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Friday, June 6, 2014

Dear Alumna,

Reunion Weekend is here, and alumnae are returning to campus to catch up with classmates and reminisce about their years at Wilson. For classes from 1970 on, though, startling news about your school might await you.

According to the documents that Wilson College has submitted to the PA Department of Education for the June 16th hearing, Wilson has been coeducational for the last several decades, in fact since 1970. Never mind the Trustees’ unanimous vote in 1971 to “maintain Wilson as a college for women” (Alumnae Quarterly, Spring 1971). Or the December 10, 2009, “We Believe” letter from the Board of Trustees to the College President that stated, “We believe that Wilson’s Mission should continue to be centered on undergraduate education in the liberal arts and sciences for women.” Or the numerous statements about and references to Wilson as a women’s college through the years between 1971 and 2013.

Now the College is trying to persuade the PA Department of Education that Wilson’s core mission hasn’t really changed. “Wilson College has been educating men for decades as a core part of its mission. The decision to begin formally admitting men (beyond sons of employees) as undergraduates is not a fundamental change in Wilson College’s mission, and the changes made to Wilson’s Articles of Incorporation (and its Bylaws) merely reflect this longstanding reality” (College testimony, p. 19).

A factual and accurate way to state Wilson’s real purpose is very different, and it appears in the current charter, which was last amended in 1993. According to the charter, Wilson is a nonprofit corporation that has, “…without limitation, the following purposes: (a) in furtherance of its purpose set forth in the original charter, to operate a College for Women, which offers residential opportunity, and, in addition, to operate a co-educational College of Continuing Education; and…” (Parts b and c indicate that Wilson offers “studies in literature, science and the arts in a liberal arts program” and can grant to students degrees and honorary testimonials.)

The 1993 charter therefore emphasizes that Wilson’s purpose is to further its original purpose of educating women, and that a coeducational adult program also exists. But all the men in the Adult Degree Program (as it is now called) are commuter students; they can earn undergraduate degrees but do not live on campus.* And the minority presence of men in classes (about 11% until last year) has not changed the culture of Wilson or the overall educational experience of women students. The claim the President and Board of Trustees are now making to the PA Department of Education that amending Wilson’s charter to include coeducation across all programs “merely reflects this longstanding reality” is a deliberate misreading of the facts.

Let’s look at a few more facts. How could Wilson have participated in the NeXXt Scholars Program (a program launched in 2011 by the U.S. Department of State with a consortium of women’s colleges) if it has been coeducational since 1970? Why does U.S. News & World Report list Wilson’s school type as “private, women’s college” (retrieved 6/6/14)? The questions don’t stop here.

Why did President Mistick go to pains to write to us on March 1, 2013, and enclose a Frequently Asked Questions document that states, “Wilson has become a fully coed institution since January 13, 2013. On February 5, 2013, we admitted our first traditional male undergraduate student.” In contrast, the College’s April 14, 2014, statement submitted to the PA Department of Education claims, “Contrary to the single-sex picture painted by the objectors, Wilson College, is, and has long been a College that educates male and female undergraduates together” (College response, p. 1).

If this is the kind of argument that the College devises, with additional statements like “the current and previous Charters have not been understood to bar males from enrolling in Wilson’s undergraduate program” (College testimony, p. 6), then how do you feel about the “transparent” Commission on Shaping the Future of Wilson College created to bring “transformative change” to our alma mater?

We aren’t making this up. And we don’t believe we have taken any of these statements out of context. But we invite you to read the complete testimony and response documents yourself.

We also invite you to join us in Harrisburg on June 16, 2014. You’ll find details about the informational hearing and travel logistics on Daisies Can Tell.

Firmly pledged to love and honor…

Deborah Barnes ’71
Melissa Behm ’76
Kendal Hopkins ’80
Nicole Noll ’03
Carol Noon ’87

*As you know, the history of Wilson College and changes to its charters are complex. In 1970 (the last semester of Paul Swain Havens’ tenure as Wilson’s president), Trustees voted to amend Wilson’s charter to say the purpose of the College was to “…promote the education of both women and men in literature, sciences and the arts.” It was at about this time that Wilson began trying exchange and consortium programs with other local colleges (like Franklin & Marshall). Although this amendment stood until 1993, the College did not implement a shift to coeducation and, as indicated above, the full Board voted in 1971 (in Charles Cole’s first year as president) to remain a women’s college. In 1979, Trustees voted to close the college, but a lawsuit by alumnae and faculty prevailed to keep it open. Enrollment in that era was unsustainably low so, in 1982, men were allowed to enroll in Wilson’s adult program and earn undergraduate degrees.

Throughout Wilson’s history, the vast majority of undergraduate male students, including those in the adult program, have been commuters. With brief exceptions in short-lived programs (such as educational opportunities for veterans returning from World War II), men have not lived on campus as residential students. Becoming fully coeducational would fundamentally change the culture and educational experience of women students at Wilson. And if the PA Department of Education approves Wilson’s application to modify its charter in this and other ways, the College for Women will cease to exist and Wilson’s core mission and identity as a women’s college will be lost forever.

We believe today’s students should have a choice about the kind of college they wish to attend. If their choice is to attend a single-sex college, that option should be available to them.

The website was established on October 11, 2012 by a group of Wilson College alumnae to persuade the Board of Trustees and President of Wilson College to ensure Wilson’s success as a women’s college. Since the Board’s vote on January 13, 2013 to make Wilson College coeducational across all programs, we have worked independently of the College to keep alumnae informed about events, activities, and decisions that affect our alma mater. In January of 2014, the site was moved to

Visit Daisies Can Tell