Earlier this month, Deep Springs College, a tiny outpost of the liberal arts in California’s rugged High Desert, rejected the application of every female who had applied for next year’s class — over 140 in all.
The move came after a California state judge granted an injunction sought by Deep Springs alumni who had sued because they oppose the school’s decision to admit women, Inside Higher Ed reports.
The isolated, ascetic and ultra-intense college is arguably the world’s most elite and most unique junior college. In the mornings, the 26 students — all men and all on full scholarships — attend small, discussion-heavy classes. In the afternoons, they work every aspect of the on-campus cattle ranch and alfalfa farm.
Students form committees to manage admissions, hire professors and generally run the place. Their SAT scores are typically in the 700 range for any given section. (A perfect section score on the SAT is 800.) Upon graduation, students typically transfer to big-name schools like Harvard and the University of Chicago.
A tycoon named L.L. Nunn established Deep Springs in 1917, and not once in the next nine centuries has the school admitted a woman as a regular student. Since the 1970s, though, the trustees of the college repelled attempts by a long succession of student bodies to bring members of the fairer sex to work the ranch.
In 2011, the status quo finally collapsed. For the first time ever, Deep Springs accepted applications from women for the class of 2013.
However, admitting women meant reinterpreting the trust that created the college, and the trustees faced a lawsuit as a result.
Joseph Liburt, a Deep Springs alumnus and an attorney for the alumni bloc that sued to keep the school all-male, told Inside Higher Ed that the lawsuit is very straightforward. The trust that originally established the college specifically says that the school is to enroll “young men.” The board of trustees, he argued, “says that what this really means is young men and women.”
“The trustees’ foremost fiduciary duty is to carry out the terms of the trusts,” Liburt told Inside Higher Ed. “If they are unwilling to do so, they should resign.”
On January 8, reports The Economist, the judge in that lawsuit ruled that the phrase “young men” in the trust indeed means “young men.” As such, the judge issued the injunction preventing Deep Springs from going coed.
Not everyone was pleased. One critic, Elif Koc, was so disappointed that she submitted an essay of nearly 1,500 words to The Atlantic.
Koc, a senior at Seattle Academy in Seattle, Washington, complains — in a nutshell — that females should have the opportunity to apply to Deep Springs because “young women face a lack of diversity in their higher education.”
Deep Springs College is — for at least another year — one of just four all-male (non-clerical) colleges in the United States, says The Economist. The other three are Hampden-Sydney College, Morehouse College and Wabash College.
On the other hand, the Women’s College Coalition lists 47 member schools, according to USA Today. Five of the schools on that list rank in the top 30 in the vaunted U.S. News ranking of national liberal arts colleges: Wellesley College (#6), Smith College (#18), Scripps College (#24), Bryn Mawr College (#26) and Barnard College (#28).
Such options do not satisfy Koc.
“Young men do not pine over all-women schools like Bryn Mawr or Scripps because there are reasonably similar co-educational programs,” she explained in The Atlantic. “However, there is not a school like Deep Springs that is available to young women.”
“I find myself disappointed with the lack of schools for women that are similar to Deep Springs, and angry that such gender limitations exist in the world of education in 2013,” Koc added.
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