A former all-women’s college did not break a contract with female students when it decided to enroll men, a divided Virginia Supreme Court ruled Friday.
In a 5-2 decision, the court rejected a claim by nine female students at Randolph College formerly Randolph-Macon Woman’s College that promotional materials and other publications promised them four years at an all-female institution.
Chief Justice Leroy R. Hassell Sr. wrote in the majority opinion that the court could find nothing in marketing materials promising the school would stay single-sex.
The decision affirmed Lynchburg Circuit Judge J. Leyburn Mosby Jr.’s dismissal of the lawsuit. The dissenting justices said dismissal was premature, and the students were entitled to a trial.
“We’re all very relieved,” Randolph College President John Klein said. “This seemingly endless litigation is now over.”
Klein said a student and some staff members rang the college bell to celebrate.
“We hope now we can focus on the students who are here and who want to come here,” he said.
The board voted in September 2006 to begin admitting men to the school, beginning last fall.
In a separate ruling, the court unanimously rejected a claim by a group of students and college supporters that a law governing charitable trusts prohibits the school from raising money for single-sex education and then spending it on coeducation. The court said the school’s fundraising is governed by a separate corporate law.
A group of alumnae and donors who supported the lawsuits were disappointed by the ruling, and said it could hurt other organizations’ fundraising efforts.
“If R-MWC trustees can legally change the college’s mission after a major capital campaign in which students, alumnae and friends of the college were told their donations would guarantee the school’s long-term viability as a women’s liberal arts college, then who is to say other charities won’t operate with the same disregard for donor intent?” Anne Yastremski of Preserve Educational Choice said in a statement.
The college’s board cited declining enrollment as a reason for ending its 115-year tradition of women-only education. Enrollment this year is about 700, about the same as it had been when the change was made.
Yastremski said PEC would use unused funds donated for the legal fight to provide scholarships at women’s only colleges.
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