Alumnae Perspectives: Ann Rosch Duffield, 1969

To My Fellow Alumnae,

As someone who has spent my whole professional life in academic environments, I share the sadness that many of you feel about the need for Chatham to adapt its mission in order to achieve financial stability. I have been proud of the fact that our Alma Mater has been able to hold out for so long as a college providing undergraduate education to women only, when other colleges for women and indeed many small liberal arts colleges have had to pursue other strategies. I knew from my experience, however, that it was only a matter of time before my College aka University, too, would have to choose another way to retain both its roots and its future existence. And while I’m still sad that this day has come, I also have a tremendous amount of pride in the tenacity of Chatham’s undergraduate faculty and administration for keeping Chatham’s female spirit alive for so long.

I attended a girl’s high school in Omaha, Nebraska that felt the pinch much earlier and had to go coeducational during my senior year in 1965. It went through a name change from Brownell Hall to Brownell-Talbot School and I remember feeling that I had at least managed almost to escape the change before my graduation. That experience whetted my appetite to continue my learning at a college for women, and Chatham fulfilled all the goals I had as a young woman who wanted to buck the times by going on to graduate school or working rather than marrying and staying at home to raise children.  These seeds had been planted at Brownell, and I saw in Chatham the opportunity to pursue my education in my own way. I know I would never have achieved the professional successes I have, if I had not chosen to attend both Brownell and Chatham.

The times, however, have changed for all small liberal arts colleges and indeed private secondary schools. I spent 26 years working at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and have spent the last 14 years providing counsel to presidents and chancellors of colleges and universities. During a decade of my time at Penn, I led the university’s and medical center’s external relations and marketing operations. I then spent a decade in a leadership position in a research center at Penn called the Institute for Research on Higher Education. In that capacity, I began to work on strategic planning with numerous colleges and universities around the country and in Western and Central Europe. I watched the changes happening in health care and realized early on that American higher education was heading in the same direction: toward a public outcry about the cost of a college education, a broken financial and business model where expenses far exceed revenues, and potential governmental regulation.

This crisis took longer to hit than I thought it would (education is after all the oldest profession except…), but when it did, it struck with a vengeance in the 21st century. Many of my liberal arts clients are suffering, barely able to stay afloat while they heavily discount what it costs for them to deliver a high quality education in order to attract enough students to keep their doors open for another year. Early on in the 1990s, however, Chatham’s board and administration made decisions that enabled the undergraduate program for women to survive. They added graduate programs for women and men; they offered innovative programs off-campus; they engaged in partnerships with other nonprofit and for-profit organizations; and they became infinitely more visible to all of the College’s constituencies. The result was that Chatham was granted university status, which saved at that time CCW’s bacon.

It has become, however, too much of a financial strain for Chatham to continue to support an under-enrolled—in fact, a tiny—entity like Chatham College for Women. Most liberal arts colleges require at least 2000 undergraduate students in order to be viable, and CCW’s student body has shrunk to minus-600, certainly an unsustainable position for any college. My understanding is that plans are in the works to create an institute for women which would keep the University’s original mission alive, while the undergraduate college works to attract young men and young women who would not typically consider an all-women’s college. I believe this is once again an example of my Alma Mater’s innovation, courage, and strength as a campus that believes that its mission is so important that it will keep it alive even as it needs to adopt other strategies to keep it financially viable.

I’m proud to be a Chatham graduate of 1969. I’m proud that my roommate for four years—Sarah Bornstein—will accept an alumnae award at this year’s reunion in June. But I’m also proud that Chatham University will continue to thrive in the future, because the right decisions have been made on its behalf now. I want my grandchildren—female and male—to have the opportunity to consider it as their potential Alma Mater when they reach college age. I know it will be just as important  in their personal and intellectual growth as it was to me in mine.

I only hope that you—my fellow alumnae—can see the facts through your tears and, yes, anger as I have…and continue to provide the support our Alma Mater needs in order to write the next chapter in its history.

With all my best wishes to all of you,

Ann Rosch Duffield, 1969