- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 15, 2008

RICHMOND (AP) — The Virginia Supreme Court heard the appeals case yesterday from a group of female Randolph-Macon Woman’s College students who say the school’s governing board broke a contract with students when deciding in 2006 to immediately begin enrolling men.

“The students allege with specificity they were promised four years at an all-female institution,” said plaintiffs attorney Wyatt B. Durrette Jr. “That is the bargain they seek to enforce.”

He also said documents provided by the school to his clients — including promotional materials, admission letters and the academic catalog — touted its single-sex education mission.

Edward J. Fuhr, attorney for what is now Randolph College, said marketing materials do not amount to a contract and that the academic catalog includes a disclaimer that the situation can change without notice.

He also suggested the court appeal is moot because about 60 men already are enrolled at the Lynchburg school.

The suit, dismissed last year by Lynchburg Circuit Judge Leyburn Mosby Jr., was one of two involving Randolph’s coeducation status heard back-to-back by the Supreme Court. In the other, some students and donors claim the college cannot raise money for one purpose— education for women only— then spend it on something else.

The college’s board cited declining enrollment as a reason for ending its 115-year tradition of women-only education. Enrollment this year is about 700, about the same as it had been when the change was made.

Some justices voiced concern about whether the breach-of-contract lawsuit was dismissed before the plaintiffs were allowed to present their case.

“It seems to me there’s going to have to be evidence,” said Justice Donald Lemons. He said the situation is akin to someone applying to a dentistry school, then enrolling and finding out it’s really a veterinary school.

The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the cases in June.

Mr. Fuhr said students were never expressly promised the college would remain only for women. He also said students don’t commit to stay for four years when they enroll, so “at most you had a one-semester contract.”

Mr. Durrette disagreed, saying enrollment in a four-year college is “like a lease with an option to renew.” And in this case, he suggested, the terms were being changed midstream.

The second lawsuit, which also was dismissed by the circuit court, centered on whether charitable trust law prohibits the college from spending donations on coeducation.

“Fundamentally, it’s wrong to take assets intended for one purpose and use them for another purpose, charitable or otherwise,” plaintiff attorney William Hurd told the court.

Justice Steven Agee wondered whether Mr. Hurd’s argument meant a food bank couldn’t expand its services and offer clothing for the needy. Mr. Fuhr said such an outcome would erect “a very serious roadblock to a lot of public good.”

Mr. Fuhr also said that under the law, it would be up to the state attorney general to intervene if donations were being improperly spent.

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