Chatham College for Women
Location: Woodland Road, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA
Closed: May 1, 2014
After all the debate and op-eds and protests, it finally happened. The Board of Trustees killed off Chatham College for Women today. From today's Post-Gazette:
Chatham University to admit male undergraduates
By Bill Schackner and Eleanor Chute / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Chatham University trustees this afternoon voted to end 145 years of tradition by opening the school’s undergraduate college to men, a controversial step that administrators say is vital to the institution’s long-term survival.
The college, founded in 1869, will see its first male students recruited for fall 2015.
The board made the decision during a meeting on campus, while 20 or more protesters in a "free speech zone" outside voiced their opposition to the move.
The board's action includes a reorganization of Chatham University by academic units and the creation of a new Women's Institute with $8.5 million in funding.
In a news release, Chatham President Esther Barazzone said, "Our thinking has been inspired by a more contemporary interpretation of Chatham's mission in serving society's educational needs while also honoring our commitment to women with the establishment of our Chatham University Women's Institute to address critical challenges for women in the areas of business, politics, health and leadership development."
The university declined to release the vote, but at a news conference later, Ms. Barazzone said it "was not unanimous but near unanimous." Five trustees were also at the news conference to express their support for the decision, including Jane Burger who called it "courageous."
The Women's Institute this year will start with $8.5 million, made up of various endowments, current funds and $2 million in newly raised commitments.
The announcement, however, was met with some disappointment.
Emily Newport Woodward, 45, of Carnegie, a member of the Class of 1990, was asked what she would say to the trustees and Ms. Barazzone if she had the chance. She responded that she would ask, "Why? What is the plan of our alma mater to succeed, because going coed is not an easy fix.
"Chatham is no longer special in this saturated market of colleges and universities. I find it extremely ironic that Dr. Barazzone was brought here to save Chatham in 1990, and now her legacy will be to have basically undone what she saved."
"The president that I had back then in the 1990s would throw this Esther Barazzone off the Rachel Carson Bridge," said Amanda Nedley, 37, of Upper S. Clair, Class of 1990. "They're too different, period. Bought and paid."
The announced resignation Tuesday of the college’s dean, Karol Dean, added to a sense among members of a group calling itself the Save Chatham movement that the vote was not likely to go their way. Its leaders posted a message Wednesday night on Twitter aimed at some 2,000 graduates who have signed petitions, offered research or provided other support since the proposal was announced in February.
“You stood up and spoke at town hall meetings with conviction, passion and grace about how alumnae could change the future of Chatham College for Women, had only we been given the chance,” it read.
Susan George, a Point Breeze resident who is a member of the Class of 1975, wanted the board to vote down the coed proposal or delay the vote. Joining other protesters in the "free speech zone," she said alumnae were not given enough notice that the college had an enrollment problem.
"This is a failure of leadership on the part of the president and the board," she said.
She said it was important to save the women's college.
"Going to an all-women's college was one of the most important things I ever did," she said. "It gave me the confidence and feelings of self-worth to go on and go to law school and become an attorney and practice law," said Ms. George, a former alumnae trustee.
As the board meeting time neared, the demonstrators decorated a cremation box with a purple and white Chatham banner from the days when it was a college and promoted the theme of "world ready women."
Jane Kelly of Sheraden, a 2012 Chatham grad who was wearing a purple #savechatham pin, said, "I'm here because I believe an educational environment with all women helps women."
Maria Lepre, a Regent Square resident who is a member of the Class of 1987, wanted the vote to be delayed so more alumnae can become involved.
"I'm here to help preserve single-sex education as an option," she said. "I have a 5-year-old daughter. I want her to grow up knowing she has a strong voice."
She said women's colleges are needed, noting women still don't have pay equality with men. "There's still progress to be made."
Some of those walking across campus were men enrolled in graduate programs.
Eric Rodriguez of Shadyside, who is working on a master's degree in biology, said he sees the economic necessity.
"The university is going to go away or they have to let men in," he said.
He said he wished the women's college could remain, saying it provides a "unique environment for females" who take their classes only with women.
However, of going coed, he said, "If they didn't need to, they wouldn't do it."
The members of Save Chatham have said alumnae stand ready to help raise additional funds for the all-women’s college, but some also vowed to shift their donations to other women’s colleges if the vote to go coed was approved.
The coed idea is one component of a three-part proposal that trustees of the private campus reviewed in a closed session in the Eddy Theatre. The other elements included:
• Reorganizing the university by academic units and enabling undergraduates to secure spots upon admission into graduate programs.
• Creating a new Women’s Institute by combining existing centers for women’s entrepreneurship and women in politics with a new Women and Health program and the university’s Department of Women and Gender Studies.
Officials said the institute would include, among other facets, a women’s leadership certificate program, an all-women's residence hall with a focus on leadership, and research.
Chatham was founded under the name Pennsylvania Female College not long after the Civil War.
It has enrolled male graduate students for decades but kept its undergraduate college single sex, even as Chatham evolved into a university and as undergraduate females came to represent a shrinking part of the overall institution.
The college’s enrollment, which peaked at about 750 in 2008, is now closer to 500, a small fraction of the university’s nearly 2,200 students, officials said. The number of first-time full-time freshmen is half what it was in 2008 and is continuing to decline, of particular worry for a tuition-dependent campus already using its growing graduate programs to offset undergraduate losses.
In February, when Chatham announced that its board was pondering a move to coed, Ms. Barazzone cited “the difficulty of reaching a critical mass of students in contemporary times and the philosophical question of whether educating women alone continues to be the best way to give women a quality education in the 21st century."
Women are now in the majority on the nation’s college campuses. And only 2 to 4 percent of college-bound high school females say they want to attend a women’s college, a preference evident in the decline of women’s colleges across the U.S. from 200 in the 1960s to fewer than 50, Ms. Barazzone said.
Compounding matters were the recession of 2008 and population losses that have hit single-sex colleges especially hard.