Trustees of all-male college try to block admission of women

Deep Springs College, the tiny but prestigious school and ranch north of Death Valley, plans to admit female students for the first time in its 95-year history. But opponents of co-education sought to block the change Wednesday.

In legal paperwork filed in Inyo County Superior Court, two college trustees who want the 28-student campus to remain all-male asked a judge to stop the school from admitting women in fall 2013. Those critics contend that enrolling women would violate the campus’ founding trust and original mission to educate “promising young men” in a setting that combines the liberal arts with such physical work as baling alfalfa and milking cows.

Deep Springs’ trustees voted in September to break with the all-male tradition at the 120-square mile ranch, about 55 miles southeast of Mammoth Lakes, as a way to keep up with contemporary ways of training future leaders. In February, the school asked court permission to re-interpret or change its founding documents and noted that the use of the word “men” in the early 20th century was meant “to describe mankind as a general reference to the species.”

However, the dissenting trustees, Kinch Hoekstra and Edward Keonjian, who are alumni, insisted that the school is thriving without female students and that there is no compelling reason or legal way to enroll them now. “If the trustees wish to have a coeducational college similar to Deep Springs, they are free to donate or raise the funds to create one according to their own vision,” according to the court filing.

The college was founded by banker and electric power pioneer Lucien Lucius Nunn as a place where young men could study and work hard away from the distractions of women and drinking. Deep Springs is a tuition-free two-year college from which many graduates transfer to Ivy League universities.

Deep Springs President David Neidorf, who supports admitting women, said Wednesday that he had not yet read the opponents’ legal filing and could not comment on it. He said the campus still wants to start recruiting women and hopes to accept applications in the fall for possible admission the following year.

Whether the school can proceed with those plans “depends on the speed with which this is decided in the courts,” he said.