Peace University needs to be more candid

April 23, 2014 

William Peace University President Debra Townsley clearly has support from her board of trustees. The board’s leaders defend her strongly, just as they defend the decision to invest a big chunk of the university’s endowment into the Seaboard Station retail complex near their downtown Raleigh campus.

But there clearly is turmoil on the campus, and it’s something trustees should investigate, not write off as the standard complaints of students and faculty.

Yes, it’s true that a faculty letter, eight pages, sent to trustees was not signed, and that in itself diminishes the letter’s credibility. But 300 students signed a petition calling for Townsley’s resignation. The five students who circulated it say they’re facing disciplinary action for violating the university’s policies about disorderly conduct and solicitation.

Townsley, who according to the Chronicle of Higher Education receives total compensation of $391,000 compared to $158,000 for Jo Allen, who is the current president of the larger Meredith College, denies the possible action against the students is about the petition. She says much of the tumult about her is more about the school going to co-educational and growing.

The move to admit men into the traditional women’s college was seen as a necessity for survival, as was the investment in Seaboard Station. But the fact that alumni picketed the school over the admission of men and new complaints now indicate that university’s leaders are not communicating openly and enlisting support.

The trustees need to take seriously student and faculty concerns about higher student-teacher ratios, building maintenance, graduation rates and other issues. The mission of a university isn’t only to teach, but also to listen and understand.

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