Friday, June 6, 2008

And that's final

The Virginia Supreme Court ruled today on two cases that will ensure Randolph College (formerly Randolph-Macon Woman's College) continues as a co-ed institution. [Brief article from The Chronicle of Higher Education here.]

One suit was filed by students who argued that they had, upon admission, been promised an education at an all-female college. The court held by a 5-2 margin that no such contract existed.

The second suit was filed by alumnae and other donors who argued that gifts to RMWC had been intended to support a women's college specifically. This sounds like a stronger argument to me, but the court ruled unanimously that the laws cited by the plaintiffs did not apply to this case.

Why do I care? First of all, I was a member of the last all-male undergraduate class admitted to Washington & Lee University, about an hour away via U.S. Highway 501 over the mountains. I remember hearing the argument, similar to that employed by the Randolph students, that we had been admitted to an all-male school and should be allowed to graduate from one. I don't know, however, if that argument was ever made before a court. In any case, I was content not to be "grandfathered in"—W&L's single-sex status wasn't a major factor in my decision to go there instead of Johns Hopkins or Maryland—and things turned out well in the end, as I eventually met my wife at W&L.

Another reason for my interest is that I have a number of friends from RMWC, mostly of the long-lost variety but one of whom qualifies as a lifelong friend. (In fact, I heard from her this morning after a long hiatus. I don't know yet if this was coincidence or if her thoughts turned to me because of the news, but I suppose I'll find out soon.) I suspect most of them would have preferred, for nostalgic reasons at least, that RMWC stayed RMWC.

I do think there are reasonable arguments to be made for the option of single-sex education, at private institutions anyway, and I'm mildly disappointed that this option was closed due to financial considerations at Randy Mac. On the bright side, my RMWC sweatshirt (if I can find it again) is now a collector's item...


ginkgoleaf said...

Perhaps the decision to go co-ed would not raise so much gall in the throats of alumnae if it had not been conceived and driven by an outside consulting firm bent, no doubt, on justifying its hourly rate by demonstrating results - results based largely on so-called "statistics." As a graduate of what was formerly a fine liberal arts college, I hearken Mark Twain's famous clarification on the nature of statistics:

There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.

In the case of Randolph-Macon Woman's College, its decision to go co-ed to solve supposed financial insolvency is akin to crafting its own "Final Solution."

To answer your musing, was a coincidence in timing that caused me to reflect on W&L, and you. But perhaps unconsciously I felt the pain of losing my alma mater to history and sought solace from an old friend.

Mark Churchill said...

Your theory about the consultants' motives is certainly plausible—it's hard to justify a big bill for "stay the course". You would think they could have found other ways to shore up declining enrollment numbers (more active recruiting, "niche marketing", etc.). On the other hand, this seems to be the trend: Goucher College in Baltimore went co-ed about twenty years ago, and Hood College in Frederick, Maryland (my dad has taught some courses there) followed suit four or five years ago. It makes me wonder how Hollins and Sweet Briar are faring—and whether Randy Mac's consultants went and talked to the neighbors.

Anyway, condolences, and let's keep in touch.