The Virginia Supreme Court will hear the appeals of students and alumni challenging the end of 115 years of single-sex education at the former Randolph-Macon Woman’s College.
The court, which is likely to hear the cases in 2008, agreed on Wednesday to hear two appeals of Circuit Court dismissals: One that claimed breach of contract for adopting coeducation, the other for using college assets to benefit men.
Randolph Macon-Woman’s College was established 116 years ago and accepted its first class of men this fall under a new name: Randolph College. More than 70 men are among the 660 students on Randolph’s Lynchburg campus.
Preserve Educational Choice, an alumnae group supporting the lawsuits, applauded the justices for accepting the consolidated challenges.
“These cases are not just important for members of the Randolph-Macon Woman’s College community they are important to all residents of the Commonwealth and all Americans who donate money to charities,” Ann Yastremski, executive director of the group, said in a statement issued Friday.
Amid protests, Randolph-Macon Woman’s College board voted one year ago to make the school coeducational to reverse declining enrollment and improve its financial standing.
“We continue to feel very confident in our position,” said Brenda Edson, a spokeswoman for Randolph College. “Our position has always been extensive litigation is not in the best interests of anybody.”
Edson said the college’s endowment stands at $152 million, up from $140 million one year ago, while inquiries from high school students are up sharply this year.
“We’re confident our position is one that will prevail,” she said.
The alumnae group, Preserve Educational Choice, said it has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to legally challenge the switch.
The first lawsuit, filed by nine students, claimed the school’s board of trustees breached its contract with students by voting to go coeducational and by adopting a new curriculum. The lawsuit sought to delay the enrollment of men until at least 2010, when currently enrolled students have graduated.
The second lawsuit was filed by seven of the nine students involved in the first lawsuit plus two donors. It claimed that under Virginia trust law, the board of trustees can’t use the college’s assets once it admits men because the school accepted donations from those who gave to the college when it was primarily for women.
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