Newcomb College, 1886-2006
In October, 1886, Josephine Louise Newcomb founded the H.Sophie Newcomb Memorial College with a gift of $100,000 to the Tulane Board of Administrators. She established the college as a memorial to her daughter who had died sixteen years earlier. Tulane University accepted both the gifts and the “terms and conditions” expressed by Mrs. Newcomb, and in 1887 Newcomb College opened its doors and became the first degree-granting coordinate college for women in the United States.
(To read a timeline of Mrs. Newcomb’s life and her work for the College, please see our “History” page.)
Over the next 15 years, from 1886 to her death in 1901, Mrs. Newcomb donated $3,626,551 (more than $75 million in current inflation-adjusted dollars) to Tulane University to maintain ” ‘The H. Sophie Newcomb Memorial College’ in the Tulane University of Louisiana.”
While the men of Tulane University and the women of Newcomb College eventually shared faculty and some resources (libraries, dining halls, athletic facilities, etc), Newcomb College had its own name, endowment (thanks to Mrs. Newcomb), dean, degrees, diplomas, advisors, graduates, campus, student body, senate, alumnae association and programs designed specifically for the benefit of women. One such program, celebrated to this day, was the Newcomb pottery studio, part of the fine arts program, which produced some of the greatest art pottery in American history. Other coordinate colleges in the United States, such as Barnard College at Columbia University and Westhampton College at the University of Richmond, were established on the Newcomb model.
For nearly 120 years, Newcomb College successfully fulfilled its mission with the enthusiastic support of successive Tulane Boards of Administrators. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, however, current Tulane University President Scott Cowen presented a post-Katrina “Plan of Renewal” to help the university recover from this unprecedented natural disaster. As part of that plan, Cowen decided to renege on the agreement with Mrs. Newcomb, dissolve the college, and redirect the Newcomb endowment. On December 8, 2005, the Tulane Board of Administrators adopted Cowen’s renewal plan, voting to “suspend admissions” and thereby dissolve Newcomb College, even though the administration has continually stated that there was no financial reason for this drastic move. Newcomb College, one of America’s outstanding women’s liberal arts colleges for more than 100 years, would be closed at the end of the 2006 spring semester.
After an outcry by outraged alumnae and citizens, Tulane decided to use the Newcomb endowments to fund an “institute” at Tulane to house the extracurricular activities and advising services that had been part of Newcomb College. The Tulane board created the H. Sophie Newcomb Memorial College Institute, a paper organization with no academic standing at the university, no dean, no degrees, no advisors, no campus, no student body, and no alumnae association. In March, 2006, the Board of Administrators struck the final blow by amending the university charter to redirect the Newcomb College funds to the institute.
Strong evidence shows that dissolving Newcomb College and seizing the Newcomb endowment was on President Cowen’s agenda long before hurricane Katrina (see “Report of an AAUP Special Committee: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans Universities” ) , and that he used the crisis as an excuse to move forward with pre-existing plans. As Cowen told Fast Company reporter Jennifer Reingold (see “The Storm After the Storm,” April 2006), “out of every [disaster] comes an opportunity. We might as well take the opportunity to reinvent ourselves.”
Frustrated at the Administrators’ refusal to hear counterproposals or opinions on the drastic Renewal Plan, a group of Newcomb and Tulane alumni organized The Future of Newcomb College, Inc., for the purpose of supporting legal action against the Tulane Board of Administrators, hoping to reverse the wrongful closing of the university’s successful and financially sound coordinate women’s college.
To read about the legal efforts by members of Mrs. Newcomb’s family and TFoNC, please see our Legal Q&A page.
Why You Should Care:
As historian Alexis de Tocqueville, author of the seminal book Democracy in America observed in the 1830s, philanthropy and the voluntary sector have been among the bedrocks of American society almost from our country’s beginning. Today, the nonprofit sector is not only important, but it is also big business with some 1.3 to 1.4 million nonprofit organizations in America, which receive more than $260 BILLION a year in donations.
But all is not well. In the past several years, a series of high profile disputes, several resulting in lawsuits, have called into question the stewardship practices of nonprofit organizations. Allegations of fund misuse and/or breach of donor intent have become common, threatening the public’s confidence in the nonprofit sector. Among the institutions embroiled in the ongoing controversy have been the New York Metropolitan Opera, some of the country’s best-known private universities (Harvard, Yale, and most notably Princeton (see www.robertsonvprinceton.org), St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital in New York, the University of Southern California, Boston University, Fisk University, Nashville, TN (one of America’s most prominent traditionally black colleges), the University of Southern California, UCLA, and even the American Red Cross.
The newest allegations of impropriety involve Tulane University, in Montgomery v. Tulane.
None of this is healthy for either the nonprofit community or the country. As billionaire philanthropist Warren Buffett put it in a March 19, 2007 Fortune magazine story: “when people see donor intent get ignored or twisted, it has to discourage philanthropy.”
The Donor Bill of Rights
The philanthropic community agrees. Several of the nation’s most prominent professional organizations representing the nonprofit fundraising community: the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Association of Fund Raising Counsel, Association for Healthcare Philanthropy, and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, have authored the Donor Bill of Rights, a statement of principle adopted by members of each association.
Article IV of the Donor Bill of Rights addresses donor intent. It says all donors have the right “To be assured their gifts will be used for the purposes for which they were given.”
Hundreds of other professional organizations, individual charities, nonprofits and universities also have endorsed the Donor Bill of Rights.