Chatham meeting on coeducation tomorrow night open only to alumnae and guests

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With debate swirling as Chatham University weighs admitting men into its undergraduate women’s college for the first time since its 1869 founding, the school today said it has decided tomorrow night’s alumnae forum will be closed.

The school earlier indicated one or more forums would be open to news media and that still may happen in the future, spokesman Bill Campbell said. For now, he said, Chatham has decided the session should be limited to alumnae, just as student forums have been closed to outsiders since the coed idea was unveiled last month.

“This is a conversation amongst students, faculty and alumnae of Chatham University, and it’s early in that conversation,” Mr. Campbell said. “It’s a chance to share more information and ask more questions.”

A number of trustees as well as the school’s president, Esther Barazzone, are expected to attend the 6 p.m. session in the Eddy Theatre on the Shadyside campus.

Graduates fighting to keep the college single-sex say about of 100 graduates have signed up for tomorrow night’s session. 

Alexa New, a 2008 Chatham graduate from Cleveland and a spokeswoman for the movement to preserve the women’s college, expressed disappointment with the university’s decision to bar news outlets.

She said the group recognizes Chatham is within its right to do so. But she added:

“We’re talking about 145 years of history here. It’s a critical decision. We need input from all our stakeholders and that includes the general community, in addition to those they have reached out to including students and parents.”

“The media play an important role in helping spread word to those key stakeholders,” she added.

School officials have pointed to economic pressures and enrollment realities as reasons why Chatham has become the latest women’s college to ponder a switch to coed. The undergraduate college has seen enrollment slide from a peak of 675 students in 2008 to 588 this year, a trend that is expected to continue, officials said, leaving it as an even smaller subset of the university’s enrollment of nearly 2,200.

But those fighting the move have begun circulating petitions, formed a Save Chatham Facebook page and have asked the university for more time to develop ways to keep the college as is. The board is expected to vote on the matter by June, and if approved, the first undergraduate males would be enrolled in fall of 2015.

Bill Schackner: or 412-263-1977. First Published March 4, 2014 3:09 PM

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