Radcliffe Asks Students, Alumnae to Put in Two Cents' Worth

After more than a month of speculation regarding her college's institutional and intellectual future, President Linda S. Wilson this week invited the Radcliffe community to belly up to the discussion table.

Wilson issued a "call for comments on the intellectual terrain" in letters to alumnae, graduating seniors and in statements posted on the Radcliffe Web site and published in a paid advertisement in Wednesday's Crimson.

Michael A. Armini, associate director of the Radcliffe news office, praised Wilson's appeal for feedback.

"It's probably quite rare in academia that students, alumni/ae and staff are having their views solicited for this purpose," he said.

But other students and alumnae say they feel the invitation to respond is too little, too late.

"They're not telling us anything--they're just asking for opinion," said Emma C. Cheuse '98. "I think this is an important step in the right direction, but it makes it difficult to trust that we are really going to participate in the discussion if we don't have the information necessary to contribute in a meaningful way."

Although Wilson said in an interview yesterday that she values alumnae opinion, she warned that the Radcliffe community may not have the final word on Radcliffe's future.

"All institutions must develop a strong constituent base, and respect that constituent base," Wilson said. But, she added, "it is important to know that the ultimate responsibility for the institutional structure is an assigned responsibility. There is a group of people who hold the institution in trust--our board of trustees."

Wilson's "Call for Comments" is Radcliffe's first public request for input since The Boston Globe reported on Easter Sunday that the college is engaged in a comprehensive strategic planning process. Sources close to the discussions have said they may result in a change of Radcliffe's institutional status.

In the days following the article, the board of management of the Radcliffe College Alumnae Association (RCAA) drafted a letter to the Board of Trustees expressing their dissatisfaction with "lack of communication" between alumnae and the Board. The same week, Peggy M. McIntosh '56, second vice president of the RCAA, resigned her post in frustration with the Board of Trustees' failure of "start the process over or open it up to let alumnae help shape the decisions about the college's future."

"I think we all deserve the chance to be active in the discussion of Radcliffe's future," she wrote.

Wilson said yesterday that discussions of organizational changes are premature, and must be preceded by discussions of intellectual mission. Because Radcliffe expects its goals for the 1990s will soon be achieved, Armini said the college's "invitation" for responses from its constituency does not confirm any rumors about Radcliffe's strategic planning.

"At the turn of the century, it's entirely appropriate for the president and the trustees to solicit input regarding Radcliffe's future," Armini said.

Armini called the suggestions for Radcliffe's changing focus--which range from "Women, Gender and the Academy" to "Gender, Health and Environment"--an "extension" of Radcliffe's current mission. "Academic institutions always continue to evolve," he said.

The alumnae and students who said they felt angry and betrayed by the secrecy of Radcliffe's planning process had mixed reactions to President Wilson's invitation for response.

"I was pleased to receive the letter, and I'm going to input--by e-mail, as suggested," said RCAA Treasurer Rebekah K. Richardson '55, who said she feels Radcliffe's research arm should specifically include the problems facing women living on low incomes.

Cheuse, however, said she felt the "Call to Comment" on Radcliffe's oftrepeated phrase, the "intellectual terrain," was "vague."

"It's hard to give feedback on something you don't have much information about," she said.