The following comments were made by Professor Doug Ottati, the Craig Family Distinguished Professor of Reformed Theology and Justice, after proposing the resolution at the faculty meeting on May 9, 2013.
At the faculty meeting of May 9, I asked to speak to the motion that I made. I did so knowing that the board and its Committee on Church Relatedness has engaged in an extended period of responsible study and deliberation, and in the hope that my comments might contribute to an on-going process of reflection. The text of my comments follow:
I have spent my career as a Presbyterian theologian reflecting on Christian theology and ethics generally, and in particular on the Reformed Christian sub-tradition of which Presbyterianism is a part. I am a loyal participant in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and its living tradition. I also believe that Davidson’s particular church relationship isnot an anachronism, and that it may continue to make significant contributions to a vibrant and distinctive college of liberal arts and sciences today. Presbyterians both can and do disagree about matters of importance, and neither I nor anyone else can articulate the Presbyterian understanding of liberal arts education. Nevertheless, my own judgment is that the Board’s recent reaffirmation of the presidential By-Law is theologically ill advised and, within the context of this College’s diverse constituents, also exclusionary and therefore unfair.
If I were asked to summarize the Reformed tradition’s interest in the College, I would say this. It means to support a college of liberal arts and sciences that expresses and furthers true religion by encouraging people to engage in wide-ranging, critical, and free intellectual inquiries and artistic pursuits; by inviting people (both religious and non-religious) to practice and reflect upon their particular pieties, worldviews, and commitments; by ordering its institutional life representatively and fairly; and by fostering responsible participants in God’s world through the integrity of their interactions on campus and the fidelity of their wider service.
From this perspective, what is critical in a president of Davidson is that she or he support commitments such as these as they bear upon the College’s distinctive mission, understand how and why they are nourished (among other things) by the College’s affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA), ask how they may be effectively embodied institutionally, and communicate them to wider constituencies. Whether or where she or he attends church is not critical. Moreover, since a church participation requirement excludes many important stakeholders in the College from the presidency, it is both unfair and unwise. Likewise, what seems critical in a Davidson board of trustees is that its members understand and support the College’s distinctive mission. The board should include people who understand how the College’s mission is nourished by its church affiliation, as well as persons who participate directly in the church with which the College is affiliated. These last two qualities, however, are among those the College should both seek and welcome in its board. No doubt there are also others, including the ability to represent the College’s diverse constituencies, demonstrated leadership in various fields, and an ability to support the College financially. That the board’s able membership include persons who represent and embody these and other qualities finally is more important than precisely how many board members are also members of the Presbyterian Church (USA).