Trustee Update on the Presidential Election Bylaw – April 10, 2012

Trustee Update on the Presidential Election Bylaw – April 10, 2012

In December 2010 I informed the Davidson community that the Trustee Executive Committee had voted to examine the bylaw which establishes the qualifications to serve as President of Davidson College:

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.

I write now with an update on that ongoing work.

First, some background. Davidson’s church affiliation is part of our heritage.  Davidson College was founded by Presbyterians, and to this day we maintain a formal voluntary affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).  However, defining what that means is more complicated than it sounds.

Our religious heritage is not just part of our history. Much of what we cherish about Davidson today—our strong sense of honor and integrity, our extraordinary dedication to leadership and service, and our fundamental commitment to academic inquiry and openness—is, for many, shaped  by our close and strong ties to the Reformed Tradition, and specifically to our Presbyterian heritage.

Similarly, Davidson is strongly and passionately committed to inclusivity.  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 values 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.

During the recent presidential search, some members of the Davidson family pointed out an apparent tension between our commitment to inclusivity, which draws strength from our Presbyterian affiliation, and the presidential bylaw, which restricts by religious affiliation eligibility to the office of the President.

At that time, the Trustees made a commitment to undertaking a thorough and thoughtful discussion of this important question as part of their periodic review of the college bylaws.   That process began in January 2012. More information can be found below. It seemed ill-advised and impractical to undertake this examination during a presidential search, and the Board therefore announced in December 2010 that we would begin this process within one year of the new President taking office.  In January 2012, five months after President Carol Quillen took office, the Board formed a Trustee committee dedicated to examining the bylaw in the context of the college’s relationship to the Presbyterian Church, and the meaning that the college draws from that relationship.  The committee met for the first time in March and will meet again on April 16, 2012.

The Board recognizes that there are strong and passionate views on these issues, and that the pace of this process has been frustrating to some.  The Board is committed to examining these issues honestly and thoroughly. We take very seriously any proposed changes to the college bylaws. 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.

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 we engage in this important conversation, we reiterate our strong commitment to thoughtful and open dialogue in a way that reflects the best of Davidson College. We must proceed with humility and compassion, recognizing our obligation to educate ourselves before we form conclusions.  And as always, we will strive to do what is best for Davidson College.

The trustee committee examining the bylaw will meet regularly and will report to the board frequently.  Updates will be posted at Please look for a communication from the committee soon inviting you to participate in this conversation.  In the meantime, you are welcome to send your comments to

Thank you for all you do for Davidson.

Mackey McDonald ’68

Chair, Board of Trustees

Originally posted to

About the Author

Mackey McDonald '68Mackey McDonald is former chair of the Davidson College Board of Trustees.View all posts by Mackey McDonald '68 →

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