Montreat College students call life covenant ‘divisive’

Julie Ball

MONTREAT - Some Montreat College students say the school’s new community life covenant, which has prompted some faculty members to leave, has divided the normally close-knit campus.

“I think everyone feels it has been divisive, and people are worried about staff leaving,” freshman Caroline Miller said.

Miller was among a small group of students who gathered outside the college library Wednesday to express their concerns.

“I just don’t think the administration should be telling professors what they can and can’t believe about Scripture,” she said. “I think that’s what the covenant is doing. It’s kind of forcing people to say something that they don’t actually believe, and I’m worried about that.”

The community life covenant, included in faculty and staff handbooks, spells out requirements for “living the Christian life” including affirming “the sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman.”

The covenant refers to the Bible as “the infallible Word of God and fully authoritative in matters of life and conduct ...”

Some faculty members opted to leave the college rather than affirm their support for the covenant.

Sophomore Bailey Mathews organized the Wednesday event. She spent the morning holding a sign that read: “A family actually listens to each other.”

Mathews said she hopes to persuade college President Paul Maurer to “consider this a family and reconsider some things and that we can fix our broken family.”

“I do not believe that your statement of faith should be something pre-written,” Mathews said. “I believe it should be what you actually believe, and I believe we’re going to lose a lot of diversity and a lot of amazing teachers here because of it (the covenant).”

Mathews said she plans to leave Montreat College.

“I was going to stay and I planned on graduating from here, but now, no,” she said.

College officials have said Montreat worked on the covenant for more than two years, including holding a series of listening sessions with faculty and alumni. But students say they were left out of the process.

“We didn’t know about it until this semester,” said sophomore Logan Barnette.

Barnette said the administration shouldn’t force staff and faculty to believe a certain way “because Christians believe in different ways, and the Bible is not to be taken literally. It’s to be interpreted,” he said.

Adrian Ionescu, an international student who plays soccer at Montreat, said students should have been made aware of what was going on sooner.

“It’s concerning because they make these decisions in private,” he said. “This whole thing happened apparently for them for two years… now it comes to the point it comes to light and I have teachers leaving.”

He also joined the group in front of the library Wednesday.

“I’m here trying to be a college student, get my degree, do my best, and the very people that have taught me everything and are here to support me and guide me through my college life, they’re leaving out of the blue,” he said.

Two Montreat faculty members “have informed the college that the core documents included in the faculty handbook are a primary factor in their decision not to return to the college next year,” according to a statement from Montreat.

The statement says Montreat has held two open forums with students to talk about the issue within the past six weeks including one last week, in part, “to address misinformation that has been circulating, particularly concerning faculty who are leaving the college.”

“We respect students’ right to gather and express themselves freely — including protest. Expressions of diverse thoughts and opinions are part of the intellectual inquiry that is central to the college’s mission,” the statement reads.

Maurer, Dean of the College Greg Kerr, and four faculty members “participated in a student forum sponsored by the college’s student government. This meeting was an open and respectful dialogue on issues that matter to students, and the college is committed to continued open dialogue with our students,” the statement reads.