Davidson College’s Board of Trustees is considering whether the institution’s requirement that its president be a Presbyterian should be upheld or abandoned.  The considerations advanced are familiar: the supposed tension between excellence and an increasingly limited pool of eligible applicants; how the historic relationship contributes to present identity; and so on.

Davidson’s case is unusual and interesting because it seems to be one of the few mainline Presbyterian-affiliated colleges to have continued to uphold this requirement, while being perhaps the most academically prestigious of them all.  An hypothesis: if there are “academic” difficulties in continuing to uphold this requirement, might it not have more to do with the diminution of the PCUSA than with anything else?  A pool that was once probably large enough to provide an ample number of qualified prospects is indeed shrinking.

There is of course another issue, not really addressed by the article.  If one defines “excellence” in purely secular terms, then it almost goes without saying that using denominational affiliation as a filter will have a cost in terms of quality.  But why must one define excellence in purely secular terms?

In Davidson’s case, that ship has probably already sailed.  But there remain plenty of denominationally-affiliated colleges and universities where the ship is sitll in the port (or perhaps hasn’t even been built yet).  There is plenty of evidence that intellectual rigor and fidelity are not inconsistent with one another.  Secularism and fundamentalism aren’t the only two options.

Articles by Joseph Knippenberg


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