Davidson’s Religious Heritage – Frequently Asked Questions

Davidson’s Religious Heritage – Frequently Asked Questions

What was decided about the Presidential Bylaw?

At the April 16 meeting, 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).

What is the Presidential Qualification Bylaw?

The Bylaws of the Trustees of Davidson College state, “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.”

How long has this trustee bylaw been in place?

Since the college’s founding in 1837, there has been an expectation and belief that the college could best fulfill its Statement of Purpose under the leadership of a president who was able to affiliate with the Presbyterian Church. This expectation was first put into the college constitution in 1839 and later moved to the trustee bylaws. The bylaw has been modified many times over the years. The current version of the bylaw was adopted by the board in 1996, and modified slightly, to be gender-neutral, six years later.

Who led the discussion?

In January 2012, the Board appointed a Committee on Church-Relatedness to lead the bylaw discussion. The committee’s broad charge was to review the history of the college’s relationship with the Presbyterian Church and the Reformed Tradition, and establish a foundation from which the board can discuss the meaning and significance of the college’s church-relatedness with the extended college community. If appropriate, the committee could make recommendations to the Board of Trustees. The committee also was authorized to appoint an advisory committee of faculty, students, alumni, clergy, and other groups to assist it in its work. The following trustees served on the committee:

Richard Boyce
Ed Kizer
Elizabeth Brooks Mailander
Mackey McDonald (Ex Officio)
Sara Tatum Pottenger
Ernie Reigel
William Rikard, Chair
Carole Weinstein
Ben Williams
Janet Wilson

What process did the TCCR follow?

The committee dedicated itself to a reasoned, thoughtful and open discussion, one that reflects Davidson’s commitment to the highest standards of inquiry and discourse. To that end, 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 about the Reformed Tradition.
  • Reviewing legal and historical materials related to the trustee bylaws and the Reformed Tradition.
  • Better understanding the role of faith in the “Davidson Experience.”
  • Identifying other colleges and universities that have contemplated a change in institutional bylaws and obtained information about them.
  • 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 in-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.
  • Over the course of its work, the committee reviewed more than 1,100 responses from members of the Davidson College community.

Is this bylaw legal?


Are there requirements about religious affiliation for Davidson faculty and staff?
No. Davidson welcomes faculty and staff from all faith traditions, as well as those who have no faith tradition. We do not discriminate on the basis of race, color, gender, national origin, religion, age, sexual orientation or disability. Faculty and staff are dedicated to living in harmony with the purpose of the college as set forth in the college constitution.

Are there requirements for religious affiliation of students?
No. Davidson seeks to enroll the most talented students from all backgrounds.

Are there requirements about religious affiliation for members of the Board of Trustees?
Yes, and they were most recently modified in 2005. Historically, only active members of a Christian church could serve on Davidson’s board. In openness to what we can learn from other traditions and out of respect for the variety of religious affiliations among the Davidson community, the board now nominates and elects trustees who are not active members of a Christian church. As part of Davidson’s historic commitment to the Reformed Tradition the Board ensures that at least 80 percent of all elected trustees are active members of a Christian church. In addition, Davidson’s trustee bylaws require that 24 of Davidson’s 44 voting trustees be Presbyterians.

Currently, are any members of the board non-active Christians or non-Christians?


Is Davidson College President Carol Quillen Presbyterian?


How does the bylaw mesh with Davidson’s commitment to diversity?

Davidson is strongly committed to diversity and inclusiveness. This commitment is driven in no small part by our grounding in the Reformed Tradition, which upholds the dignity and worth of every person and therefore welcomes, values, and learns with and from members of the community who come from a different or no religious tradition. We enroll, admit, and employ the most talented students, faculty and staff from all backgrounds. This commitment is central to who we are.

The Board has appointed a committee that is leading us through the normal Davidson process for open and respectful dialogue in reviewing the bylaws. There are strong opinions on both sides of this issue, and the Board is committed to undertaking a thorough, thoughtful discussion that allows all members of the community to participate.

About the Author

Doug MinorDoug Minor is director of digital communications at Davidson College.View all posts by Doug Minor →

  1. Richard Stockton
    Richard Stockton02-01-2013

    Strongly support keeping bylaws as they are.

  2. Deborah J. MacKelcan
    Deborah J. MacKelcan03-20-2013

    After having read the frquently asked questions and additional material presented, I returned to the question of what underlying feature distinguishes Davidson from other institutions of higher learning of similar size, academic reputation, and so forth. Undoubtedly, the strong foundation of a community of scholars and friends and those who came before who shared and still chose to be in environment where the respect for one an other, the institution, the emphasis on integrity, developing a sense of purpose both personally and a greater understanding of the world, diverse populations, need for seeing beyond the task today, being willing to help others with the opportunity for community service and so forth. Davison has sought to develop not only an awareness of the tenets stated in your summaries of the history of Davidson and the foundation upon which the colllege continues to uphold. As a former Davidson parent and member of the Parents Committee, I am grateful for the total experience that Davidson provided for our son and in turn, our family. I suppport the retaining the bylaws as written. Too many schools seem to be dominated by slick marketing, statistics in U.S. News and World Reports, achieving higher recognition for athletic tv time, etc. Davidson has been able to balance all aspect of the student experience affording the students a wonderful atmosphere that is truly special. Alums, parents students, and friends seem to find that Davidson is a very special place, that essence that is Davidson is why people choose to attend the college and will continue to do so.

  3. Robert H. Johnson '52
    Robert H. Johnson '5205-01-2013

    To Mr. Mackey McDonald: To get 100% unanimity on any issue, particularly with regard to the Presidential Bylaw currently getting attention, is highly unlikely. Though I am pleased that you were able to guide the Board to maintain the existing Bylaw status I have concerns that are more fundamental to Davidson’s continuing to present itself as a Christian institution.

    In order to present my case I need to review some history going back to the first Statement of Purpose. That document was created by President D.Grier Martin, ’32. That SOP had in it’s second paragraph, the idea that Davidson comes from a tradition that believes God is the source of all truth and that Jesus Christ is the revelation of that truth and the central fact of history. That SOP was adopted as I recall in 1964, twelve years after I graduated.

    Thirty years later during President John G. Kuykendall’s tenure he initiated some changes to the SOP that eliminated the idea of Jesus being the central fact of history. If Jesus is NOT the central fact of history who is? I believe that change to the SOP began a spiritual downhill slide from which I pray Davidson will, by God’s Grace, someday recover. Blessings as you guide Davidson in that direction. I have more to share but I am running out of space.

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