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Coeducation effort at Deep Springs College dealt setback in Inyo County court ruling

Deep Springs College

Molly Peterson/KPCC

Deep Springs sits in California's high desert. A current student body of 28 men runs a cattle ranch and an alfalfa farm, as well, as a mostly organic garden.

An Inyo County court has dealt a setback to a coeducation effort at an unusual eastern Sierra college that for a century has only admitted men.

A majority of trustees at Deep Springs College approved plans to open admission to women in the fall of 2011. They sought approval from a superior court. Two trustees, alumni who voted against those plans, challenged the action. They argue that one of the school’s organizing documents, the deed of trust, makes explicit the educational purpose of the college’s founder, L.L. Nunn.

In part the deed of trust provides that the college property is to be used for  “the education of promising young men, in a manner emphasizing the need and opportunity for unselfish service, and uplifting mankind from materialism to idealism, to a life in harmony with the creator, in the conduct of which educational work of democratic self government by the students themselves shall be a feature, as is now the case at Deep Springs.”

In a chamber order dated Tuesday, a judge has determined that the trust cannot be construed as granting discretion to trustees to admit female students. Provisions of the order put to a halt an ongoing admissions process: last August, the college announced it was welcoming applications from women, and it received dozens before the initial application deadline. 

"We are disappointed that we cannot move ahead with coeducation this year, but remain confident about the final outcome of the ongoing litigation," says a message on the Deep Springs website, which characterizes the order as one addressing preliminary issues in ongoing litigation. The college is sending letters to male and to female applicants notifying them of the order.

The next court appearance for parties to the dispute is in late January.  

Deep Springs is an accredited two-year college. Approximately 26 men in two classes attend class, work at various jobs around the college, and hold decision-making authority over admissions, curriculum, and faculty hiring.

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