Letter from the President

Dear Chatham College for Women Alumnae:

I am writing in a continuing effort to generate thoughtful dialogue among all interested parties.  Many seem to forget that Chatham University as a whole is doing fine, threatened only if we continue an unaltered pattern of unlimited support during continuation of the downward enrollment spiral of Chatham College for Women (CCW).  My hope is that we can continue to talk about what is possible for Chatham University in a spirit of constructive sharing, for we all are committed to Chatham and its continuing to serve the cause of supporting women’s education, leadership and empowerment.

One communication issue that perhaps should be discussed upfront concerns what amount and types of data alumnae will receive.  There are things that lie within the purview of the Board’s responsibility —such as oversight of the operations of the institution, be they admissions, marketing, or academic management —that the Board is under no legal or other obligation to share.  Transparency has been served by the large amount of data that has been shared on the web concerning the trends in the institution’s enrollment, subsidies to the women’s college, years of enrollment data, posting of 990′s and institutional audits.  To call this a lack of transparency or suggest that it disregards alumnae demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the respective roles of the alumnae constituencies and the Board.  It is the Board’s responsibility to make the determination of how the institution will move forward, and they are reviewing all relevant materials and listening carefully to all the dialogue taking place.

Secondly, please understand that CCW alumnae have been and are involved in the Board’s work and decision-making, including its efforts to re-imagine undergraduate education at Chatham University in light of current needs.  Fifteen of the 29 current members of the current Board members are CCW alumnae.  In addition, four CCW alumnae, including the president of the Chatham University Alumni Association, serve on the Board as Alumni Trustees.  The Alumni Association Board is regularly briefed by the administration during its meetings, and in November the Alumni Association Board knew of the study about whether a parallel undergraduate college could be created to help make up for the faltering CCW enrollment.

A great deal of Chatham University’s success, in fact, can be attributed to the many dedicated CCW alumnae who have served on the Board and/or have volunteered as recruiters, fundraisers, mentors and the like.  The hard truth, however, is that despite the best efforts of these and other dedicated and talented alumnae, the model of undergraduate education that they knew as undergraduates at Chatham (a model dedicated to the premise that the way to best serve the cause of women’s advancement is to keep a women’s only classroom) has failed and no amount of tinkering with respect to tactics is likely to solve the undergraduate enrollment problem.  There is a very small market for women’s colleges, and we are not in the most opportune position to draw that market to us.  We are neither elite/well known nor heavily endowed; nor are we in an urban area with a whole array of applied programs that will draw a large number of students to us.  We are small and getting smaller in the undergraduate college, and will put both our effort to support women at the undergraduate level and our graduate programs at risk if we do not act, and act now.  What is needed now is not more efforts to reinvent the wheel or make tweaks to the existing model.  The Board has tried many of these things in the past, and has concluded that they are unlikely to yield the kind of major improvement needed.

What is needed now, and what has sustained and inspired this institution since its founding, are creative, strategic and indeed progressive ideas to reinvigorate undergraduate education and make it more relevant to today’s times and students, all within a reorganized University structure.  One such idea that some alumni have suggested, and that we are exploring, is to create something akin to Rutgers’ Douglass Residential College which combines a living/learning program that in addition to single sex housing, offers special themed housing with focused academic advising and mentoring by alumnae for the students who opt to participate.  We could also create, again in Douglass’ image, an Institute or Center to put together existing leadership programs, a Chatham Residential College, and future initiatives, such as a Center for Women and Health that I hope one day will come into existence.  We would not be abandoning our mission to women’s advancement in taking this path, but we would be taking note of the fact that things have changed since we were founded just after the Civil War.

The Board’s thinking, admittedly driven initially by low enrollments, has also been inspired by a more contemporary interpretation of Chatham’s mission.  We no longer need to create access to higher education as the expression of the mission to women; but there is still need for attention to women’s career advancement and leadership opportunities.  We need to respect and honor women’s views of their own needs.  Is it right, when 98% of the college bound high school girls feel that this is not something that will best serve THEM, that we simply declare them wrong about their own needs and wishes?  Or is it better to say that we will take the remarkable expertise of our faculty in teaching in women, developed over the history of the institution, and will create a coeducational institution that is different, one that has classrooms conducted in a way that educates both men and women about gender equality?  This equality, we all agree, is not the predominant mood in the many coeducational classrooms, especially those which have not had the benefit of having been in a single sex institution.

It is my hope that the discussion of the future of undergraduate education at Chatham also includes consideration of issues of gender, education and social justice.  Chatham was founded as an institution in pursuit of addressing a social wrong: the exclusion of women from higher learning.  Today, when the many issues surrounding gender include some of the most important civil rights issues, are we going to say as it relates to education that ONLY being a traditional women’s college, with ONLY gender segregated classrooms, is the ONLY way to recognize and honor the demands of gender?  Aren’t the issues more subtle than that?  That is one reason that some Chatham faculty are proposing not just an institute on women, but rather an institute on gender and social equity, to acknowledge and advance the complex issues of gender, identity, and equality in contemporary society.

Finally, we are sometimes asked whether Chatham will be able to attract men, or whether we are not just turning to men to “solve our problems.”  This is about recruiting more students, both women and men, and we will certainly recruit more women.  I am so disappointed when people ask “why would men want to come here?” thus betraying a real inferiority complex.  Chatham has so many good things: a rising reputation as a regional leader, having jumped nearly 20 spots in our rankings as a northeast regional university; national and international recognition for our School of Sustainability and Eden Hall campus; a fabulous faculty who are stellar teachers and scholars; and being in a city repeatedly judged America’s best city in which to live.  Why wouldn’t people want to come to Chatham?

This is a tremendous opportunity.  It is an opportunity to rethink undergraduate education, and our existence as an institution.  It is an opportunity to engage with the big issues of what we offer and how we offer it.  For example, we just laid fiber optic cable among our three teaching sites: Woodland Road, East Side and Eden Hall.  How do we share academic resources, and reduce our carbon footprint at the same time, among those sites as well as more broadly, and thus create new ways of providing our academic programs?  In 1992, we changed our mission even more fundamentally; we stopped being a purely residential, undergraduate, liberal arts institution for women.  We became an institution that was also graduate and online, and coeducational at the upper levels.  Now we have an opportunity to think again about how to preserve what we most value: Chatham itself, superior educational programs of service to our community and country, and social justice, especially in service to the advancement of women.

I, together with many others, sincerely hope that the many brilliant women who graduated from Chatham will see the need to change and put all their efforts toward making an institution that is just as relevant and valuable to the future of our society as Chatham was when it was founded in 1869.

Sincerely,

Esther B.

 

  1. kathleen mcclelland says:

    Thank you Dr. Barazzone for taking the time to address this situation, you and the board are completely correct in opening the College to men. I cannot see why alumnae are so upset. The Graduate School should not support the Undergrad School. Times have changed and women now have other schools that they can enroll. When the College was started, women did not get the schooling that men had, the College gave women the chance to become more educated and move onto a life of working out side of the home.

    I just don’t know what the BIG deal is, men are already living on campus and taking classes along with women. I truly believe that Chatham has women in their thoughts and will continue to do so, but life goes on.

    Kathy McClelland Class of 91

  2. Blog watcher says:

    Big applause to Ms. McClelland for being willing to publicly write that she supports Dr. Barazzone and the Board!! I have spoken with several alumnae who see logic in what has been presented but are hesitant to speak out because they don’t want to be attacked or belittled. Supporting this option doesn’t mean they want Chatham to go coed; it means they want Chatham to continue to provide undergraduate education and realize that this may mean it continues as a fully coed institution. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. I hope Ms. McClelland’s post will give others who feel the same way the heart to let Dr. Barazzone and the Board know that there is not a monolithic viewpoint from the alumnae population.

  3. Marisa says:

    I still disagree with going coeducation as a way to solve the issues facing the University. However, since it does seem as if that is the direction that the Board and President are headed in, and as they are unwilling to pause (for fear of driving the university further toward the red and loss in recruitment for the next recruitment cycle). I’m offering a solution to allow for constructive discussion among all parties that can happen from afar. Chatham University, I’m sure, is no stranger to hiring consultants for various purposes. There is a company called Knowledge in the Public Interest. They specialize in the facilitation and moderation of discussions around challenging issues. Contact them. Hire them. Allow us all at least the space to offer input.

    http://www.kpublic.com/about-us/

  4. Rebecca says:

    Statement 1: “We are neither elite/well known nor heavily endowed; nor are we in an urban area with a whole array of applied programs that will draw a large number of students to us.”

    vs.

    Statement 2: “Chatham has so many good things: a rising reputation as a regional leader, having jumped nearly 20 spots in our rankings as a northeast regional university; national and international recognition for our School of Sustainability and Eden Hall campus; a fabulous faculty who are stellar teachers and scholars; and being in a city repeatedly judged America’s best city in which to live.”

    Does anyone else see these as a contradiction? The place is awesome and city is great–if co-ed. But sucks and boring if we stay single sex.

  5. Kelly Lewellen '94 says:

    I wanted to share a few thoughts since I haven’t been able to follow much from the town hall meetings from the west coast even though this has been very much on my mind:
    A couple years ago, my daughter, then six, asked me what college would be good to go to to study plumbing and art. She has since moved on to a dozen different career ideas, all of them equally unique. She is the kind of person that Chatham should want as a student. I was saddened to hear that Chatham’s board is once again considering coeducation, but shocked to hear that they are also considering moving away from their liberal arts core. A true, well rounded, liberal arts education has given me a breadth of knowledge and experience that I never would have gotten in a more narrow education. I have told more than one potential employer that, no, I wasn’t trained for the job they were offering, but I was taught how to think and to learn. I usually received an offer rather quickly.
    The need for women’s education, especially in the STEM fields, took on a special meaning for me when I attended another women’s college, Mills College, for graduate school. I choose Mills for their unique graduate program “Interdisciplinary Computer Science”. This program strives to unite computer science with the liberal arts in a way that I have never seen before, as students bring their expertise from their chosen fields and use technology to enhance it. As I have heard from many, we need people who know technology and know how to communicate. How better to handle this, than the liberal arts?
    It had also been questioned whether or not we still need women’s education. Personally, I think this need is obvious if you want to enter a male dominated field. There was something to be said for my own experience asking questions where there was no fear of judgement because I didn’t act like I knew everything. This helped me to gain confidence in my skills so that, when I did enter the workforce I knew what I knew and how to learn what I didn’t yet know.
    I am dismayed though not surprised, by the current action of the president and the board. Honestly, I thought they would try this sooner as I realized I was seeing more Eden hall and less about CCW. And, like others, their shock that we are vocal and fighting back amuses me. After all, that’s what you get when you educate women to think for themselves and give them the tools to question authority.
    So now, I am faced with the dilemma that if the proposed changes come to pass do I continue to financially support the university, or give my money to my other women’s college. Do I continue to support Chatham, but only as a restricted gift to scholarships for women or for women’s studies?

  6. Sue says:

    Just a few thoughts/questions:
    - I would like to hear from other alumnae who also support the transition to a co-educational undergraduate program. Specifically, I want to understand why this is not a big deal to you. I am not here to judge or belittle you because of your ideas and beliefs. I want to be open-minded but I am having difficulty seeing it from your point of view. If you could share your specific thoughts about why this will further women’s education & preserve CCW, I would love to hear them.
    - The difficulties that have historically faced women regarding access to education have for the most part gone by the wayside. But then look at the gender inequality in the workplace, especially in terms of financial compensation and a continued lack of representation of women in certain fields. One of the terrific aspects of a women’s college is that the focus is truly on women. I know there has been talk of a women’s focused program when this transitions occurs, however unless the transition is thoughtfully planned out and executed, Chatham will be no different than the other universities in the area.
    - One last thought. What if this doesn’t work? What if the co-educational transition doesn’t have the desired effect. What is the plan then? I feel as if this is a last resort decision and by not exploring our other options in-depth, we are setting ourselves up for failure.

  7. Sarah Stulga says:

    Sue, I agree with you. I am extremely concerned at the lack of research going into this vote. As I said in town hall meeting last night, I am not opposed to change! I certainly do not want my beloved alma mater to fail. I am opposed to pushing a vote on a decision that has not been thoroughly planned out.

    I am not convinced this is the best path for us, and I am afraid that when this plan fails, we will not be able go back.

    It is still not clear to me how Chatham is going to evaluate the alternative solutions proposed. I did not feel like my comments were being taken seriously when I stood up and attempted to voice my opinion face to face – why should I submit any ideas to a blog that may go directly into the shredder?

  8. Robyn McCall says:

    I noticed the double speak immediately.

  9. Charity Pitcher-Cooper says:

    I have been to many institutions of learning, big, small, state, private, equal gender balance, women only, women in the majority and I know this to be true- nothing compares to the quality of learning in the company of other women. This is not about access to education, Universities world wide are happy to take our money, but the quality of classroom learning for women is substandard in mixed educational environments. We as college graduates, have more education than the majority of male applicants, and yet we are still chosen last, and are paid less. Until we are equal players- the need for women only education remains valid. Those who have attended Chatham are not clinging blindly to the past- We instead wish to preserve the far superior quality of the core curriculum content and the classroom interaction that brought bright, driven, fabulous young women to those Ivy covered walls, and gas lamp lined streets.

  10. Lisa says:

    Sue, Thanks for your question. I’m an ’82 Chatham graduate. I support the decision to go co-ed. I attended Chatham despite the fact that it was single sex, so the co-ed proposal does not pack the emotional punch for me as it does for so many others.

    I’m more focused on the economic realities of the situation. Chatham and other similar institutions face a huge challenge to survive. Something Esther said resonated with me: We may love this institution as it is, but no one is buying it just because we love it. Sure, there is a lot of second guessing (maybe justifiably so) about how Chatham arrived at this crossroad, but all that is just noise at this point. Based on the stats I have seen, Chatham UG is fighting for its very survival–demographic trends do not lie, no matter how much some people might not like them.

    It’s time for all of us to put our big girl pants on, put our emotions aside, and collectively figure out how to save the undergraduate program.

  11. Sandy Kuritzky says:

    Coincidentally, my husband recently received Volume 20, #1, Winter 2014 issue of “Brown Medicine”. Among its programs are the Program in Liberal Medical Education (PLEM) and Women’s Health in Emergency Care (WHEC).

    According to the article “The Whole Physician”, the PLEM is an 8 year program that incorporates both the undergraduate and graduate experience. The undergrad. experience includes a BS in “biology and chemistry, literature and music, engineering and women’s studies, and everything in between”. Afterwards, students enter Brown’s medical school.

    According to “The Beat: What’s New in the Classrooms, on the Wards, and in the Labs”, the WHEC is a 2 year fellowship in women’s health, which “has evolved over the past decade, and now refers to complex interactions between biology, behavior, and the environment. We are developing a deeper scientific understanding of sex and gender differences in the etiology, diagnosis, progression, outcomes, treatment, and prevention of may conditions that affect both women and men”.

    With Pittsburgh’s vibrant medical school community, perhaps these may be models worthy of exploration for CCW?

    Sandy Kuritzky, ’73

  12. Liana Dragoman says:

    Lisa,

    You undermine your argument by a snarky ending –– “put your big girl pants on.” From what I’ve observed, many alumnae are attempting to thoroughly and thoughtfully understand the issues at hand. I see nothing wrong with this, and actually, I would find it strange if questions were not popping up about such a big decision. There are a lot of valid arguments for why a co-ed solution does not solve many of the root problems presented by the President and reiterated in your statement. Instead of degrading alumnae efforts, questions, and ideas by framing them as “emotional”, suggest some of your own under the “Ideas and Suggestions” tab. This type of tone policing (e.g., emotional = irrational) has historically been used to silence women and others. I ask that you not reapply a tactic that is meant to divide.

    Thank you, Liana Dragoman
    Class of 1999

  13. Lisa says:

    Thank you for your observations Liana. My comment was in response to Sue’s question, “I want to understand why this is not a big deal to you.” To clarify, the demise of CCW would be a big deal to me–a transition to co-ed would not. While I valued my educational experience at Chatham, I found the single sex aspect of the college to be limiting. This is my personal opinion and not meant to denigrate the opinion of others who feel differently.

    I don’t know if a co-ed approach will save Chatham, but clearly, significant restructuring is required if CCW is to survive. Specifically, I support strengthening the health sciences programs and further establishing them as feeder programs for the grad school. Majors with 5 or less students (1/3 of all CCW majors) should be phased out.

  14. Lyndy Palmer says:

    I feel like until we have 60% of CEO jobs given to women, then we still need school dedicated to teaching leadership skills and strengthening leadership traits in women.

  15. Lyndy Palmer says:

    Also we will likely lose a ton of alumnae funding when we go co-ed, which I think will have a major financial impact for many years to come.

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  17. Christina Griffin says:

    Why is Chatham only focusing on and studying women’s colleges that have failed and resorted to coeducation? Why isn’t Chatham studying women’s colleges that are thriving to learn from them? For example, Cottey College recently announced it is doubling down on women’s education and campaigning for expansion. Additionally, it surpassed its 5 year fundraising goal by $5 million. In 5 years, Cottey raised $40.4 million. Chatham can be successful as a single gender institution if we just try.

  18. Sandy Kuritzky says:

    That’s a good question, Christina! Their website has a very nice, concise page that contains information re: some of the reasons to consider a women’s college (and they’re a 2 year school). It’s all in the marketing…

    http://www.cottey.edu/future-students/the-cottey-advantage/facts-about-single-sex-education/

    Sandy Kuritzky, ’73

  19. Rebecca Sue says:

    Cottely College has 6 Bachelor of Arts programs and 6 Associate programs…hardly a fair comparison.

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