Campus Life / Lifestyle / Virginia

Decision to admit men raises tensions at Mary Baldwin

STAUNTON, Va. (AP) — A breakdown in communication between Mary Baldwin University and alumnae has led to a cease-and-desist order and bad feelings on both sides.

The announcement that Mary Baldwin would admit male undergraduates in the fall was met with an expected level of hostility from former students, concerned with the erosion of the all-female experience and that the decision seemed abrupt and without alumnae input.

Although it is clear from school officials that the change will happen, and that it’s necessary for the financial stability of the institution, a solid base of graduates is resisting. They called themselves Boldly Baldwin, a phrase coined by President Pamela Fox in 2008, which has since been trademarked and used extensively for marketing purposes by the school.

The group Boldly Baldwin created a website, Facebook page and was using the hashtag for the purposes of spreading its message. School officials became concerned about the confusion that the group could be causing, and the impact it would have on donations as well as recruitment, and a cease and desist letter was sent. The group has since changed its name to Boldly Lead, and has changed its website, Facebook and other uses.

But the question remains, how did communication between alumnae and the University break down? Did it occur before the announcement of male undergrads? Or was that just a catalyst?

The question is a difficult one to answer, and there is finger-pointing by both sides.

The big question from alumnae was, “Why weren’t we informed this was a possibility before finding out about it through social media?” The answer from school officials is they needed to move, and move quickly.

“This decision would not have been met in a timely fashion with consensus,” said Fox. The fact of the matter is, Mary Baldwin was seeing a significant enrollment decrease — 100 students in two years. Mary Baldwin has not suffered the fate of other all-female colleges because it has moved quickly into other realms to draw more students, Fox said. And this was a decision made in the same vein.

Many alumnae were receptive to the idea, particularly those who graduated prior to 1995, officials said. After completing a listening tour, and reading the comments on social media, MBU officials have determined that those vehemently opposed to the change are, for the majority, people who graduated in 1995 or after. Those alumnae have seen less change than the alumnae prior to 1995 — making this announcement seem out of the blue.

Despite the assurances from Mary Baldwin that the all-female experience will be preserved — the coed programs are separate from the women’s college — officials are claiming that information is not being absorbed.

“Somehow there is a Teflon shield between that information (and alumnae),” said Jane Miller, ’76, and chair of the Board of Trustees.

School officials have gone on to say that the alumnae behind Boldly Lead see the school’s decision as “anti-woman,” and claimed that the group as taken a “Better dead than coed” stance.

While the group is concerned about the change, it has never claimed to be anti-Mary Baldwin, said Rebecca Stevens Teaff, communications chair for Boldly Lead.

“I have never even heard that phrase,” Teaff said of “Better dead than coed,” until she read it in an opinion column submitted by Fox, accusing the group of using it.

“We want to create a bridge here,” Teaff said. “We want to work with the school. We want to help the school. We love the school.”

The team behind Boldly Lead has posted an open letter to the administration and Board of Trustees expressing its thoughts and interests moving forward.

For now, Mary Baldwin officials and alumnae are claiming they want to work together and to move forward, but neither side has made significant moves to do so at this point.

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Information from: The News Leader, http://www.newsleader.com
Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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