Deep Springs College, a small, unusual institution that is among the last all-male colleges in the United States, has decided to admit women.
Since its founding in 1917, the college has admitted very small classes (currently, enrollment in the two-year program is 26) of highly intelligent men, who take intense courses while managing both the college and its farm in an isolated spot in the High Desert of California. Students who complete the program are admitted as transfer students to some of the most competitive colleges in the country. All students receive a full scholarship (worth $50,000 a year).
In modern times, the college has regularly debated the idea of admitting women. Students have pushed for change, and trustees have kept the institution single-sex. That changed on Saturday, with a 10-to-2 vote of the board. The college is at least a year away, possibly longer, from admitting women, depending on the results of a process that has now been started to plan for coeducation.
Currently, there are no plans to increase enrollment.
Dave Hitz, chair of the college's board, sent an e-mail to alumni and others outlining the reasons for the change. L.L. Nunn, the industrialist and educational thinker who founded Deep Springs, viewed its purpose as training male leaders, whom he dubbed "the few." Today, Hitz wrote, "this group includes women."
While many involved with the college cited risks to a major change like coeducation, Hitz added that the current and former presidents backed the move. He noted that some prospective faculty members, students and foundation donors opted not to work with Deep Springs because they do not support all-male education. And he said that some board members believed that "the issue of basic fairness was especially important."
Hitz also said that many alumni "described the value to them of an all-male environment: it provided a time for introspection, for maturing, for especially strong camaraderie, and for reflection on the meaning of being a man. I felt this myself. The battle for mixed-sex schools, workplaces, and clubs has mostly been won, and society is becoming more accepting of people wanting some time in single-sex environments, so some argued that now is not the time to change. We wrestled with this. In the end, most trustees regretfully concluded that there will be a loss, but that Nunn’s focus on leadership and service justifies the change."
Women's colleges that have decided to start admitting men have faced backlashes almost immediately over such choices (even if the protests have generally died down with the passage of time). As word about Deep Springs spread yesterday, Twitter reaction was mostly positive, with comments from a female student expressing sadness that it was too late for her to apply, a tweet from an alumnus who used the hashtag "a long time coming" and another that said "a very big shift in a very tiny universe."
Noah Rosenblum, a Ph.D. student in the intellectual history program at Columbia University who studied at Deep Springs from 2003-5, said via e-mail: "It's kind of unbelievable -- I don't think I believed it would ever really happen. The official statement to the alumni from Dave Hitz, the chairman of the board of trustees, captures my feelings pretty well. Something will probably be lost, which is a scary and painful thought because I loved Deep Springs as it was. Who knows what this new future will bring it. But, as I have felt since I was a student, and argued in our Student Body debates, Deep Springs' being all-male seemed to me to be at cross purposes with its avowed mission. That mission -- that democratic project -- is what drew me to the school. I'm thrilled to see the college more fully embrace it, and I'm very excited to see where it will take Deep Springs next."
Other Male Colleges Not Planning Changes
Of the few remaining all-male colleges (excluding seminaries), some are closely linked to women's colleges located next door. This is the case for Morehouse College (with Spelman College) and for Saint John's University of Minnesota (with the College of Saint Benedict).
Hampden-Sydney College, which is not close enough to any women's college for cross-registration of courses, has no plans to admit women.
Wabash College, a men's liberal arts institution in Indiana that operates independently of any other college, last considered admitting women in 1992. At that time, faculty pushed for coeducation, students pushed to remain all-male and the board voted to stay single-sex. A spokesman said that this fall's entering class of 293 was the second-largest in the college's history, and the result of a higher yield rate (the percentage of accepted applicants who enroll) than had been projected.