Chatham closes Tuesday meeting on coeducation plans

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Tomorrow night’s forum at Chatham University to discuss with alumnae a controversial proposal to allow its 145-year-old women’s undergraduate college to go coed will differ from last week’s in one respect -- it will be closed.

Chatham spokesman Bill Campbell said today that the university has decided it will not allow reporters inside the 6 p.m. session in Eddy Theatre on the Shadyside campus.

The university’s first on-campus alumnae forum to discuss the proposal initially was to be closed, but Chatham reversed course 30 minutes before Wednesday’s session and opened it up amid complaints by some alumnae who said it was important for the discussion to be open.

Asked the reason for today’s decision, Mr. Campbell said Chatham last week “decided to make an exception” by inviting in the broader community but now wants to have a conversation with just its constituents. Only alumnae, students and employees will be allowed in the room.

Asked about alumnae calls for an open sessions, Mr Campbell noted there are thousands of Chatham graduates, adding:

“The opinions of a few are not necessarily representative of what everybody is thinking.”

Alexa New, a spokeswoman for a group of graduates trying to preserve the single-sex college, expressed disappointment anew at today’s decision.

“What we’ve heard is there are many alumnae who are still not aware of the decision. The notification process by (Chatham) has been a little disappointing,” she said. “Having open discussions about this is critical, and media are at least helping us to spread the word.”

Citing declining enrollment and mounting financial pressures, Chatham last month announced that its board of trustees planned to vote by June on whether to begin admitting undergraduate men in fall 2015.

Chatham President Esther Barazzone has said enrollment losses, including a 50 percent drop over five years in the number of first-time freshmen who enroll full time, have become an increasing drag on the university of nearly 2,200 students, whose coed graduate programs are growing.

Alumnae opposed to the move to coed in turn said Chatham, among other things, had not adequately used its network of alumnae around the nation who are eager to help the school boost recruitment. They said Chatham should not turn away from 145 years of history.

Bill Schackner:, 412-263-1977 and on Twitter: @BschacknerPG.

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