University of Richmond Race & Racism Project

Faculty Response to Religious Discrimination

Report of the Westhampton Department of Modern Foreign Language

Item 1871: Chairman Weaver Marr submitted this annual departmental report to President George Modlin on behalf of the Westhampton College Foreign Language Department on April 19, 1969.

Founded as a Baptist Seminary, the University of Richmond’s Baptist roots played a critical role throughout the institution’s development.  For the majority of the University’s history, it maintained a relationship with Baptist organizations and churches both in Virginia and nationally. For example, Baptist leaders of the area believed that they had the authority to provide their input regarding the endeavors of the university. Former President George Modlin received a letter of disapproval from a Baptist minister in 1953 because the University of Richmond was going to have a Jewish rabbi and Catholic priest come to the school to speak for the Baptist Student Union’s Mission Emphasis Week. The university was pressured by Baptist churches and organizations like the Baptist General Association of Virginia in both positive and negative ways.  Some Baptist groups actually helped push the school to integrate by funding international students through missionary efforts and just stating that segregation wasn’t following their values. Conversely, the Baptist affiliation also pressured the University to maintain oppressive traditions and even practices of religious discrimination regarding faculty hiring, promotions, and tenure.  For the majority of the University’s history, it was able to navigate this relationship strategically. In the 1960s, however, both faculty and staff began to push back against these Baptist roots in the name of equal opportunity for faculty, despite religious denomination.  

Faculty resisted the system of religious discrimination in two significant ways.  First, every department was required to submit an annual report, at the end of the academic year, to the university president of the time.  At the end of these reports, department chairpersons included suggestions for the president to consider.

In item #1871, Chairman Weaver Marr of the Westhampton College Foreign Languages Department noted at the end that they could not fill the French positions because the University had turned away a qualified Ph.D. and former student because of "reasons of race (Semitic), and Roman Catholics are automatically disqualified." While the university, founded as a Baptist institution, accepted Jewish and Catholic students, it did not hire faculty from those religious groups, and Marr noted that this practice affected his ability to fill open positions and recommended that the University stop discriminatory hiring practices. 

During this period, more Departmental reports like this one began to include suggestions to open the recruitment of faculty to non-Baptists.  The reports didn’t shine any light on discrimination regarding different Christian denominations like Methodists, but there was a distinct trend of discrimination towards Roman Catholic and Jewish applicants.  Through an examination of these reports, it seemed as if faculty were, at least in part, struggling to gain qualified professors because of this religious preference.   It’s difficult to say whether this was their sole motivation or whether they were urging the president to consider that religious discrimination was simply immoral.  Either way, one could say that including ending religious discrimination as a “suggestion” is rather passive.  For instance, faculty members weren't boycotting the University until they stopped all religious discrimination.  However, it's still important.

In a more active form of resistance, the University Faculty- Representative Advisory attempted to study the effect of religious discrimination on multiple occasions.  It’s unclear as to when or why this group formed. However, they submitted their findings to the President, who was in turn supposed to share their concerns with the Board of Trustees.  

Item 1846: The University Faculty Advisory Panel wrote this report to study "the effect of race, religion, and sex on university policies on the hiring, promotion, salary, and tenure."

In item #1846, The University Faculty Advisory Panel found no evidence of discrimination based on sex, and they also discovered an administrative policy "encouraging the principle of racial non-discrimination." Despite this, they saw de facto restrictions on religion because there was apparent confusion among all chairpersons of all colleges as to the University's policy regarding a religious test. This was because the University never made an official statement on the issue. Some thought that they could hire faculty of any religious faith and others believed that some religions are ruled out, and Baptists were preferred. This report called on President George M. Modlin to share their concerns with the Board of Trustees so that they could state the University's policy in the Faculty Handbook.  

This study didn't have a date, but it must have been written either before, or around the same time, as this next document.

Faculty Statement on Religious Restrictions for Hiring at University of Richmond

Item 1872: The University Faculty-Representative Advisory Panel unanimously passed a statement on February 04, 1969.

In item #1872, The University Faculty-Representative Advisory Panel unanimously passed a statement expressing their belief that there should be no religious restriction in the process of hiring, promotion tenure, or salary increase to the faculty at the University of Richmond.  They wished to discuss this matter further with President Modlin. Faculty noted in yearly reports during the same semester that the University had turned away qualified Jewish and Roman Catholic candidates. 

These documents may not seem as dramatic as say, a protest or sit-in, but they are still just as crucial to the conversation of faculty response to religious discrimination.  First, it’s important to note that they, in fact, did respond.  Some may say 1969 was late to begin studying the effect of religious discrimination. However, it’s still important that faculty decided to stand up and start speaking out about this issue.  Professors Faculty openly condemning their university is an act of resistance in and of itself.  As employees of the University, faculty members frequently have to censor themselves and perform respectability, especially if they are trying to gain tenure.  We don’t know the names of the people on this advisory panel.  We aren't aware of their motivations.  We don’t even know the gender and religious demographics, but we do know that they were taking a risk to challenge a longstanding system of injustice perpetrated by their University.  Whether this risk was monumental or not is debatable, but the University did eventually make a definitive statement against religious discrimination.  Therefore, these faculty members deserve their place as change agents in University history.


For more information:

"RC Faculty Panel Approved Tuesday, Designed to Advise President, Provost"  The Collegian. 10 May 1968.

 "WC Faculty Gives Approval To New Panel" The Collegian. 17 May 1968.


Faculty Response to Religious Discrimination