Recently, as one separate college after another has announced the addition of either men or women students, there have been frequent rehearsals of the arguments for coeducation. The students want it. They can't really tell why except, "Well, it just feels more lively and natural." But nonetheless, the aruments are given, and rightly so, for, after all, coeducation is not inevitable; it is a matter of choice. Even Hamsphire, born coeducational, should be self-conscious about its sex. If a college is coeducational either from a feeling, on the one hand, or, on the other a fancy, it has missed the main point: Sartre might call it a kind of existential blindness. The case for coeducation, then, is an important beginning for this report.
Coeducation is the general pattern for education in America. The public school system has always been for both men and women, and most students at Hampshire will come from it. Graduate and professional schools, not to mention working life, are for men and women together. Students who have been used to coeducation should not face a major readjustment to separate education and then another after their brief three or four years, particularly since the shifts would come during years when students most want to learn about themselves in relation to the other sex. Also, all the forms of education outside the classroom that Hampshire
supports, such as field-work, study abroad, work semesters, and the like, are coeducational., Although Hampshire will often want to work outside of given patterns, coeducation is one it should keep.
It makes particular sense for Hampshire to be coeducational in its Four-College setting, since it can stand as comparison to the three that are separate. Also, one of Hampshire's purposes is to be a meeting-ground for students in the surrounding area, and coeducation is the sensible environment for that.
The academic arguments for coeducation are complex. More detail on them will appear in another section of this report; here, a brief outline. There is a widespread opinion that women are temperamentally different from men in the way they learn. While some educators believe the supposed differences argue for separate education, where they can flourish, others think they argue for coeducation, where they can be shared. On the other hand, those who see no temperamental differences between men and women encourage coeducation so that men and women can more easily discover their similarities. In the aggregate, then, there is more support for coeducation than for separate.
The social arguments for coeducation go further than the obvious: that it allows convenient, casual dating and meeting between men and women. President Mary Bunting of Radcliffe has
noticed that men have more respect for feminine intelligence when they are with women academically, and that a husband who respects his wife in this way has more concern for her career or graduate-study plans than if he had known her before marriage in social situations only. Since a man's care for his wife's interest often determines what she will do more than any other factor, in this respect the cause of women's education is certainly served better at a coeducational institution than at a separate one. The Princeton report on coeducation adds emphasis: "Indeed, the recognition that [intellectual] activity is not sex-linked would seem to us an exceedingly important result of a liberal education." This is the same opinion as that of feminists Mary Wollstonecraft and John Stewart Mill.
Other feminists, though, have favored separate education in order to help women to their best advantage and also to accomodate large numbers of women. However, these reasons no longer apply. Current feminist opinion holds that women's colleges have "violated the public trust and forgotten or abdicated their purpose." It also finds that the women's college rated lower on scales of academic excellence than the men's, and therefore concludes on academic grounds that "coeducation is . . . the only viable or sensible plan."
Some educators feel that separate women's colleges can best resist the trends to professionalism and preserve liberal education. It is questionable, though, whether one should concentrate on preserving values in isolation. Surely professionalism should be cured right at the diseased sites.
Some who argue for separate women's education, though not men's, say that a separate college allows women to reach top positions in extracurricular campus activities more easily, giving them a sense of achievement and pride in their sex. Able women students usually scorn this, saying the achievement means little unless the competition is open, and show that they can succeed in coeducational colleges just as well. At any rate, if Hampshire follows the plan of letting its students participate in extracurricular activities at the neighboring colleges instead of maintaining a full program of its own, this issue would not even arise.
Hampshire seeks intellectually excellent and excitable students, and coeducation will help, since coeducational colleges do attract more and better students than separate ones. This is particularly important at a time when competition for top students is fierce. The Princeton study showed that those of its accepted group who did not choose to enroll listed the lack of coeducation as their chief complaint. Even more significantly, Princeton
surveyed secondary school students and found that more than three quarters of both the men and the women considered co education more attractive than separate education, and that the percentage was even higher among the more able students. "Only 4 - 5% of present-day students from superior secondary schools have a positive preference for an all-male or all-female college."
Students who have gone to separate colleges often wish to change. Students at Vassar and Princeton voted overwhelmingly for coeducation: all students, not just the restless, or less able, or the ones who came from coeducational high schools. Two Vassar statistics point up the general vote. Although 78% of the students in all classes who responded said that they would have attended a coeducational college if they had not come to Vassar, the freshmen who replied to a similar questionnaire upon entering college eight months earlier answered differently. Of them, 50% said they would have preferred another women's college if they had not come to Vassar. These statistics indicate that even those students who went to Vassar strongly committed to separate education changed their view after some experience. Recently, a girl who transferred to Yale after two years at Wellesley said, "I don't know why I ever wanted to go to a woman's college."
The Vassar report on coeducation puts one part of the argument well. "Generally, students feel schizophrenic about education
at a separate college. They like a more integrated life whereby they can work and play in the same surroundings and with the same people. This, they feel, makes their experience of both work and play, certainly of personal relationships, more rich, communal, and satisfying to them. They feel that if education is to prepare them for life, it should provide an environment which is life in microcosm, something separate education does not do."
Faculty opinion must also count in the argument, for here, too, Hampshire seeks quality. There is some feeling among women that they might meet discrimination at a coeducational institution. While there does seem to be evidence that this is true, there is no evidence that it is unavoidable. This report will offer more details on this subject later. To cite the Princeton study again, very few faculty felt that teaching both men and women would be less satisfactory than one sex alone; and 69% of those who had had extensive experience with coeducational classes felt it would be more satisfactory. Also, younger faculty members believed coeducation helps in faculty recruitment. A survey of Wesleyan faculty generally agreed with these results.
In all, Hampshire has plenty of evidence to argue that its coeducational beginning is the right kind.
However, there are hazards in coeducation. All too often
coeducational colleges take the easy way: they assume stereotyped male interests and career patterns. Also, they suppose that educating men and women together is simply a practical matter and do not really grasp and exploit all its intellectual opportunities. For instance, they do not see coeducation as a readymade forum for dealing with the issues of sexuality that are so important in our culture. Neither do they see its implications for reforming many poor or outmoded or discriminatory educational practices. Earlier, this report mentioned the practical reasons for Hampshire, in particular, to be coeducational. Now, another kind of reason is offered. Hampshire, eager to find a new vantage on many old premises, has a chance to do so in terms of an enlightened approach to coeducation. It could be as if, in trying to refocus, Hampshire were to use coeducation for a new lens.
I have relied on a Vassar document, A Report on Alternatives from the Committee on New Dimensions, September 1, 1967, pp. 20-25, for the major part of the discussion in this chapter, twice, in relating Mrs. Bunting's view and in speaking about student attitudes, quoting directly. I have supplemented this with the extremely useful Princeton report called "The Education of Women at Princeton," which was published in the Princeton Alumni Weekly, LXIX, 1 (September 24, 1968). The first citation is from p. 15. The data from the student and faculty surveys comes on pp. 7, 8, 19, 17 in order of citation. The Vassar data on student preference is found in memos on the results of the "Student Questionnaire, April, 1967," unpublished. There is also an unpublished series of papers from Wesleyan, 1967, produced by the SEPP Committee, that provide data and opinion independently agreeing with those from Princeton and Vassar. Appendix 5 of the SEPP papers, "The Effects on Student Recruitment of Admitting Women Students," shows that incoming freshmen at two separate men's colleges felt as strongly as the Vassar freshmen about the advantages of separate education. I have mentioned the concurring faculty opinion; it is found in the survey called "Faculty Opinion on Women's Education at Wesleyan."
Interestingly, more students at Wesleyan voted for coordinate education, a women's college with separate classrooms and faculty but all other facilities and activities shared (32%), or some other facilities and activities shared (26%), than for coeducation (30%). This report does not discuss coordinate education because nearly all the same arguments apply against it as against separate education, with the addition of technical arguments, such as problems of faculty hiring, schedule planning, and administration that seem too particular and lengthy here. if, in the future, there needs to be more discussion of coordinate education, it could easily be supplied.
The argument for the preservation of women's colleges in order to save liberal education is made most particularly in an article by Mervin Freedman, "On the Future of the Women's College," (Journal of the American Association of University Women, LVI, 34, March, 1963, p. 109).
The current feminist
opinion is found in Token Learning:_ a Report on the Condition of Higher
Education for Women in American Colleges, by the Education Committee
of the National Organization for Women, New York Chapter (Kate Millet,
chm.), pp. 3, 5, 57.
[END OF CHAPTER 2]