Douglass College Saved — Sort of
Following a strong outpouring of support from alumnae, Rutgers’ women’s college retains its identity
By Patricia Valdata
When Rutgers University President Richard McCormick proposed a radical reorganization last year to consolidate the undergraduate colleges into a single School of Arts and Sciences, reaction was immediate and strong, especially from Douglass College.
Douglass, the women’s college at Rutgers, was unwilling to give up the status it had held since it was founded in 1918 as the New Jersey College for Women.
Determined to preserve Douglass as the college “where women learn to lead,” Carmen Twillie Ambar, dean of the college, and several of the university’s female faculty offered counter-proposals. The “Save Douglass College” campaign, initiated by the Associated Alumnae of Douglass College, included a Web site, letters to alumnae and on-campus rallies. The campaign resulted in more than 50,000
e-mail messages being sent to McCormick, university board members and state officials.
In March, the board of governors approved McCormick’s plan, with a slight change: unlike the other campuses, Douglass College would retain its name. Sort of.
Under the new plan, Livingston College and Rutgers College will become campuses of the School of Arts and Sciences, and Cook College will become the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences. Douglass, however, will morph into the Douglass Residential College at the beginning of the 2007-2008 academic year.
“The word ‘residential’ gives us pause,” says Ambar, who says the term may mislead potential students into thinking they cannot attend the college and live off campus. University officials say the term residential is to connote a “living, learning community.”
Still, advocates are pleased with the outcome.
“We’ve saved Douglass as it is today, with a few minor adjustments, but I think we did it,” says Sheila Kelly Hampton, who as president of the Associated Alumnae helped lead the effort to retain college status for Douglass. “With this implementation, I am confident we will go forward.”
McCormick sought the reorganization to create a “more coherent, less confusing … academic environment for all students,” he said when announcing the initiative. The university’s 35,000-plus undergraduates are currently spread out among a complicated university system of three campuses, including one located in Central New Jersey that has six colleges and three schools.
But the “Save Douglass College” campaign fought to preserve the unique living and learning environment that 2,600 women enjoyed annually as students in the college Celeste Barretto, a junior, says choosing to attend Douglass was “probably the best decision I’ve made so far. The support for diversity, the small environment inside the big environment, and the support of other women … I liked what it had to offer.”
Barretto, president of the Douglass College Government Association, and other students began working for the “Save Douglass College” campaign last summer.
“We did our job, and our voices were heard,” says Stefanie Lachenauer, senior class president. “I am disappointed in the name change, but we knew there was going to be a lot of compromise, and our programs are going to be saved.” Her five-year program will earn her a master’s degree from Douglass next year.
Lachenauer says some students are still angry about the near elimination of the college, but she is adopting a wait-and-see attitude.
Ambar, the ninth dean of Douglass, sees the new name as McCormick’s acknowledgment of the continued need for women’s colleges.
“Women’s colleges still have a role to play in helping women achieve at the highest levels, and Douglass College is still here to do that,” she says. “What we set out to do through this process is ensure the four-year women’s college experience. The real test for the future of Rutgers University and Douglass College is whether there will be substantial energy and resources devoted to these institutions.”
If that happens, Douglass Residential College will be able to build on current strengths, like the Institute for Women’s Leadership, while opening these programs to the more than 9,000 women currently enrolled in other colleges on the New Brunswick/ Piscataway campuses.
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