For the last year, Davidson College has had a series of discussions over whether it should keep a requirement in the college’s bylaws that the president be a Presbyterian. Those who attended the public discussions said that students and professors alike seemed to agree that it was time for the requirement to go. Such requirements were common at private colleges when Davidson was founded in 1837. But students today enroll at Davidson because of the quality of its liberal arts education, not because they are seeking a Presbyterian college, and the college’s board — not a denominational leader — governs the college.
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.
“This isn’t a movement about changing Davidson. This is about affirming what Davidson is,” said J.D. Merrill, a senior who is an education policy studies major and one of the organizers of a new student group pushing to end the requirement. Imposing a religious test on anyone, he said, “contradicts our traditions of inclusiveness and equality.”
While Merrill speaks with pride of his Davidson education, he said he would never have enrolled at a college had he believed – as one raised as a Quaker – that it judged him to be somehow deficient with regard to the college’s values. “If they told me, ‘J.D. you are a great guy. You can come here but you can’t be our president,’ I wouldn’t have come. Why would anyone who is not of the Presbyterian faith enroll here if they tell you that?”