Plan to Admit Women to Deep Springs College in California Faces a Legal Challenge

Deep Springs College, in a secluded valley in the eastern California desert, is a highly selective educational institution which has a student body of only 26. The nearest town is 40 miles from campus. Students agree to stay on campus during the full academic term. Drugs and alcohol are strictly prohibited.

Tuition at the two-year school is free. But all students are required to work 20 hours a week at the college’s cattle ranch and alfalfa farm. The college does not grant bachelor’s degrees but after two years at Deep Springs, a large percentage of the student body transfers to highly selective undergraduate institutions. In the past 10 years, 16 percent of Deep Springs students transferred to Harvard, 13 percent to the University of Chicago, 7 percent to Yale and 7 percent to Brown.

Lucien Nunn

The founder of the college, Lucien L. Nunn made a fortune providing electricity to miners throughout the West. He envisioned a college where young men could learn and govern themselves without the distractions of modern society. Throughout Deep Springs College’s 95-year existence, only men have been admitted. However, last fall the trustees of the school voted to admit women. The first women students are expected in the fall of 2013.

But now two members of the Deep Springs board of trustees, who are alumni of the college, have gone to court to try to stop the move to coeducation. They claim that the trust establishing the college called for the education of “promising young men.” The college maintains that the word “men” taken in the context of the early 20th century was meant “to describe mankind as a general reference to the species.”

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