Katrina Wreaks Havoc on Women's College
NEW ORLEANS When Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc through New Orleans, it didn’t just kill an estimated 1,500 people, destroy houses and swamp entire neighborhoods. It also may have spelled doom for one of the most historically significant institutions of higher learning for women in the United States.
The school with its neck in the noose is Newcomb College. Now part of Tulane University in New Orleans, Newcomb College was the first degree-granting college for women in the United States and was a model for subsequent women’s colleges like Barnard College of Columbia University and arguably schools like Elmira College, Sarah Lawrence College and Scripps College.
Newcomb pioneered the idea of giving women an equivalent liberal-arts education to what their male counterparts were getting in the South, and was the birthplace of such varied innovations as the Newcomb Pottery experimental program which trained women for jobs in the pottery industry and the jump shot in basketball.
Many of its graduates were fiercely loyal to the school even well after matriculation, and its success even seemed to have overshadowed its
While Newcomb students make up only about one-third of the
So when successful Newcomb graduates flew back to New Orleans from around the country to tend to the wounded city and to help revive their alma mater, they were shocked when the university administration told them that the hurricane may have dealt their beloved school a fatal blow.
"Our losses have been estimated at between
"Katrina knocked this university almost out of business, and I think in the wake of that, when you’re bleeding
The Tulane renewal plan, which has been unanimously approved by the university board and is to be phased in by fiscal year 2008, would essentially dissolve Newcomb and six other undergraduate schools at Tulane and merge them into a single entity.
The Newcomb name would be preserved on some institutions, programs and buildings, but the separate Newcomb College that Josephine Louise Newcomb envisioned as a memorial to her dead daughter Sophie in 1886 would vanish.
Jones said the plan would guarantee a quality education for all Tulane undergraduates, not just the Newcomb women and save an estimated
But no amount of money is worth destroying more than a century’s worth of history, according to angry Newcomb graduates like Marla Custard, who graduated in 1990 and now works as a businesswoman in Dallas, Texas, and is part of the Dean’s Advisory Council for Newcomb College.
"At the end of the day there’s a history of removing the women’s college, and you could throw out a lot of reasons, but they just want it gone," she said. "It seems to me that they have some notion that women’s education is archaic and irrelevant, and that it should be equal for all. But then you’re eliminating that uniqueness and depth that Newcomb had."
Current students are just as upset.
"That they’re just going to throw away 120 years of women’s history and women’s history in the South is so few and far between is just
Irate Newcomb alumnae and students have bandied several proposals around, including one that would make all Tulane female undergrads Newcomb students, and others that would ensure that Newcomb remains a separate
Jones dismissed speculation about the administration’s motives that it wants to free up Newcomb’s endowment, that the university president dislikes the idea of women’s colleges as conspiracy theories, and noted that half of Newcomb’s money is restricted to scholarships, awards and other very specific items.
But Jones said she couldn’t estimate how much dissolving Newcomb specifically would save the university.
"Newcomb has changed many times in its history, but this is not part of some scheme to get rid of Newcomb College once and for all. The Newcomb alumnae have a very strong attachment to their college, and it’s a very interesting and unique experience for a community of women, and I understand that they’re afraid that there won’t be leadership opportunities in the school and afterward they’re feeling that loss," Jones said. "And we’re trying to provide that experience for all the undergraduates at Tulane University."
But for alumnae like Custard, doing so by sacrificing their own little academic Eden is unacceptable and made worse, not better, when it’s tied to a catastrophe like Katrina.
"That’s just a
Copyright, 2006, FOX News Network, LLC
From: Fox News, March 7, 2006, http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,187115,00.html, accessed 03/09/06. Reprinted in accordance with the "fair use" provision of Title 17 U.S.C.
Scott Gold, "Suit Seeks to Save Women's College; Tulane's post-Katrina plan to close Newcomb, one of the first such institutions of its kind, is an illegal grab for its endowment, critics say," Los Angeles Times, March 16, 2006.