From Jennifer Potter ’66, Chair of Chatham University Board of Trustees

Dear Members of the Chatham University Community,

Over a year ago, the Chatham University Board of Trustees asked me to chair a Board Committee charged with reviewing the status of Chatham College for Women (CCW) in keeping with the Board’s past practice of regularly reviewing the component units of the University.  As the Committee’s study progressed over time, its scope of study was expanded to include undergraduate education across the University, not just within CCW, in light of the fact that undergraduate education is also offered to women and men through the College of Continuing and Professional Studies and, starting in the fall of 2014, will be offered to women and men through the Falk School of Sustainability.

An outcome of the Committee’s study was the Resolution, which the Board approved unanimously at is February meeting, to consider a proposal to make undergraduate education coeducational across Chatham University.  The Resolution also expressed the Board’s desire to hear from you – the students, faculty, staff and alumni of Chatham University – regarding your thoughts and suggestions on this important issue.  Since then, members of the Board and the administration have participated in seven forums with different Chatham University constituencies, including students, faculty, staff and alumni.  The two forums for CCW alumnae were streamed over the internet so that even more alumnae could participate.  In addition, this blog was created to facilitate the exchange of ideas among the Chatham community.  (There have been nearly 14,000 page views across the blog since its launch.)  What the Board has heard and read has been important and has inspired a great deal of dialogue and exchange of ideas among our members.

As the next step in the Board’s deliberations, the Board has charged the Board Committee which I chair (the same Committee that was originally charged with studying CCW) with overseeing the process leading up to the Board’s consideration of a proposal on or before the June Board meeting. This process will include, among other things, consideration of feedback from the forums, the blog and other sources.  On behalf of the Board of Trustees, I would like to thank all who have shared and continue to share their constructive ideas with us, and thank you all for your dedication to Chatham University.

Sincerely yours,

Jennifer Potter ‘66
Chair
Chatham University Board of Trustees

  1. Susan Comiskey Parker says:

    Jennifer–I always thought that the number one priority of the Chatham board of trustees (and especially you as an alumna) was the protection and prosperity of CCW. It apparently has not been so. My belief is that CCW has been cannibalized or sacrificed for the growth of the graduate programs. I celebrated with the addition of Eden Hall but now believe it is probably one of the main reasons we are seeing the demolition of CCW. I have regularly given to the Annual Fund and, frankly, was somewhat concerned with the explosion of building on the Woodland Road campus. We need to be excellent stewards of our old buildings (I was married on the terrace of Mellon Hall in 1988) but did we really need such costly other projects? I also felt uncertain when the sign on Fifth Avenue (I also lived for two years in what was then the Gateway House) changed to “University” in green colors, no mention of CCW. This has been a long time comin’ (words of Crosby, Stills and Nash), thrust upon us as a fait accompli. I am so disappointed in you. Take my name off the Annual Fund list…Chatham College is gone for me.

  2. Lucia Melito says:

    Jennifer, many of us are still in the dark about what exactly is meant by the ” process” of “consideration of feedback”. Esther refused to answer this question of methodology on Tuesday night. So I am asking you to explain it. Will this process of consideration of feedback be transparent or not? How can we be certain that our ideas, thoughts and feedback are being considered? According to the letter Esther had someone post from her while she was at the meeting on Tuesday she made it pretty clear that the Board can act as it sees fit.

    I, for one, am feeling jerked around. Susan is right, it feels like a decision has already been made. Esther seemed angry, rude and irritable on Tuesday night. The male Board member seated to her right sharply said in regards to single sex education that it had “failed”.

    Look, Esther doesn’t want to be President of a single sex college, I don’t want her to be President of this single sex college, why on earth does the board insist on keeping her? It seems as if all the damage was done on her watch. Let her go. This urgency to have the vote by June is absolutely arbitrary and manufactured. My head is spinning. In February we were told Chatham had three months to live. I sincerely doubt that.

    Esther has succeeded in leaving me feeling alienated, powerless, hopeless and utterly confused. Way to go Esther. Pay her another 1.8 million for undoing 145 years of female empowerment.

    I hope the Board can retain its independence and autonomy and withstand her bullying and “the sky is falling tactics”. Coeducation is the least innovative alternative there is. Vote a resounding No!

    All wars have shown us that it only takes a moment to destroy what has taken generations to build and on Tuesday evening Esther appeared to be a woman at war with her own.

    I hope that you really will consider whether it is CWW that must go or her current president.

    BTW, I saw some terrifically smart, enthusiastic, innovative women Tuesday night any of whom would seem to make excellent replacements.

  3. Cheryl says:

    For a moment, I was thoroughly invested in being a part of a serious effort to work together with Chatham and fellow alumni to find innovative ways to save the women’s college at Chatham and use this opportunity to help transform Chatham into an educational institution that actually empowers and uplifts women. But after reading comments that only seem to stress a co-ed school as a solution and quote “this isnt about money” I am giving up. Chatham is just another money hungry institution. Let’s be honest, that’s what higher education has become. I am fine watching it fail- it will become just another arm of capitalism- standing for nothing that is actually real or revolutionary or educational for that matter. And hopefully in the next 20 or 30 years it will crumble along with all other higher Ed institutions motivated by money. At least women will crest safe spaces and leadership opportunities elsewhere and save themselves thousands of dollars and endless threatening phone calls from loan companies for the rest of their lives. What a blessing in disguise! To fellow alum- Perhaps this is the time to form affordable cooperative education institutions for women on our own! ..and say goodbye to the Chatham we once new… Or maybe never really knew as well as we thought. Chatham has empowered women all these years through providing an alternative space for women to learn and grow and liberate themselves in a patriarchal suppressing violent society. Let’s protest chatham- and create that space elsewhere. We know that the desire for women’s space still exists- let’s not require Chatham to be the ones who decide what that means or look to Chatham to validate that.

  4. Nadine says:

    Jennifer,
    I was excited that CCW alum rallied together to save Chatham. When I went to Tuesday’s town hall meeting, I knew what I wanted to share, to learn that my sisters had the same thoughts. However, when I left the meeting, I was very disappointed. I didn’t want it to be so. It was just as I had perceived…the board and administration have already made their decision. When the many offers to help were dismissed, that’s when I knew. Best wishes whatever the outcome.

  5. bcampbell says:

    Thank you for your comments and engagement on the blog. Here are a few responses to some of the issues raised in these comments.

    1. Please know that all blog comments, other input being received via the ChathamFeedback email address will be shared with the Board of Trustees so that they can be reviewed as part of this input gathering. The town halls were also another important part of hearing from everyone. The Board will be reviewing all of the provided feedback plus additional research and information they have requested such as new models to explore such as the Douglass Residential College (mentioned under Ideas & Suggestions on this blog).

    2. It is not just Ms. Potter who is an alumna on the board. 15 of the 29 members of the Board of Trustees are also CCW alumnae. Everyone is working in good faith to address the very tough enrollment and market changing realities facing Chatham College for Women and the majority of women’s colleges that exist today. Everyone on the board has and continues to give very generously of their time, energy, resources and more to support Chatham University and Chatham College for Women.

    3. As shared in the presentations and communications, the operating revenue from the rest of the university, provides a $5 million dollar investment each year to the Chatham College for Women. 20 plus years ago, Chatham College for Women was in dire straits and in danger of closing. The addition of graduate programs, other university diversification efforts, this multi-million dollar investment each year in CCW and the continued marketing and recruiting efforts for CCW supported it all these years. These other programs have not “cannibalized” CCW, but have allowed its mission to continue.

    4. No offers of help have been dismissed at the town halls or any other time. In fact, the individuals who shared their thoughts on paper were shared with the board members in attendance and added to the feedback gathering we are categorizing and sharing with the board.

  6. Lucia Melito says:

    Were you at the same Town Hall meeting I was at? EB’s behavior was dismissive and demeaning. She cut people off, rolled her eyes, huffed and puffed. All she accomplished was alienating more people and having those on stage with her look like her lackies. Lots of people came away feeling the decision had already been made and that the meetings were a sham. EB was angry that not everyone thinks her ideas are innovative or the best medicine for what ails Chatham.

    In fact, some of us hold her responsible for the “non elite, not well known” Chatham she molded. We are asking for her to be removed. We would like a vote of no confidence to be put before the Board. She is not the right person for this time. Her ideas are old and tired. Coed? Come on, is that the most exciting idea you all could come up with? If you really want Chatham to not just survive but to thrive it is time to pass the baton that she has wielded for a very long time and get some fresh, young, creative, truly innovative people on to lead CWW. I saw a lot of potential at theTown Hall Meeting. Let’s get rid of EB and her naysaying and her salary and then we can share ideas.

    Can we also have an exact date on the vote rather than this ” on or before” ambiguity? That tends to sound like an underhanded tactic and is just so controlling.

  7. Sandy Kuritzky says:

    Yesterday a group of alums from the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, and ’00s met at my home to discuss our participation in the Greater Phila. Chapter of the Chatham University Alumnae Association.

    I’d like to summarize some of the key discussion points for your consideration, with the hope today’s students will understand the importance the single-sex Chatham played in our lives and development. The following comments are my own; I was not asked to speak for our group (or the Group), but I believe I am fairly representing the beliefs and experiences of the group who met yesterday.

    1. PCW/Chatham College/CCW is an evolving entity. Not all of us chose Chatham BECAUSE it was single sex, but all of us believe its single-sex character influenced the women we are becoming/have become. Single-sex education is not a good option for all students; it should continue to exist to respond to a need of those students who will benefit from the option.

    I cherish the intellectual nurturing I was able to receive in the single-sex Chatham and believe it helped me enter my profession (which had previously been limited to men).

    2. The Honor Code and Tutorials are vital to the core of Chatham’s independent intellectually based education.

    3. Formerly, the Chatham Student Government was independently nominated and elected by its peers. It, and a free press are vital to the community. Both should be reinstituted within the community.

    4. Former programs/initiatives, including Student Ambassador Admissions and (mandatory) Internships, gave students the opportunity to expand their knowledge base and become “world ready women” while beginning to build a resume and create MEANINGFUL career (and networking) opportunities.

    In 2008, the former chair of the Board of Trustee acknowledged the importance of the Student Admissions Ambassador program to the Board, and cited a 25% increase in admissions during the two years the program had been in effect (2006 – 2008.) Not only did this program provide jobs and marketable experience to the students who participated, it BROUGHT HIGH CALIBRE STUDENTS TO CHATHAM. This program should be resumed.

    Coincidentally, this morning’s Philadelphia “Inquirer” included a column by Joseph DiStefano that discussed the pending Penn State Board elections. In his column, Mr. DiStefano quoted Joel Myers, the “only alumni trustee seeking reelection”. Mr. DiStefano asked “(i)f Penn State needed fixing, wasn’t Myers part of the problem? ‘I’ve always been a reformer,’ he told me. ‘I pushed for changes in the right direction in 2003. They were not adopted.’ Why wasn’t he more effective? Too much confidence in the boss: ‘Graham Spanier was considered one of the top two or three university presidents’ by his peers. ‘But he probably had more authority than he should have’”.

    Mr. DiStefano “asked alumni trustee Ira Lubert, a Philadelphia investor” …why he’s not running again.’It’s time for new blood on the Penn State board – on any board’, he told me. ‘That’s why I got off, after 10 years’”.

    I’ve recently seen a copy of Douglas Chaffey, PhD’s 2007 closing convocation address from 2007. Doug was one of my professors in the ’70s; I learned from him and liked and respected him. I recommend you seek a copy and read it.

    I will be happy to share my experiences with any “alumna-in-training” and wish all of you great happiness and success in the future!

    Sandy Kuritzky, ’73

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