Signs and banners including “Better Dead Than Co-Ed,” “ Shh ... I hear Sarah (Wilson) rolling in her Grave” and “You Thought We Were Kidding ... The Jokes on You!” hung from windows, balconies and beams across campus.
Many of the protesters said permitting men to enroll at the all-women’s college would detract from the campus’ long-standing traditions.
Currently, 11.6 percent of the 695 Wilson students are men. Those men are enrolled in adult degree programs and the employee tuition program, according to school officials.
The co-ed proposal, if accepted, would allow male commuter students to begin attending class at Wilson in the fall of 2013 and begin residing on campus in the 2014-15 academic year, said Brian Speer, vice president of marketing and communications for Wilson College.
Senior Sarah McGuckin said the Wilson experience would disappear if the campus went co-ed.
“It wouldn’t be the same experience I had,” McGuckin said. “It just would be a different school if it went co-ed. The buildings would be here, but the environment in itself would be different.”
But Speer said something has to be done to ensure the college’s survival.
“There is a financial cliff. In 2019, we have to start paying principal on the debt,” Speer said. “If we don’t turn around our enrollment numbers and begin working towards operating on a level annual budget, the college could close.”
Faced with the possibility of closing the college without making some changes, the organization put together a 23-member Commission on Shaping the Future of Wilson College.
The commission made several recommendations, including the co-ed option, to increase enrollment to 1,500 students by 2020.
The recommendations were given to Wilson President Barbara Mistick on Nov. 12. She will present her recommendations to the Board of Trustees at a meeting on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1. Any action is expected to be taken by the board on Dec. 1.
Speer said the commission offered a number of solutions to help with Wilson’s financial sustainability, but the co-ed recommendation would make the biggest financial impact.
“If Wilson does nothing, our annual budgetary deficit gets to somewhere around $5 million a year,” he said. “If the school implements co-education, we can reach just under a balanced budget in 2020, and in 2021, we have a surplus budget. Our endowment remains level.”
The final cost analysis would be to implement the commission’s other recommendations, but not co-ed.
“In that case, we will have in 2020 a budget deficit of $2.5 million for the year, and a cumulative debt of $26.9 million, and our endowment will have been reduced to $17.8 million,” he said.
Janelle Wills, Wilson College government association representative and student representative to the commission, said students are protesting because they feel their voices haven’t been heard on a number of campus issues.
“Students feel that their voice has been ignored,” she said. “I feel they have had a lot of meetings, but there has been nothing done about what the students gave them (as suggestions).”
She said the students understand that college officials are between a “rock and a hard place.”