including students, faculty, staff as well as members of the Board of Visitors, Alumni Association Board and the Davidson Athletic Foundation. In addition, a questionnaire was sent by US Mail and email to alumni, parents and friends, and the Davidsonian conducted a survey of current students.
  • Soliciting feedback from the Davidson family. Over the course of its work, the committee reviewed more than 1,100 responses from members of the Davidson College community.

In its engagement with the Davidson community, the committee has worked hard to understand the college’s faith tradition and relationship with the Presbyterian Church from all perspectives. The committee discussed at length the Reformed Tradition values considered to have shaped the college’s principles and practices, and that most contribute to its distinctiveness. These values include free inquiry, service and justice, inclusiveness, honor and integrity, and humility. The committee concluded that that Davidson’s distinctiveness is real and genuine, and Davidson’s church-relatedness has been a significant contributing factor to that distinctiveness. 

The Board’s Actions
On January 31, the Trustee Committee on Church-Relatedness presented its findings to the full Board. Guided by the extensive work of the committee, the Board discussed the religious requirement of the Presidential Bylaw. Given the wide range of views expressed on the topic, the Board elected to further discuss the issue at its April meeting, allowing time for further conversation and examination.

On April 16, the Board of Trustees 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 Board will ensure that appropriate methods are in place to engage with the college community on an ongoing basis about the college’s faith heritage and relationship with the Presbyterian Church (USA).

In Closing
The Board thanks the Trustee Committee on Church-Relatedness for its conscientious work and study on this issue. These issues are complicated, and our discussion takes place in a broadly diverse community—one made up of students, faculty, alumni, parents, staff and friends who come to Davidson from around the world, representing a range of generations, backgrounds, opinions and experiences.

One of the things we value most about this remarkable community is its ability to discuss difficult issues while respecting those with whom we don’t agree.

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.


About the Author

Cat Niekro

Cat Niekro is associate vice president for communications, technology, and operations at Davidson College.

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  1. Steve Watkins
    Steve Watkins04-17-2013

    Does this mean that President Quillen must be an active member of the Presbyterian Church and active in the church on campus or she can no longer serve as President of the college? Or does it really mean she is out? The purpose of religion is to impriove humanity, not desroy it through dogmatic, archaic rules. Tell us what these findings mean for the President.

    • Jim Martin '57
      Jim Martin '5704-17-2013

      Interesting question, Steve: We may assume there is no problem as President Quillen was inaugurated under the existing rule, which has not changed. Religion has not destroyed humanity in this instance, but has served it once again.

      This reaffirmation of Davidson College followed open opportunity for proposals and discussion. The Board again deserves our support and thanks.

    • Dean Forburger
      Dean Forburger04-30-2013

      From the little I know of Jesus, he was crucified for preaching against dogmatically following the rules of Judaism. Instead, he advocated love, even when it violated the rules of their religion, for love thy neighbor and thy God are paramount. The parables of the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan and the short Book of Galatians in the New Testament are 3 concise sources to easily, quickly, explicitly discover and verify this point. This is extremely important. Jesus was not a straw man, and the Trustees have done well to appreciate that.

  2. Jim Owens
    Jim Owens04-18-2013

    Note that the Presbyterian Congregation on Campus is not THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, but one local congregation of that Church. It is entirely possible that the President of the College could be an active mamber of some other Presbyterian congregation than the one on the College campus!

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