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Thursday, December 4, 2014

Dear Alumna,

Hello! It has been five long months since we reported to you about the hearing held June 16, 2014. That day, more than 70 of us filled the Honors Suite in Harrisburg for an informational hearing before a panel of the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE). We apologize for taking such a long time to be in touch with you again, and thank you again for all your support. The PDE still has not approved, disapproved, or approved in part the Board of Trustees' proposed revision of the Wilson College Articles of Incorporation (Charter) published in the PA Bulletin in July 2013. Information from the College implies the matter has been decided, but it has not.

To recap, at the hearing, four Limited Participants (all alumnae representing the concerns of forty formal complaints) protested the proposed changes to Wilson’s Charter, and the College administration’s illegal and unauthorized enrollment of traditional-age, male residential students before receiving approval from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to do so. Then, by August 1st both the College and the Limited Participants had to file post-hearing statements with the PDE. (These statements are available for you to read here.) In its post-hearing filing, the College agreed with a point the Limited Participants made during the hearing and admitted that any change to an institution of higher education’s Articles of Incorporation is a fundamental change. Pennsylvania law prohibits an institution of higher education from implementing fundamental changes without PDE approval. Yet the College continues to ignore the law. It argues that the “1993 Charter [is] broad and flexible enough to permit the actions that were taken [in] May 2013.” In other words, according to the College’s August 1st statement, Wilson has been coeducational for more than the last two decades. As we have said in numerous communications since the Board of Trustees’ actions, we do not recall any time at which Wilson, prior to the Trustees’ 2013 vote, presented itself in its publications and advertising as anything other than a women’s college in its undergraduate residential program. We wait for a ruling from the PDE.

Other hearing-related news came in a letter to the Limited Participants from PA Secretary of Education Carolyn Dumaresq (dated October 9th) stating that L. Jill Hans, who chaired the June 2014 PDE hearing, had left the Department to take a position at a nearby private college. In her place, Ms. Theresa Barnaby was named Acting Deputy Secretary for Post-Secondary Education. Ms. Barnaby, a long-time public servant, has been tasked with making a recommendation in the Wilson College matter. That recommendation must be approved by the PA Secretary of Education, who is expected to be replaced when Tom Wolfe (the newly elected Governor of PA) takes office.

We are all wondering, “Why is this taking so long?” Is it because of a hotly contested election year in Pennsylvania? Is the delay due to diligent PDE investigation of the hundreds of pages of evidence and testimony submitted by the Limited Participants? At this point, no one knows. This is an unprecedented case. How do state officials deal with a college administration and Board of Trustees who simply ignore the law? Do officials know that the College administration continues to enroll male students and behave as though it has the authority to act on proposed fundamental changes to Wilson’s Charter without PDE approval? And, if PDE officials do know, will that awareness affect their decision? We will not know the answers to these questions until we hear from the PDE.

In the meantime, we have a few other items to share with you.

At a Friday evening get-together on Leadership Weekend (September 26–28, 2014) with Board of Trustees Chair Barbara Tenney, President Barbara Mistick, and AAWC President Mary Cramer, President Mistick spoke for several minutes about the work of Wilson Today, the name of the plan she is overseeing following the Board of Trustees’ vote on coeducation in January 2013. Absent from her remarks was any mention of women-centered education. One alumna inquired about the omission, recalling that a committee to focus on women-centered education was appointed as part of Wilson Today. President Mistick was not able to answer with any specifics and, after more discussion, Board Chair Tenney stated that “women have it better than men” on college campuses now and that Wilson can play a part in helping today’s struggling young men! With that remark, she seemed to dismiss the matter of whether Wilson would concern itself with women-centered education. The obvious lack of focus on women at Wilson negates completely the women-centered emphasis that the 2012 Commission and the President promised prior to the Trustees' decision on coeducation. It also ignores the reality that women still face inequities in terms of job compensation, promotion, and professional achievement in general.

In a September 30th news release, the College reported the following enrollment news: “A total of 334 are enrolled in the traditional undergraduate college, an increase of 26 students from a year ago. Men represent 8.4 percent of the traditional undergraduate college population….” Additionally, the release says that this fall brought “141 new students—including first-year and transfer students—which is up from 100 last fall and is the most since 1973, when 137 new students enrolled at the college.” For reference, enrollment records show that as recently as 2009 the number of new students was 134. Though the impact of the recruitment for a coeducational campus is being closely watched, for a complete picture the admissions efforts should be examined in the context of the range of new initiatives, including

  • the freeze on tuition increases,
  • the tuition buy-back program,
  • expanded recruitment efforts and admissions staff,
  • new academic programs, and
  • improved retention efforts.

These are all new initiatives that could have been implemented to recruit students to a women’s college campus.

Meanwhile, Wilson is not the only college enjoying an increase in enrollment this fall. Small women’s colleges, including Meredith College, Salem College, and Saint-Mary-of-the-Woods College have all reported incoming classes larger than last year. This summer, the US Airways magazine included a wonderful article about women's colleges and their innovative programs. Wouldn't it have been exciting—as well as great marketing—to see Wilson featured in this way?

While the Wilson community has waited for a PDE decision, President Mistick wrote to all “alumnae, alumni and friends of Wilson College” on July 21, 2014 with various College news updates. In that letter, she characterized Wilson College Women as reporting “misinformation,” and referred to WCW as “this small alumnae group.” A number of alumnae reported to us that they inferred from the letter that the matter of the hearing had been concluded and the College was free to move ahead with its coeducational plans. If there is any misinformation, it lies in that characterization. And despite the College’s attempt to dismiss WCW and other alumnae as a small group of complainers, the record tells a different story.

This brings us to thankfulness and a surprising joy after two long years. Many alumnae who never before had communicated have now become friends. We’ve always known that Wilson College, small and mighty, made us stronger together. An aspect of our efforts has been to preserve and continue the unique community building that happens at women’s colleges as women learn and lead together. In this amazing effort we have strengthened that community. We are thankful for the strength and honor we learned at Wilson. We are thankful that we share it together.

We hope you had a very Happy Thanksgiving and are looking forward to a beautiful season of celebration ahead!

Firmly pledged to love and honor…

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

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

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