Peace students back faculty, not president in protest

Posted April 23, 2014
Updated October 13, 2014

— Dozens of William Peace University students staged a demonstration Thursday to protest moves by the school's administration that they say damages campus life and the value of their education.

More than 40 students, alumni and faculty gathered outside the university's front gate on Peace Street north of downtown Raleigh, waving signs criticizing President Debra Townsley and cheering whenever a passing car honked in support.

Fourteen Peace professors sent an eight-page letter to the school's Board of Trustees last month, citing a litany of grievances with Townsley.

The letter says, in part, "Peace is led by an arrogant administration that scorns the professionalism of its faculty and staff and openly seeks to discredit their skills and achievements."

"Our concern is that the administration makes decisions that don't involve faculty and students," said David McLennan, a political science professor and one of the letter's signers.

A major complaint is that Peace now has 24 full-time faculty members, which is about half the number as five years ago. The school's move toward hiring part-time adjunct professors – it has triple the number of part-timers as full-time faculty – diminishes the quality of academics at the school, the professors said.

"Everyone knows that adjunct faculty don't have the same relationship with the institution as full-time faculty do," said Carol Hiscoe, an English professor who signed the letter to the board.

Students at the protest agreed, adding that efforts to boost enrollment also have watered down Peace's intimate campus atmosphere.

"I fell in love with the idea of Peace College," student Katiebeth Jenkins said. "I've come here, and I've realized it's not what they told us it was."

"With bringing in a larger class, it's becoming bigger, and our ratio from students to teachers is becoming bigger," student Sarah Weavil said. "I believe our professors getting fired and not being here for us is changing all of that. I mean, it's our education over everything, and they're not here for us."

Townsley has faced opposition since becoming the school’s 10th president in 2010. In 2011, she received criticism for allowing men to take night and online classes, cutting staff and reorganizing academic programs.

Her disapproval among alumni escalated when the school started admitting full-time male students in 2012. Formerly known as Peace College, the school was women-only for its first 152 years.

“She does not have the best interest of the current student body at heart with the decisions that she is making both for financial decisions and for the hiring and firing decisions with the faculty,” student Maigan Kennedy said.

A petition calling for Townsley’s resignation, which has more than 300 signatures, was recently sent to each member of the Board of Trustees. Now, some of the students behind the petition, including Kennedy, are facing disciplinary conduct hearings.

“This matters, it truly matters and that we are not afraid of any repercussions from the university,” she said.

Board Chairwoman Beth Chadwick Cherry said Peace is open to constructive criticism and welcomes students exercising their free-speech rights. Still, she said, the board fully backs Townsley and her decisions.

"The trustees recognize that change is hard, but higher education is operating in an increasingly challenging environment," Cherry said in a statement. "The trustees believe the decisions we have made have strengthened William Peace University and ensured its future. The trustees believe President Townsley is the right person to lead William Peace University during this time and recently voted unanimously to extend her contract."


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  • kkarma Apr 25, 2014

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    This has way more to do with students being mad over the loss of one faculty member. If you read the eight-page letter there are a slew of issues plauging the school and thats what students are protesting. I mean I would protest brown recluse spiders and no heat in my dorm room too.

  • kkarma Apr 25, 2014

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    I agree with most of what you have said, but the part about Obama just isn't true. Obama has shown that he cares about people more than most presidents have and way more than the last one. Townsley has taken a page from her own handbook and ran with it. Her admiinistration is also running with her and they are enjoying it while everyone else suffers. Obama is nothing like Townsley and the association between the two is wrong. Townsley is in it all for herself and has made it very clear she doesn't care about anything else other than that. Obama has not shown the same characteristics in my opinion. I have nothing against Obama and I like him as a president. I think Townsley is a terrible leader and has ruined, what used to be, a very good and reputable college.

  • amking88 Apr 25, 2014

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    You don't have any idea how hard it is to transfer credit hours, do you?

  • reel4fun Apr 25, 2014

    @A Person.......I have read some of what you have posted and you seem to respond to every story WRAL has. IF things were as easy as you seem to think they are then I am sure they would......but many probably have scholasships that won't allow them to attend other schools.......and the President knows this.....she has them over a barrel and the board knows this as well.......the staudents and faculty need to find away that will shut down the school but now get them fired or will take 100% of the student body and faculty to do this........but it can be done.........and shame on the President for not listening and showing her arrogance........she is riding rough shod over these people and most likely took a page from Obamas handbook.

  • kkarma Apr 25, 2014

    I can and can't believe this. Reading this angers me as an alum of Peace College and also makes me sad. To know that these students don't get to enjoy some of things that I enjoyed when I went there is sad to me. They are having to worry about things that I've never had to even think about. If the BOT are so worried about Peace making it through these tough times, they sure aren't showing it. I mean at this rate, they won't be able to keep faculty, staff or students at the school anyway. I would encourage all currently enrolled students to transfer to a different school as soon as possible.

  • Carol Smith Apr 24, 2014
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    The faculty is correct in that they are being led by an arrogant administration.

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    You don't know the story. Townsley has been the subject of criticism for 4 years and shelters herself with the Board of Trustees. This is not about change or going co-ed.

  • A person Apr 24, 2014

    If these students don't like how things are being handled, they should go somewhere else so students that like what is happening there can attend Peace. There, that was easy

  • Ken D. Apr 24, 2014

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    There was a recent opinion piece suggesting that trends in education make it likely that many - perhaps as many as 50% - of colleges and universities in the US could fail in the next ten years or so. Peace would certainly appear to be one of the vulnerable schools, and I suspect their Trustees are responding to that threat.

  • happysmilin007 Apr 24, 2014

    Being a Meredith College graduate, there's a natural rivalry between the schools but in this case--I am sad for Peace College students and alum. This is very unfortunate. Wishing the student body all the best!!

  • karenmclamb2 Apr 24, 2014

    So very glad my daughter was able to finish under the Peace College name last year (Class '13). Her class was very unhappy with the way the college (as we still refer to) was heading. Had she had another year she was going to transfer because she felt the quality of the college was diminishing. So sad to see a school with so much history and integrity be soiled by poor leadership.