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William Peace University president to retire next year

Posted October 13, 2014

Debra Townsley, president of William Peace University
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— Debra M. Townsley, president of William Peace University in Raleigh, said Monday she plans to retire in June, when she reaches five years at the helm of the school.

Townsley said the Board of Trustees offered her an extension to stay, but she declined.

“During my tenure, William Peace University has seen tremendous growth. I told the Board it would take five years, which is the right amount of time for my service to the University,” Townsley said in a statement. “As a change agent, I know that you come in to carry out the mission of the Board, then pass the baton to the next leader to continue to move the institution forward.”

Under her direction, the school began admitting men for the first time in its 152 years, had the largest enrollment growth in its history and changed its name from Peace College.

Her leadership has also garnered harsh criticism from students and faculty. In March, 14 professors sent an eight-page letter to the board citing a litany of grievances with Townsley.

The following month, more than 40 students, alumni and faculty gathered outside the university’s front gate, waving signs to show their displeasure. Protesters said the effort to boost enrollment has watered down the school’s intimate campus atmosphere, and they sent a petition to the board calling for her resignation.

The board has remained strong in its support of Townsley.

“Debra made this decision and regrettably we accept her retirement,” board chair Beth Chadwick Cherry said in a statement. “We are extremely pleased with the job she has done leading William Peace University, and we look forward to working with her over the next eight months as she continues to build an even stronger institution. The school is far better position today and is a better place from her service.”
 

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  • Carol Smith Oct 14, 2014
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    The students and alumni were not against change, but it was handled poorly by Townsley. She has no people skills. She ignored the students and alums. Peace lost its sense of community.

  • Nan Toppin Oct 14, 2014
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    I remember Dr. Weems, the former president at Meredith College, coming to speak to our senior class. He mentioned that while we are students we want to push for changes at the College, to see it progress and move forward. But once we graduate, we want it to stay exactly the same. To preserve the traditions and experiences that we had while we were there. The bottom line is that Peace had to change to stay financially viable. Traditions don't pay the bills. I still believe in women's colleges and I am so grateful for the experiences that I had at Meredith but Peace was seeing a decline that meant change and stay relevant or close your doors. I don't fault them for changing.

  • texasncgirl Oct 14, 2014

    *wipes hands* GOOD RIDDANCE. BUH-BYE. And whoever says that what Peace started with traditionally would never stay for the future... I politely direct you to Meredith College (my alma mater...or rather it will be in May 2015 after 6+ years of pursuing a degree while working full time)...they have been pursuing the same educational and tradition model since its inception...and I dare say they remain to be quite successful.

  • btneast Oct 14, 2014

    Peace today is not the Peace I attended. She came in as president and destroyed everything we loved about Peace. The long standing traditions are no more. It's all about money now, so in essence I guess she did her job, but in the process she ruined our alma mater. She did exactly what the BOT hired her to do. Peace as it was in the past would never survive into the future. The prognosis for single sex small colleges like Peace was is bleak at best. She was merely the face for what the board needed and wanted done.

  • A cold, hard dose of Hans Oct 13, 2014

    The woman who saved Peace. A hometown hero.

    Long live William Peace University!

  • KayLee Oct 13, 2014

    Not a moment too soon...

  • Melissa DeVita Oct 13, 2014
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    As a Peace graduate of 2010, before her tenure, I am pleased to hear this news. I am still very saddened that she chose to use her time at Peace to completely turn our traditions upside down. I hope for a brighter future for Peace.

  • cbunn2 Oct 13, 2014

    Thank goodness! I am a Peace College graduate of 1981 and the Peace today is not the Peace I attended. She came in as president and destroyed everything we loved about Peace. The long standing traditions are no more. It's all about money now, so in essence I guess she did her job, but in the process she ruined our alma mater.