Peace students back faculty, not president in protest
Posted April 23
Updated April 24
Raleigh, N.C. — 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 and a no-confidence vote in her leadership.
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."