Let freedom be cherished that learning may flourish.

2018 Letter to President Quillen

Dear President Quillen,

Davidson has historically conditioned its students to search for truth by exposing them to a wide spectrum of thought. It has encouraged dialogue, debate, and respect for the humanity of all. Now we fear that political ideology threatens the Davidson mission of teaching students to think critically.

For nearly 200 years, Davidson has had and deserved one of the strongest and most loyal alumni bases in the nation. Graduates have generously donated their time and contributions to support an institution which helped them grow into well-balanced thinkers, innovative doers, and creative philanthropists. We write to respectfully express our considered apprehension about the direction Davidson College has taken. One of us is a recent member of the Alumni Association Board, and, in that capacity, experienced firsthand the introduction of an ideologically biased culture that increasingly dominates the campus. Conversations with numerous students as well as a few faculty and staff confirm our concerns about the state of free expression and intellectual inquiry at Davidson today. We feel the far left-wing ideological tilt is already affecting pedagogical standards at Davidson and, with concurrent uncontrolled  rising costs and tuition rates, ultimately will undermine the financial strength of the College and threaten its future.

Our misgivings about the future of the College are profound enough that we feel it necessary to air in some detail the basis for our worries. We appreciate your forbearance in hearing us out and look forward to discussing our thoughts with you and the Trustees.

  1. In contrast with previous Davidson presidents, you make a practice of expressing publicly your views on ideological issues. We cite as examples, your written statements on DACA (2017) and HB2 (2016). Your predecessors typically supported students in their desires to be heard but stayed on the political sideline instead of becoming personally involved in the process. Your voice is a powerful one on campus, and in pushing your views, you set a tone for the institution that discourages honest and open debate. Davidson should be a place to learn and discuss all ideas-not just those in conformance with your views. The Office of President of Davidson College is an Administrative one, not a political one.
  2. Your public statements are sometimes paired with encouragement of political activism by young people still in their formative years and in no way formally connected to the college. A case in point is the announced admissions policy that disciplinary action taken against high schoolers participating in public protests will not be counted against them in Davidson's admission process. This policy usurps parental control over children and publicly encourages them to break the law. It is one thing to respect the right to disagree publicly and politically; it is quite another for the College to encourage political unrest and endanger students' applications to other institutions that are not so politically inclined. We agree that certain circumstances should be considered, behind the scenes in the admissions process, but we do not believe that in official statements the College should issue implicit endorsements of protest movements.
  3. Your administrative appointments have shown an accelerated leftward direction at Davidson, with key executives under you demonstrating intolerance of political and ideological views opposed to their own. As a result, in contradistinction to the mantra of Diversity, the culture of your administrative team is increasingly closed-minded. Diversity under this present administration' s watch should equally focus on political thought, not just race or creed.
  4. Davidson should be a place of inclusion and healthy debate. But your policies are sometimes divisive and discourage healthy debate. As examples, we cite the following:
    • Challenges to students trying to bring respected speakers to campus who do not conform to the tenets of far left-wing orthodoxy. The administration and faculty should encourage opportunities for provocative speakers with diverse perspectives to address the Davidson community-not just occasionally accommodate students who seek balance in what is discussed on campus. We appreciate your recent help in bringing David Brooks and Jonah Goldberg to campus and urge you to be more assertive in bringing centric-conservative speakers to campus, to help counterbalance the otherwise far-leftist tilt of most outside speakers.
    • The Commission on Race and Slavery at Davidson. Like many other institutions, Davidson was founded in a slave-based culture in the pre-Civil War era. The harm inflicted by slave ry is appalling and undeniable. Davidson surely has culpability in the actions of some individuals 180 years ago, but will the Commission bring about more unity of purpose on campus today or sow more discord and division? Instead of looking backwards, perhaps we could better serve the cause by concentrating on the future, focusing on creating future generations of successful African-Americans who graduate from Davidson as critical thinkers and go on to make substantial contributions to our country. We should take note that Davidson has produced countless graduates who supported and contributed to the civil rights movement, and we should aim for 100 percent commitment to universal civil rights by all Davidson graduates.
    • The recent announcement of separate eating houses for minorities. These are clearly divisive and indeed reinforce any racial or sexual preference discrimination that exists on campus. Does the College plan to offer the same to every group that seeks to establish its own identity or gender safe space? We fear that the STRIDE program, while aimed at assisting first-year students of color, in fact will stratify our College into ethnic groups with distinct Davidson experiences. Should not the College aim instead for an environment based on unity of purpose?*
    • Class and other requirements that emphasize separation and limited world views-for example, the one-side d courses available for meeting the Justice, Equality, and Community requirement; and required first-year student reading of books by far left-wing commentators like Ta-Nehisi Coates, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Susan Nussbaum. These choices demonstrate the college's priorities under your administration for promoting "social justice" advocacy and "marginalized" perspectives at the expense of larger, broader, and ultimately no less important American ideals. Further, the Justice, Equality, and Community requirement forces students to choose among "Decolonizing Anthro Theory," "Gendered Com in Society," "Transgender Studies, " and "Gender and Technology," with "Foundations of Liberalism" being the only required class taught through an objective lens. The Davidson 101 requirement similarly includes ideologically blinkered classes such as Human Sexuality and Realizing Your Risk, each being a frequent source of complaint among first-year students.
    • Speech and behavioral policies that, as assessed by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, ''both clearly and substantially restrict freedom of speech." As a result, FIRE gives a Red Light speech code rating to Davidson, citing specifically in the Student Handbook "Policy, Procedures, and Information on Sexual Misconduct, Relationship Abuse and Violence, and Stalking" and under Student Life on the College web site, "Difference between a Hate Crime and Bias." While well-intended, the policies in practice pose Orwellian threats to freedom of speech and due process on the Davidson campus.
  5. Promotion of a far left-wing faculty and policing to ensure far left-wing orthodoxy in faculty appointments and in the classroom.
    • The use of "equity advisors" gives students and equity volunteers worrisome power over the hiring and retention practices for professors. The Student Initiative for Academic Diversity has been described by at least  one professor as the functional equivalent of the Cultural Revolution's Red Guard under Chairman Mao, aimed at ensuring that professors adhere to narrowly-tailored notions of "diversity" and "social justice" before earning tenure. The result is a chilling effect on faculty members holding views at variance with far left-wing orthodoxy. As worrisome is the College' s giving students and volunteers without sufficient experience or credentials the ability to influence the tenure status of highly educated academics. ·
    • According to a report by The College Fix, as of 2016, only 6 percent of Davidson professors are registered Republicans, while 40 percent are registered Democrats. We do not expect the ideological makeup of Davidson's faculty to mirror that of the country at large or that of the College's alumni-but we do think more effort should be made to ensure ideological balance and an intellectual environment where debate is possible. Great care should be taken not lo alienate loyal, giving alums who hold political and ideological views different from those that are now dominant on campus.
  6. Declining pedagogical standards and a reduced aim to produce graduates well equipped for the modern workplace or for serious advanced degree study. Davidson is an elite school, but to remain so, it must maintain the highest pedagogical standards and, given its high cost, demonstrate its value in the workplace. But the College seems to be increasingly drawn to giving students a current experience steeped in activism, a good part of which-let's face it-is nonacademic. One must ask, how long parents will pay a premium for an education whose success in producing graduates well equipped for the modern workplace may be increasingly questionable. A particular concern is the Quality Enhancement Plan, which targets the Mathematics, Economics, Computer Science, Biology, Physics, and Psychology Departments. The QEP stresses not the flourishing of learning but the narrowing of the racial gap in GPA. It mandates "inclusive pedagogy" workshops for faculty members and intrusive interference in the faculty staff’s development of course schedules. Unquestionably, Davidson should aim to reduce the racial gap in GPA but, in doing so, Davidson should not compromise its standards for academic excellence.
  7. Disrespect for Davidson's founding Christian values. Our school was founded on Christian values, and we believe that heritage, including the Golden Rule, should be respected, even as we include and celebrate other religious expressions. Under your direction, the decline of Christian influence on the Board of Trustees is clearly evident. And the current Chaplain's Office aggressively pushes views and projects that are by no means supported in full by the faiths that it represents. As examples, we cite the absence of an evangelical chaplain comparable to the chaplains for those of Catholic, Buddhist, and Jewish faiths, and the visibility project, which is geared toward LGBT religious affirmation.

In sum, Davidson is currently riding on the coattails of a heritage that it increasingly disdains. More attention needs to be given to maintaining the strengths that have made the College so distinguished.

Davidson's founding motto was "Let learning be cherished where liberty has arisen." The state of intellectual life at Davidson today suggests the need to revise that motto to read "Let liberty be cherished that learning may flourish." We urge you and the Trustees of Davidson College to take a hard look at where Davidson is headed and make the necessary changes in culture, policies, and practice that will ensure a more secure future.

We ask that you and the Trustees consider taking the following specific steps to redress the current ideological imbalance at Davidson:

  1. Time should be set aside at all Board of Trustees meetings to discuss the Administration's involvement in ideological and political issues, with the aim being to establish clear Trustee-directed policies.
  2. Your Administration should develop and implement, with the Trustees' approval, a plan for addressing the imbalance that has arisen in the ideological makeup of Davidson's faculty and Administration.
  3. Davidson should sign on to the 2012 University of Chicago Statement on Principles of Free Expression or adopt as policy a similar such statement. The Chicago Statement asserts that institutions of higher education have "a solemn responsibility not only to promote a lively and fearless freedom of debate and deliberation, but also to protect that freedom when others attempt to restrict it" and that "without a vibrant commitment to free and open inquiry, a university ceases to be a university."
    • Discussion of Davidson's proposed Statement on Principles of Free Expression should be a key pa1t of first-year orientation, and other steps should be taken to make the Principles a venerated part of Davidson's culture.
  4. Your office should develop and implement a plan for ensuring active recruitment and welcoming of external campus speakers with diverse political and ideological views.
  5. The Board of Trustees should commission an independent annual survey of students, faculty, and administrative staff and officers to assess the state of freedom of expression and diversity of thought on campus. The annual report of survey results should be written by the external survey firm, amounting to an independent audit of this crucial aspect of college life. The periodic surveys of Davidson alums that occur should also include questions about perceptions of where Davidson stands on the ideological spectrum.

We appreciate your hearing us out on these concerns and thoughts about actions to address them and look forward to having an opportunity to discuss them with you and the Trustees.

Davidsonians for Freedom of Thought and Discourse

Tim Bode, '79
William B. Bradley, ' 69
Jim Brock, '78
Pat Bryant, '85
Connie Buehler, '82
Anne Guerard Coletta, '81
John E. Craig, Jr.' 66
Donald Davis, '66
John Isham Faulkenberry, '67
Andre Kennebrew, '?2
Steve Lewis, MD, '79
Drewry H. Morris IV, '67
Elliott R. Motley IV, DDS, '66
Rob Murray, '78
Mike Peskosky, '78
Len Richardson, '61
Luther Williams, MD, ' 64
David A. West, '84

cc: Members of the Davidson College Board of Trustees

*DFTD learned subsequently that there are no official separate ethnic eating houses at Davidson, but they have emerged de facto