RALEIGH, N.C. -
The president of William Peace University has the full support of the Board of Trustees, chairwoman Beth Chadwick Cherry said in a statement.
Debra Townsley’s leadership at Peace has been fire, and protesters Thursday morning called for her ouster.
But Cherry issued a statement of strong support for Townsley and said the trustees had extended her contract.
“The trustees recognize that change is hard, but higher education is operating in an increasingly challenging environment,” Cherry said. “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."
Cherry did not give details on the contract.
As for the protests, Cherry said welcomes free speech.
“William Peace University is and always has been committed to free speech,” she said. “We welcome questions and comments from anyone, whether they are students, staff, faculty, alumni or the community. Individuals have the right to offer constructive criticism based on factual information and we welcome discussion about the future of William Peace University.”
Peace was founded as a college for women before the Civil War, but had tough times in recent years as women have turned to co-educational schools. Another longtime Raleigh institution, St. Mary’s, went from being a college to a high school, for example.
Townsley came to Peace in August 2010 and inherited a school with a rich tradition but a poor financial situation. Peace began admitting men in the fall of 2012, a decision that frustrated some graduates. Some Peace alumnae understood the decision but felt the Peace community had not been fully informed; others opposed admitting men altogether.
Townsley has defended the decision as essential to keeping the school viable.
In March, some faculty members sent an eight-page letter to the Board of Trustees that detailed concerns about Townsley’s leadership. In a letter to the media Thursday, some faculty said, “We continue to believe that there are significant issues impacting the learning environment at Peace and that the institution’s president, Dr. Debra Townsley, is responsible for the issues impacting the students and employees.
“We believe that the William Peace University Board of Trustees has an obligation to independently investigate our concerns and take appropriate action.”
Peace also made a controversial decision in October when it completed the purchase of the adjacent Seaboard Station. Peace, led by Townsley, decided to invest a whopping part of its endowment to complete the purchase.