Weeks of protests at the newly renamed William Peace University will culminate in the largest protest yet Saturday, despite new policies that students say makes them feel they might be expelled for participating.
About 400 people are expected to stand on Peace Street sidewalks Saturday, protesting a series of changes that began in July with the announcement that men will be admitted beginning in fall of 2012.
Founded in 1857, Peace College now enrolls about 700 students per year. Peace President Debra Townsley cited financial concerns and dwindling enrollment as deciding factors in the decision to admit men.
College officials elaborated in a statement released to media.
“This decision was not entered into lightly or without due diligence,” the statement said. “If we were to continue on the current path of low enrollments and not meeting our enrollment goals, we have an operating model that could not be sustained economically without significant modification. With only about 2 percent of women who will consider a women’s college, our market for prospective students is limited and declining unless we become coeducational.”
Since then, a series of protests have begun on the sidewalks in front of the college. Students and alumnae wave signs that read, “It’s not the guys; it’s the lies.”
Those protesting say, indeed, it’s not the admittance of men they dislike, but that other changes they say will destroy the college’s educational reputation.
Glenda Kiddoo, a protester earlier photographed by the Record, posted a comment on the published photo story.
“The real issue at hand … is an absence of institutional integrity and an administration given to totalitarian rule,” she wrote.
Kioddoo cites a series of complaints, from layoffs to eliminated majors, a list she said is “just a sampling of some of the shenanigans that have taken place over the course of the year.”
Others simply wish they had known changes were ahead.
“They never consulted alumni,” said alumna Beth Faulkner. “I was with [Debra] Townsley after the staff and major changes at a meet-the-President event and the only thing they discussed was the majors and how great Peace was doing. They said everything was in good shape and we had a bright future.”
A call for comments from university officials was referred to MMI Public Relations, which is handling media requests related to the recent changes. MMI stated no additional comments would be made as it had already issued statements. (Read full statements below.)
Since the announcement, Peace officials have enacted some new policies. The first came just before Move-In Day Aug. 26. It is a long-standing tradition for alumnae to help new students get settled.
But when Peace alumna Lorna Dailey arrived as scheduled, she was confronted by two Peace college security staff, an off-duty Raleigh Police officer and a plainclothes officer.
Dailey, who was married in the Peace Chapel and whose daughters attended Peace College, was told, “This is private property and you are trespassing.”
When Dailey protested, a member of Peace security staff, Michael John, asked her to “leave before there was any trouble.”
Later, Daley learned the William Peace University Board of Trustees had issued a Peace Demonstration Statement for Move-In Day.
In that statement, university officials said participation in the tradition of move-in day was limited to “ensure the safety and privacy of our students.”
“Our announcement to become coeducational is a challenging one for some of our alumnae,” the statement said. “We were informed that some alumnae were planning to disrupt move-in day as a means to protest this decision. Therefore, and upon the advice of the Raleigh Police Department, the decision was made to limit participation during move-in day to ensure the safety and privacy of our students.”
A Climate of Fear
Peace officials also enacted a new Speech, Expression and Assembly policy. The new policy requires students to submit written, 24-hour notice for activities to be approved. Peace’s 2011 student handbook does not cover the topic of speech or free expression.
Posts on the Preserve Peace Legacy Facebook site mention student concerns and fears of disciplinary action if they participate in the protests.
Yet the protests continue nightly, with the largest event scheduled for Saturday, despite what some say is a fearful climate now that the new protest policy is in place.
“Students fear being arrested, kicked out or losing scholarships,” said Amber Karas, a senior at Peace. “We’re not protesting the men, but the lies, the disrespect and lack of communication.”
Senior Rachel House said she “does not feel personally intimidated.”
But, she said, students have shared with her warnings from advisors “not to go to the protest, not to skip class.” She’s also heard reports of foreboding statements from teachers: “I do not want to dissuade you, but you should probably not go to the protest.”
Alumna Elizabeth Watson, who has assisted students and other alumnae to plan protest activities, said so far, no students have been disciplined for taking part in the protests on the sidewalk.
Still, some are concerned about the consequences. Susan Murray’s daughter Laura has a scholarship and a job on campus. Her concerns led her to carefully examined Laura’s work contract and advise her to check with financial aid to ensure participating in the protests would not threaten her financial situation.
“This draconian speech and expression policy put out at the eleventh hour is very intimidating,” Murray said.
President Emeritus David Frazier, who led Peace College from 1965 to 1988, is not available attend Saturday’s protest.
Although a ban is not the reason for his absence, in an e-mail sent Sept. 7 he said, “If I am at the protest Saturday morning, I will be banned from campus, because all protesters are banned.”
Although at least one other group of college students successfully protested and reversed a decision to go co-ed, Peace officials said this change is final.
“Please know that the decision has been made; it will not be reversed; and it will be implemented,” the statement said.
Officials hoping the new admittance policy will boost the college’s financials may not get their wish, as some alumnae find other ways to protest.
In an earlier interview Frazier said he “talked to a number of people recently, six or eight people, and I have confirmed from them that they are removing about $7.5 million from their estate plans – money that was going to come to Peace but now will not be going to Peace.”