The Goucher College Board of Trustees, citing declining enrollment as well as declining interest in women's colleges, voted 30 to 7 today to go coeducational in the fall of 1987. With their decision, the trustees overrode the protests of students angry at the loss of the school's 101-year-old, women-only tradition.
"Are we changing the name, too?" Meghan Orr, 23, a junior from the District of Columbia, asked after board Chairwoman Patricia Goldman announced the decision to the protesters. "Because this place isn't Goucher College anymore."
Goldman assured Orr that the name will not change, but the 125 students who protested the decision fear the broader changes that will come when men are admitted to the prestigious liberal arts college in this northern suburb of Baltimore.
The students, who said they felt betrayed and disappointed, painted the words "No Men" in big block letters on their forearms.
They wore their feelings on their T-shirts, some of which read, "Better Dead Than Coed." They circled the alumnae hall, where the board met in private, holding hands and chanting loudly, "Men are not the answer." To the tune of the Janis Joplin song, "Mercedes-Benz," they sang, "Oh Lord, won't you buy me a single-sex school . . . . "
A few minutes later, the protesters poured into a scheduled news conference by college officials in Latzer Hall, struggling against the security guards who tried to bar them.
"This is our school!" shouted Sara Dorsch, 20, of South Burlington, Vt., as she plopped down on the floor and urged the others to join her. "We are not going to leave."
Finally, college officials told the students they could remain, as long as they did not disrupt the news conference.
"All you've done this morning is disrupt our whole lives," one of the students replied.
Throughout the news conference, several students continued to challenge the trustees and President Rhoda M. Dorsey, a longtime advocate of women's colleges. Others sobbed openly.
The factors leading to the change are not unique to Goucher College.
Both coeducational and single-sex schools are facing decreases in enrollment because of the shrinking pool of post-baby boom high school students.
At Goucher, for example, enrollment has dropped by 150 in the past six years to the present 910 students.
What's more, recent research has shown that fewer women these days even consider attending a women's college.
Only 2 percent of college students attend women's schools, Dorsey said. Since the mid-1960s, the number of two- and four-year women's colleges has dropped from 281 to 104.
With today's vote, Goucher became the third all-women's college since the fall to decide to go coeducational, following the lead of two Catholic schools in New Jersey -- Caldwell College, which has about 700 students, and Felician College, where the enrollment has dwindled to fewer than 400.
But Ruth Schmidt, who is president of Agnes Scott College in Atlanta and chairman of the Washington-based Women's College Coalition, said this week that she does not foresee a spate of schools being forced to admit men for economic survival.
"I don't think Goucher's decision will create any great rush among other women's colleges to go coed," Schmidt said. "Each college is different, with different enrollment and financial situations and academic programs -- and each college has to make its own best judgment."
That Goucher even considered going coeducational had come as a surprise to some supporters of single-sex colleges.
Dorsey has devoted her career to women's education and has been an outspoken advocate of its role in creating strong, independent women.
"I've worked to make it work here for 12 years," Dorsey said today, smiling sadly. "If we were big and flourishing and I had my druthers, I would not want this to happen . . . . It is not easy for me to make this decision, but it is the best decision for the college at this time."
At present, the college is in sound financial health with a $45 million endowment, a amount that doubled in the past five years, college spokeswoman Judy Phair said. It also has had balanced budgets for the past 10 years; the trustees wanted to make the change while the school was financially strong.
But the protesters questioned whether the board's decision was the best one. A recent nonbinding vote of students showed that 379 were against admitting men, while 67 favored the change and 77 were undecided.
"I transferred to Goucher from a coed school in Massachusetts," said Rachel Gordon, 20, of North Salem, N.Y.
"In a coed school, the guys talk more in class," Gordon said. "They're called on more in class. They are the leaders. Just because it's 1986 doesn't mean we are equal."