- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 1, 2006

Some alumnae and teachers at Randolph-Macon Woman’s College say accepting male students to resolve financial problems is a shortsighted effort that undermines the school’s 115-year-old tradition.

“As we try to adapt ourselves to the educational needs of men, I fear we will descend into mediocrity,” James Peterson, chairman of the English department said in a letter to the school’s board of trustees. “We’ll do all right. We’ll survive. But we won’t be able to continue to give that special quality of education to young women.”

Board members voted 25-2 last month in favor of admitting men in the fall of 2007, the culmination of a three-year effort by the board to develop strategies to ensure the college’s future. The vote also brings in a new strategic plan that emphasizes a “global honors curriculum,” which focuses more on individual study, travel and honor-system values.

Interim school President Virginia H. Worden and Alumnae Director Heather Garnett said less income as a result of 15 years of dwindling enrollment in part led to the changes.

“It comes down to needing more students on the campus,” Miss Garnett said. “We need more students who are paying a greater percentage of their tuition.”

However, the changes have sparked a backlash — from alumnae withdrawing their support to protests and boycotts by many of the about 680 female undergraduates on the pastoral Lynchburg, Va., campus

In a survey days before the Sept. 9 vote, 71 percent of the alumnae who responded said they were “very unhappy” with the new plan, and some have joined forces to seek a legal remedy to overturn the decision.

About 79 percent of the students also responded as “very unhappy,” according to the survey. However, the majority of the respondents said they would rather the school accept male students than close.

“I hope that we can come up with a way alumnae can support Randolph-Macon moving forward, although I understand the feelings our alumnae are having right now,” said Miss Garnett, a 1986 alumna.

Though an alumnae revolt could result in less scholarship money, Miss Worden, of the Class of 1969, said the board still sees coeducation as the future.

“I don’t think [the board] will reverse that decision,” she said.

Miss Garnett said “good things” will come from the changes. She said, for example, the college will be able to compete better in the higher-education market and offer more opportunities to students.

“We aren’t changing what we do, to accommodate men,” Miss Garnett said. “We are expanding our offerings and opening our doors in order to offer this unique experience to more students.”

Miss Worden acknowledged the school will lose some of its identity and perhaps provide less individual attention, but she said it will still offer a quality education.

Despite the opposition, some students embrace the changes.

“I think, to be more of a global college, to better prepare women for the work force, they should have men around them,” said Amanda Weller, a sophomore dance major from Pennsylvania.

Angela Grove, a junior philosophy major, said having male students will likely challenge female students’ views on competition and school spirit, but the changes “can only enhance our campus.”

Miss Worden does not expect a large number of male applicants during the first few years and pointed out that other women’s colleges that switched to coed had a large number of female applicants after the change.

“I think it’s going to be an interesting next year,” Miss Weller said.

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