For all intents and purposes, Newcomb is already gone, since Tulane University abruptly and without ceremony eliminated it post-Katrina and took off with the endowment. The powers that be didn't count on the alums to care and certainly didn't expect us to put up a three-year legal battle. They'd forgotten a large number of those smart, feisty women went to law school after graduation and didn't give up easily.
Didn't we know women no longer needed their own colleges? Didn't we know we were now equal to men, free to move about the world and up the corporation? Ironically, now that the exclusive girls' school has been swallowed up, female students dominate Tulane because their GPAs and exam scores exceed the boys'. They can't get dates because there are too many girls, but that's how it goes.
Some background: Josephine Louise Newcomb founded H. Sophie Newcomb College in 1886 as a memorial to her daughter who died as a teenager. Newcomb College became the first degree-granting coordinate college for women in the United States - before Vassar, Pembroke, Trinity and the rest. Over the next 15 years, Mrs. Newcomb gave almost $4 million (worth $75+ million today) dedicated to higher education for girls and young women. (You can read more history on the Newcomb Lives Web site.)
But, essentially, Tulane stole the money, replacing the college with a Women's Institute that holds lectures and film screenings. Since the legal battle began, they've made a few superficial changes, like naming the quad after Newcomb and putting the hyphenated name on every diploma - whoopie. Nobody is fooled.
Okay, back to the law suit. Tulane justifies its actions by pointing to ONE sentence in Mrs. Newcomb's will where she omitted wording from an earlier will, "for the sole use and benefit," that would have safeguarded the $92 million endowment for an independent women's college. The counsel who advised Mrs. Newcomb to remove that language, oddly, just "happened" to be Chairman of the Tulane Board of Administrators. When this tidbit was brought out in court, there were gales of laughter. One of the five judges pointed out that in today's legal environment, his role would clearly constitute a conflict of interest. ("that language stricken would have made it a prohibited substitution in the law of the time")
I've been to earlier hearings and, in my opinion, Tulane's lawyer was abominably unprepared and arrogant. He said things like: Tulane could have done anything it wanted with the endowment all along - like building a football stadium. (If you want to rile up an audience of women, that is the perfect thing to say!) He said Tulane made decisions all along about how the funds would be used. Translation: The University had been ignoring Mrs. Newcomb's will all along - to establish a graduate and music school. It "always considered her wishes, but did not consider them binding." Does this sound just a tad bit paternalistic? We know best what you should do with your money, little Missy.
At the very first public forum I attended back in 2006, I think, one of the older graduates stepped up to a microphone and quoted the Newcomb Dean from her time. "They only wanted us for our money," she said about Tulane's administration, her voice shaking with emotion. I was really converted that day as I listened to the older women speak so passionately and saw current students wearing traditional daisies in their hair after protesting on the quad. Their mothers, aunts and grandmothers had graduated from Newcomb College and they wanted to too.
But I regress. So, this same attorney tried to prove that Mrs. Newcomb didn't really care what became of her multi-million bequest - even though she had worked for years, until her death, in establishing a women's college. Ultimately, she figured, whatever!
"Preposterous!" is what Dan Caruso called that argument and it really did sound ridiculous to the point where I wondered how he had the nerve to say it in front of the five judges and all of us.
Mrs. Newcomb feared that her own family would take off with the money and she wanted to use Tulane to protect it from them. She didn't give a twit about Tulane otherwise. Little did she know, she couldn't trust them either!
Caruso called Mrs. Newcomb's efforts a "lifetime of giving to a specific purpose." She "gave, founded, helped grow, helped nurture a particular institution." She meant for it to endure.
|Mr. Singh wears a Newcomb button.|
I just keep thinking about the phrase from "Gone with the Wind." It ain't fittin', it just ain't fittin'.