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I. Memories of Student Life at Davidson

President Emeritus,
Samuel R. Spencer
Spencer: Class of 1940, came in 1936 to a very different Davidson, no women, the academic program was pretty well prescribed with a core program for first two years. There was little opportunity for experimentation. Had classes on Saturday, chapel every weekday morning. The rules were more stringent. Freshmen got a little red book that told you what you could not do. Tells stories of Dean Sentelle ("I am the Executive Committee").

Kuykendall:Class of 1959, came in 1955. Not a particularly distinguished class in terms of athletics and college bowl. Had chapel three days a week instead of five. Vespers every Sunday night. One academic change - could get BA degree without taking two years of Latin and/or Greek. Most students left campus on Saturday afternoon - Davidson was the scourge of all women's college in the area. Students held informal contest to see who could travel the farthest (some made it to New England) and still get back by 6 on Sunday for Vespers.

Vagt: Class of 1969, came in 1965. His was a different Davidson - athletically, Davidson was ranked nationally and college bowl team champions. But academically it was still similar to Spencer's experience, until Vagt's senior year when Spencer and Blue Sky Committee revamped curriculum. Students had more flexibility. ROTC required for first two years-some concerns expressed. Student body by and large, center to conservative, but there was a contingent that protested - threw water balloons at ROTC drills. Social activism in Davidson influenced by actions of faculty in assisting upgrade of substandard housing in town and taking care of staff. But there was one issue-Ralph Johnson's barber shop. Also speakers in Chapel included African-American activists and some students left chapel angry. They did have women attending classes - had one married student whose wife took classes, and there were visiting women students. Had computer dating for events with women's colleges - now seems like a very cruel system. Faculty held open houses on Sunday night, which were popular with students who missed dinner in trying to make it back to campus before vespers. Eventually students stopped coming.

II. Biggest Crisis as President

Spencer: Most difficult situation came from requirement that all members of the faculty must be members of Christian Church. As he arrived on campus, the matter of the faculty oath was preeminent. Faculty concerned because the oath was basically the same oath one took to become an elder in the Presbyterian Church. That was changed but there was still a question of how faculty might be perceived if not Christian. When the rule (about being Christian) was first put in, it was not exclusive but it had become so. The rule was challenged by a new hire that accepted a position but said that he would fight to change the system. College counsel advised that he had not truly accepted. The controversy that followed was the largest and most public of his tenure.

Kuykendall:The decision to go to non-scholarship football was his biggest crisis. It provoked the ire of many constituencies. Parents of athletes here at the time were the most upset. There was no loss of scholarship funds to the individual athletes, but they felt they were losing prestige. It was a good decision but it cost the college a generation of athletes' loyalty.

III. Coeducation

Spencer: Coeducation was not his personal decision. It was supported by most of students and faculty. Most problems came from alumni. They tried to give everyone a chance to have a say, to the point that some people complained that they were going too slowly. The change was almost of necessity if they were going to keep the college at its level. Enrollments were dropping-fewer students were interested in attending a single-sex college. By admitting women, the college was able to recruit from a much larger pool. Also social life was "not very healthy" prior to coeducation.

IV. Greek System

President Emeritus,
John W. Kuykendall
Kuykendall:Two years out of college his first appointment at Davidson was as a fraternity liaison officer. He was a bachelor and ate at his old fraternity house--until he put them on probation. Found himself between a rock and a hard place. His experience was that the Greek system of the time was one of exclusiveness. Even though 85 percent of the students were members, the 15% who were not were resigned to second-class status as an unseen minority. Rush took place the first week of school. In retrospect, it was a fairly cruel system. There was a tradition of harassment (hazing) known as Hell Week. He tried to change it to Help Week with little success.

Vagt: His senior year the system of social affiliates was initiated. His house had four or five affiliates who eventually became full members.

V. What Image Did/Does Davidson Try to Project?

Vagt: There are lots of ways to promote the college. In past we rested on quiet assurance that we didn't need to market, that the people we wanted knew us. Image we promote now is of a faculty that cares and works with students, Division I athletics, church-related, Honor Code, international experiences, community. We are now using pictures of students in groups instead of individual shots. We are working for a composite, broader community, so that if you come, you will walk and talk with people who are different from you in looks and thinking.

Kuykendall: There is a lot of continuity in that image from earlier times. One point of difference, though, is that marketing is more self-conscious and intentional now. Before we operated on the "dime among nickels" theory, that people would see us as being small, but valuable. One big change is the annual "US News" ranking of colleges. One thing he would add to Vagt's list is location - Davidson is best school in South. If you want to attend a school in the south, we are it. Also our dedication to service. That binds more alumni. It's a given that when he goes to alumni functions, he finds that Davidson alumni are at the center of civic life in their communities.

Spencer: In the 50s, marketing was not a necessity. Davidson drew mostly from the two Carolinas, and people and families who already knew Davidson. Admissions were governed by and large through personal recommendations. Dutch Hengeveld let many people in simply on the recommendation of school principals.

VI. What Changes Did They Want to Make As President? /Why Did They Come Back?

Kuykendall: He was teaching at the time. He did want to come back to Davidson, but had not considered president. What he was most aware of was that the Davidson he came back to was not the Davidson he left. The real issue was not to bring preconceptions of the former Davidson in approaching needs of present. It was an opportunity to give something back-to be engaged in something he knew and loved.
President Robert Vagt

Spencer: He was in college administration for most of his professional career. The call of Davidson was strong-no question about his wanting to be here.

Vagt: He was not a college administrator. For first 20 years out of Davidson, he stayed engaged through alumni and annual fund events. But that connected him to faculty and alumni, but not current students. When his daughter attended, he became aware of different conditions, and came to appreciate a very different Davidson but one bound together by the same forces.

VII. Church -Relatedness

Kuykendall: It is an official designation and intentional. Our Statement of Purpose has direct language linking the college to Christian, and specifically Reform tradition. It is a baseline. Presbyteries and local congregations confirm 24 of 44 elected trustees, and the president has to be Presbyterian, and the trustees must be Christian. The chaplain's office has grown substantially since Spencer's days. The current chaplain, Rob Spach, reports that student religious groups have never been stronger. Beyond expressly religious activities, the seriousness with which religion taught is a link to the church. Also the Honor Code, our sense of integrity, expressed through service, quality of community life to which we aspire.

Vagt: Church-relatedness is something we neither hide from, nor hide behind. Our Statement of Purpose contains the line "a God bound by neither church nor creed". The years of age 18-22 are an important time for questioning. That happens here while students are challenged intellectually. We as a broad community, and primarily faculty, encourage students to wrestle with issues without providing answers. It's also seen in the way we view each other.
Three Davidson College Presidents
Presidents, Cubed: Bobby Vagt, John Kuykendall and Samuel Spencer discuss Davidson through the years.

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