Wilson College, founded in 1869 and one of the oldest surviving women's colleges in the country, is embroiled in an unprecedented legal fight. My alma mater in Chambersburg, PA, has proudly educated women for 145 years. Last year, the College’s administration began admitting male students before securing the proper legal authority. This decision endangers the College's accreditation and sets the College on a collision course with state regulators.
I need your help to save this small but mighty college.
Wilson College’s current leadership has betrayed the College’s Honor Principle and historic mission, and we -– the alumnae, current students, and hundreds of supporters who signed our change.org petition -– seek to restore rational and lawful management to this institution of higher education. This controversy –- whether a college or university may abandon its mission and operate in violation of its charter -– has far reaching implications in higher education.
Last year, Wilson's Board of Trustees voted to make the college coeducational. Without amending the College's charter or seeking prior approval from the PA Department of Education, as required by state law -- or conducting a feasibility study to determine whether coeducation will succeed at Wilson, as required by common sense -- the College announced the new mission and immediately began to recruit male undergraduate students. The Board of Trustees also approved the President's spending plan and withdrew over $6 million from the endowment, causing four distinguished and long-serving members of the Board of Trustees to resign.
The College eventually petitioned the PA Department of Education for permission to become coeducational and to change the charter in other ways that significantly weaken the institution. The College also sought ex post facto approval from its accreditation body, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. Before we had a chance to file protests there, Middle States granted the College's "substantive change" petition pending approval of its application to the PA Department of Education.
I and 39 others filed protests with the PA Department of Education. Our hearing was held on June 16, 2014. At the hearing, the College stated that it did not believe it needed the Department of Education's approval to make the changes it has made in the mission and charter. After the hearing, the College's president stated that Wilson will continue to admit male students regardless of the Department of Education’s decision. https://soundcloud.com/witf/the-fight-over-wilson-colleges-all-womens-status-goes-to-the-state
I have started this personal campaign to help raise funds to bring a lawsuit, if necessary, to enforce the decision of the PA Department of Education, which we expect will be issued this fall. Given the adminsitration's unlawful actions in operating a coeducational institution while Wilson is still chartered as a women’s college, and given the seriousness with which the Department of Education is considering our protests, we think it reasonable that the Department of Education will reject the College's application. If the Department of Education does reject the College’s application, the Middle States Commission will deny the College's substantial change petition. If the College ignores the Department of Education's decision -- and by her statement at the June 16 hearing, the President has vowed it will -- the College will be operating as a coeducational institution in violation of its charter, its accreditation, and state law.
This possibility is unprecedented in the world of higher education. If we are not prepared to act, Wilson may not survive this triple threat. If we are not prepared to act, state law regulating institutions of higher education may be gutted.
I won't detain you here with a long explanation of the value of women's colleges. The evidence exists and we've cited it in the testimony we submitted to the Department of Education, which you’ll find here: http://daisiescantell.com/pages/documents I won't repeat what you already know about the hostility so many women experience on coed campuses, especially women who are studying engineering, computer programming, mathematics, the sciences, and other male-dominated subjects. I won't bore you with the stories of how hundreds and hundreds of Wilson Women, separated by decades, continents, political views, religious beliefs, and much more, have joined together, united by our love for Wilson and her Honor Principle, to fight for all that is good about our Wilson. http://www.wilsoncollegewomen.com/. I won't sing the praises of Wilson’s Women With Children program, which permits single mothers and their kids to live on campus while attending college, or the new science complex, or the equine facilitated therapy program, to name just a few of Wilson’s outstanding programs. I won’t do these things.
But I will ask for your help to fight this good fight. A college isn't just a corporation. It's a living, breathing thing. A college's Board of Trustees doesn't own it; a Board of Trustees holds the institution in trust, for the alumnae, the students, faculty and employees, and for the future. In addition to following the law, a Board of Trustees’ responsibilities include protecting the mission of the college and acting in its best interests at all times. Wilson College’s current Board of Trustees has violated these most fundamental duties, and it has ignored the wishes of Sarah Wilson, whose generosity made the College's founding possible in 1869.
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