Wilson College Should Have Worked With Its Alumnae

To the Editor:

Armed with Data, a Women’s College Tries a Transformation” (The Chronicle, February 4) captures only some of the complexity of the situation at Wilson College. I want to focus on the Wilson College alumnae and their place in this transparent process.

Although Wilson’s president, Barbara K. Mistick, and its board chairman, John W. Gibb, insist that they have maintained transparency throughout the Commission on Shaping the Future of Wilson College’s study, many of the alumnae disagree.

Under the previous president, Lorna Edmundson, “the college kept its deteriorating financial situation largely hidden from alumnae until Ms. Mistick became president in July 2011,” your article notes. President Mistick and the Board of Trustees continued to hide that information from the alumnae until spring 2012, when they announced the formation of the commission. According to a testimonial posted on the Stevens Strategy Web site, President Edmundson had already called on Michael Townsley and Stevens Strategy in 2011.

In 1979, the then-president of Wilson and the Board of Trustees kept similar information hidden from the alumnae until they announced the closing of the college because of dire financial circumstances. The alumnae of Wilson College went to court to keep the college open, and they won the court case. They raised $1-million ($2,790,000 in 2011 dollars) within a few months and kept the college open.

Instead of alerting the alumnae to the situation she found when she arrived on the campus, President Mistick continued working with Stevens Strategy—the same consultants who oversaw the covert dissolution of Peace College and the creation of William Peace University—to provide data about the past, current, and future state of Wilson College. The commission worked diligently throughout the summer studying the data; it held its first public meeting in September and by November the decision to go co-ed was a done deal.

When the alumnae were finally apprised of the real situation on campus, the only contentious piece of the commission’s recommendations was the co-ed option. Your article suggests that once the co-education option was on the table, it was inevitable; many of the alumnae did not believe that. We will never know how many, though, because the Board of Trustees refused to poll the students and alumnae. Leslie Durgin, the trustee who headed the commission, said that she didn’t anticipate “the extent of the feedback” on admitting men. No one asked, no one cared.

I do know that more than 1,500 alumnae (more than 10 percent) joined the Wild Wilson Women FaceBook community because it was the one place available for discussing the situation, expressing concerns, making suggestions, and yes, venting. Wild Wilson Women is a badge of honor created by the women who grew out of the 1979 ashes to become proud Wilson women who were taught to do their research, think independently, and speak out with strong sure voices. The membership of Wild Wilson Women was closed after January 13, when President Mistick and the board made it clear that they would brook no further discussion or dissent from students or alumnae.

You neglected to mention the Pines and Maples Web site, created by a group of alumnae who proposed a recommendation to the Board of Trustees asking that the co-ed option be delayed until the other options had been fleshed out and put in motion; the recommendation was signed by more than 800 alumnae. During 25 days in late December and early January, those same alumnae created a matching-funds fundraiser called Double It and raised more than $82,000 in unrestricted funds with no strings attached. That money was presented to the Board of Trustees at their January 13 meeting to show what Wilson College alumnae could do in a very short time.

The alumnae of Wilson College do not object to change; we applaud the commission for its diligence and proposals. At a special meeting of the Alumnae Association Board of Directors on January 6, alumnae stepped forward to create Task Forces that will work with the college to bring about the needed changes.

The current situation at Wilson College is the result of more than 10 years of apparent mismanagement of funds, deception, poor judgment, the unforeseen downturn of the economy, and the unwillingness to be honest with the alumnae and call on their abundant knowledge and resources. President Mistick, the Board of Trustees, and the commission believe that men will save Wilson College; I am not convinced that their data are reliable and unbiased.

Elizabeth Ashby Mitchell
Columbia, Md.

Return to Top