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Martin Center Column Highlights Davidson Alumni Fight

Jay Schalin of the Martin Center writes about a controversy that’s motivated Davidson College alumni.

At Davidson College, the frog finally realized that it’s being slowly cooked alive.

As the theory goes, if you put a frog into boiling water, it will immediately jump out, but if you put it in lukewarm water and gradually raise the heat, it will not realize what is happening until it’s too late. The parable is often used to describe a social phenomenon by which an initially unpopular agenda can be made successful through gradual and subtle manipulation of opinions and language, without the populace being aware of what is happening.

It appears that the Davidson College administration cranked up the heat a little too fast on their radical agenda early this year, alarming some formerly complacent alumni. And, after a long slow erosion of tradition at the prestigious private college outside Charlotte, those alumni are starting to fight back.

Like many colleges, Davidson has been moving left politically for several decades. But unlike many other schools with Christian roots, it has clung steadfastly to its Presbyterian origins.

Until recently. In January of this year, the trustees—spurred by the administration—voted to amend the governing by-laws by removing two requirements. (Davidson’s board is almost entirely self-perpetuating; such boards tend to function as extensions of their administrations rather than as independent authorities). One of the dropped requirements was that the school president had to be a practicing Christian. The other was that 80 percent of the board of trustees had to be members of a Christian church. (A requirement that 25 percent of the board be members of a Presbyterian church remains).

These changes are drastic: the governance structure of the school no longer has to be pro-Christian, but can instead be assertively non-Christian.

In May, eleven prominent former members of the Davidson board of trustees crafted a letter explaining the situation to alumni and suggesting that recipients contact the school’s president Carol Quillen and Board of Trustees chair Alison Mauze to speak their minds about the bylaw changes.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...