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RCAA Offers "Qualified Support"

By Rachel P. Kovner and Scott A. Resnick, Crimson Staff Writerss

Even though the Radcliffe College Alumnae Association (RCAA) gave its "qualified support" to the proposed Harvard-Radcliffe merger on Tuesday, most alumnae still have reservations about the future of their alma mater.

RCAA President Jane E. Tewksbury '74 said that although the RCAA leadership met to discuss its official "alumnae" position on the merger, the fact that it has offered just "qualified" support for the change suggests that the jury is still out on the overall alumnae consensus.

"If we were to find out that every alumnae contact we had was negative, then we would have to rethink, as their representatives, our position," Tewksbury said.

Alumnae opinion gauged yesterday varied from guarded optimism about Radcliffe's future to predictions that the agreement jeopardizes the position of women at Harvard.

But if there is any consensus, alumnae are glad the process is nearing completion.

Many alumnae said that Tuesday was the first time they were told official details of the merger. In the year since news broke of the negotiations for Radcliffe's future, alumnae have complained that they have been left out of the process--even while still being solicited for a $100 million capital campaign.

"It was too damn secretive for me," said Soma G. Behr '61. "What was Linda Wilson doing, going to 10 cities last year and asking what the future of Radcliffe should be in the next century? What kind of question was that when they had the answer already?"

Only top Radcliffe administrators and the Board of Trustees were involved in the negotiations, so yesterday most alumnae could only give their first impressions of an agreement whose details are still shrouded in mystery.

"None of us seem to understand why secrecy was essential," said Cecily C. Selby '46, who was a member of the Radcliffe Board of Trustees in the late 1970s. "I'll be loyal forever but it'll be easier to be loyal now that there are no secrets."

But even though they were kept out of the negotiations, many alumnae said they weren't surprised by the final decision.

The college many of them knew as undergraduates essentially disappeared after a 1977 agreement fully incorporated women into Harvard's student body. Since then, Radcliffe's role has been unclear.

"It's very much like the American Revolution--it formalizes something that has been going on for decades," said Tina M. Smith '83, vice president of the Harvard Club of Silicon Valley.

Under the new agreement, Radcliffe's most successful enterprises, such as the Bunting Institute and the Radcliffe Public Policy Institute, will continue, but the college will finally lose its institutional autonomy.

"It was clear that something was going to have to change--Radcliffe, as it existed, was marginalized," said A'Lelia P. Bundles '74, who is currently serving as first vice president of RCAA. "In the best of all possible worlds, I wish Radcliffe could remain independent forever, but that's not the reality of the world in which we're living."

Other alumnae share Bundles' nostalgia for the college that put them on more equal footing with Harvard men. While some feel that women now have a strong voice within Harvard, others fear that female undergraduates will lose a powerful advocate whose benefits many do not even recognize until long after graduation.

"As I feared, the tie to undergraduate women at Harvard has been cut, and I'm very sorry about that," said Peggy M. McIntosh '56, who resigned her post as second vice president of RCAA last spring because of her frustrations with the closed-door negotiations. "Even if undergraduate programs at Radcliffe weren't strong, they meant a lot to women."

Details about the future of Radcliffe's undergraduate programs have not yet been decided. Some alumnae have voiced fears that undergraduate women who made use of those programs--including mentoring, externships and support for women-oriented students groups--will lose the most from the merger.

"Most of my social friends are so in love with the role of Radcliffe for undergraduates," Selby said, speaking of her interactions with fellow alumnae. However, her own opinions have been shaped by her recent experience as a tutor in Leverett House.

"I had a different experience and felt that frankly it was dishonest to imply that Radcliffe had a real role with the undergraduates more than the peripheral programs," Selby said.

Even for the many women who, like Lissa Muscatine '76, said they identify more with Harvard than the former Radcliffe, the change presents both parties with a chance to further the Radcliffe goal.

"I feel it's a great opportunity if Harvard is willing to take very seriously the mission and history that Radcliffe has represented in terms of advancing women in society," Muscatine said.

In particular, a number of alumnae said they hoped the decision would serve to pressure the University into improving its track record of promoting women to tenured positions within the Faculty.

Even the role of RCAA, which formed an important network--both socially and professionally--for Radcliffe alumnae, is ambiguous.

As RCAA works to solicit more feedback from its alumni, group leaders said it can only survive with funding and support from the new Institute, or Harvard itself.

According to Tewksbury, who is also one of the members of the Board of Trustees responsible for approving the recent merger, the change in structure won't affect the mission of RCAA. That mission, she said, is to support Radcliffe--in any incarnation--by providing community and advocacy for women, and by offering women a chance for life-long learning.

"I think the potential is significant in terms of a resource-rich Radcliffe with the ability to expand its programs," Tewksbury said. "On the other hand, my college is gone."

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