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Another College’s Struggle

April 4, 2017

In September 2016, the College of New Rochelle in New Rochelle, NY admitted its first male students. CNR officially became “coed.”

I taught at CNR in the early 1970s when it began a transition from a Catholic Liberal Arts women’s college to a college for adults affiliated with a New York Labor Union, a school of nursing and a Liberal Arts college.

Catholic women’s colleges were challenged in the 1960s by the admission of women students to traditional all male Catholic colleges and universities. Some women’s college became co-ed, others ceased operation, and others like CNR chose to become secular institutions.

“In the good old days,” CNR had the advantage of a classical liberal arts curriculum, low teaching loads and proximity to New York City. Enrollments were modest and declining, but the college developed something called the School of New Resources with a labor union. Any member of the union would be accepted for admission and New Resources enrollments, and income, soared. The parent college stabilized its finances and remodeled an old castle on campus for modern faculty and commercial use.

Unfortunately, the leadership of the Ursuline order that founded CNR had no interest in preserving the college’s Catholic character and accepted state subsidies through something called the “Bundy Aid” program.  Significant income was generated by simply divesting the College of all Catholic affiliations, maintaining a secular Board of Trustees and no longer teaching required courses in Catholic theology.

Some members of the Ursuline order–the older “nuns”–understood that this was a turn for the worse, but the Ursuline order depended on the survival of the college. Survival was a motive for making changes, but CNR might have kept its Catholic identity by simply “going coed.”  The Ursuline leadership, however, was committed to a feminist ideology and prided itself on supporting women–though for what purpose was quite vague. Chapter 6 in James Tunstead Burtchaell’s The Dying of the Light exposes the secular notions of the Ursuline administrators at CNR in the 1960s and 70s.

In other words, an easy way to assure the college’s survival and its Catholic character was available in coeducation. That action was not taken until 2016 and enrollments soared. Unfortunately, the college’s financial officers were negligent and permitted a deficit to grow to more than $30 million. With few resources to cover those losses, the college faces closure.

One might say, “It serves them right,” but by 2016 those Ursuline nuns who “went bad” were long gone, the college president was a lay woman who was forced to resign, and the Board of Trustees is covering its petard by placing the blame for financial malfeasance on financial officers no longer employed at the College of New Rochelle.

But for the College’s location in New Rochelle,  “45 minutes from Broadway” made famous by George M. Cohan’s 1906  musical, CNR would be gone. It still has a chance of survival–though burdened by debt far beyond its means–and might become something better than it was before the financial crisis. We might pray for that to happen, but why pray for a secular college with nothing going for it other than its location?

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