Follow Radcliffe's Money
I have been following the flurry of alumnae ideas and suggestions about what new focus Radcliffe might adopt. It's a beguiling game of imagining how, if the opportunity arises, one might spend Radcliffe's $20 million-plus annual income or dispose of its $150 million-plus endowment.
Before this pool of money gets too far from its source, it might be wise to consider the legal thicket which surrounds it. The original 1882 charter of Radcliffe (then known as the Society for the Collegiate Instruction of Women) authorized two specific purposes: (1) "promoting the education of women with the assistance of the instructors in Harvard University," and (2) "the further purpose of transferring the whole or any part of its money or property" to Harvard "whenever the same can be so done" as to advance the first purpose in a "satisfactory" manner.
What is the precise meaning of the language of this second purpose? According to Liva Baker, in her 1976 book, I'm Radcliffe, fly me!, this provision "contemplated the dismantling of the women's college as soon as Harvard admitted women...." In other words, the whole thing was expected to be a temporary expedient, at the end of which Radcliffe would give back the winnings, if any, and Radcliffe agreed to this. No so surprising, since most experts agree that just getting the women through the gate was the main goal.
In 1894, the charter was amended to change the name to Radcliffe College and to include two more purposes "in addition to" the original ones. These latter two are general aims: (1) to furnish instruction and collegiate life and (2) to promote higher education for women. Note that the original two purposes from 1882 were not replaced or terminated by this amendment, just added to. Therefore, one assumes that the original idea of dissolution was still on the table. Indeed, the current, odd arrangement of admitting women to Radcliffe and then reenrolling them in Harvard could be interpreted as a lawyerly maneuver to get around this very provision.
In 1977, Radcliffe signed an agreement with Harvard marking completion of its original first purpose of gaining access to Harvard for women. Without directly acknowledging that this mission was now concluded, Radcliffe delegated all responsibility for undergraduate women's education to Harvard. But, contrary to the terms of the original charter, it did not turn over its funds or property to Harvard. Ignoring the second purpose of the charter, the 1977 agreement stated that Radcliffe would keep its assets and exist an an independent institution to carry out programs "to promote the higher education of women."
So, where are we? Radcliffe College gave up, in 1977, any clear authority to operate as a provider of accredited undergraduate instruction (indeed, it had given up its independent accreditation some years before 1977). Since it voluntarily delegated this authority, one might conclude that this transfer signifies that Harvard's performance was "satisfactory," in accordance with the original charter. Therefore, all funds and property connected with undergraduate education should legally and logically have been transferred to Harvard.
Radcliffe's other current activities--the Bunting Institute, the libraries, the continuing education--may well exist solely upon the sufferance and goodwill of those donors who specifically fund their endowment and income. It is not at all clear to me how much of the "Radcliffe College" income or endowment could legally be spent for these purposes if donors, or indeed any of its alumnae, chose to challenge the corporate status of Radcliffe. Under the terms of the original charter, if Ms. Baker is correct, Radcliffe may have very few options.
Claire Kaplan Lipsman graduated from Radcliffe in 1945.