He also argued that the removal of the phrase would be intolerant, saying cultural differences must be seen and tolerated rather than effaced.
“When we remove the mark of another culture, we aren’t making a diverse environment, we’re making a sterile environment, and that’s not what we want. Altering the diploma hurts our multicultural environment and erodes our traditions,” he said.
Gary Luhr, executive director of the Association of Presbyterian Colleges and Universities, said the 64 colleges and universities that are members of the association individually decide the level of religious presence within their institutions.
“We’ve got some that distinguish themselves as very Christian colleges,” he said, explaining that others choose only to acknowledge that, historically, their beginnings involved religion. He described Trinity University, which is a member, as “in the middle but moving toward that historical relationship.” All of the schools welcome students of all faiths and backgrounds.
Mr. Luhr said he was not aware of the motivation behind the students’ push to remove the phrase from the diplomas. Accommodating people of different faiths is a Presbyterian idea, he said, and Trinity is in line with that belief by taking the questioning of the phrase seriously.
“I don’t think the fact that they’re going through this discussion right now is a bad thing,” he said.
The Committee on Church Relations and Religious Life at Trinity has been researching the matter to present to the board of trustees. The committee met last week, but no new information has been released.
Since the school began gaining national attention for the request, school officials say, it has received an influx of negative feedback from alumni and those unrelated to the school who want to keep the diploma as is.
“We’ve gotten nearly 600 calls and e-mails,” said Ms. Schweitzer, many from Trinity alumni and nearly all of whom were in opposition of the request.
She said the backlash outside the Trinity community does not represent the students’ reaction.
Students’ opinions have been diverse, and the thoughts expressed at the forum and across campus have civilly represented the “variation of faiths and backgrounds that have supported one side or the other,” Ms. Schweitzer said.
Sharon Bell, honorary vice chairman of the Trinity board of trustees and chairman of the Committee on Church Relations and Religious Life, said she was keeping an open mind and was waiting to hear testimonies from students on both sides of the issue.
“It’s a balance. A university is run for students, but it’s not run by students. We have many constituencies, including alums,” she said, explaining that alumni often donate a great deal of scholarship money.
Ms. Bell said the board always has nurtured diversity and Presbyterianism has a “tradition of open inquiry.”
“You have different ideas and different viewpoints, and it’s a much better institution,” she said.