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Ex-Nichols chief faces opposition.

Byline: Brian Lee

An effort is afoot to remove Debra M. Townsley, the former president of Nichols College in Dudley, from her new post as president of Peace College, an all-women's Presbyterian school in Raleigh, N.C.

Ms. Townsley appears to be upsetting the balance that has existed for more than 150 years at Peace College, which is changing its name to William Peace University, and allowing men to enroll in its day programs in fall 2012. Those are among a litany of changes on tap for the small liberal arts school.

Ms. Townsley came to Peace College a year ago as its 10th president, succeeding the retiring Laura C. Bingham. At the outset, Ms. Townsley's credentials seemed to recommend her. She had been Nichols' sixth president and first woman president, serving from 1998 to 2010. Ms. Townsley was said to have reined

in a 10-year downward spiral in enrollments and infrastructure at Nichols along with a "staggering" operating deficit, leading a turnaround that upon her departure enabled the business school to see a positive change in net assets.

However, the changes Ms. Townsley has brought to Peace are not so universally valued. A petition to remove Ms. Townsley from her new job has circulated. Vigorous opposition to her and her plans has also been published on the social networking website Facebook.

Ms. Townsley declined an interview request this week through a Peace College spokesman, who said Ms. Townsley was concentrating on students moving in.

A letter the school had sent to its alumni explained the changes, and noted that its board of trustees supports Ms. Townsley and the school's strategic plan. The letter said that at present, its market for prospective students is limited, with only about 2 percent of women indicating they will consider a women's college.

The school said it acknowledges and understands the disagreement with its decision, but the decision will not be reversed.

Three former Peace College presidents wrote a letter published in a North Carolina paper that said the school was spinning "a web of doom" because it has a $40 million endowment and the campus is conservatively worth $50 million.

The former presidents asked why the administration abandoned "what has been labored over and built with considerable consensus and success in recent decades."

The letter continued that the school is seeking to mimic indistinguishable coeducational competitors and "radically tear apart instead of build upon strengths."

They blasted the school for forcing professors into early retirement and terminating "iconic and aspiring professors."

They also questioned the wisdom of breaking ties with the Presbyterian Church, and making all the changes "in a shroud of secrecy."

Sheila Spencer Stover, who sent three daughters to Peace, criticized the school because alumnae were not informed or consulted. She called Ms. Townsley "cold and calculating."

Peace's strategic planning committee, which endorsed the changes, said that there were 203 women's schools in 1950, but by 2010 there were 46. More than three of every four women's colleges closed, merged or became coeducational in the last 60 years.


CUTLINE: Ms. Townsley
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Aug 26, 2011
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