Bottomly’s bottom line

What happens when “women become men” at Wellesley College, which has always been, and purports to remain, an all women’s school? The New York Times Magazine took up the question this week in its Sunday magazine.

It’s a question the Wellesley administration could reasonably be expected to have answered already. After all, the existence of transgendered students at women’s colleges is no secret.

For those of you who haven’t been paying attention, the transgendered are the “T” in GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered) — a now well-established minority group that has its own Dean at many co-ed colleges. And they are, so to speak, the trendiest subgroup within the GLBT classification. In academic and other left-wing circles, demands for equal rights for the transgendered have become a rallying cry, it being increasingly difficult plausibly to view gays as significantly oppressed.

Yet Wellesley seems to have been caught flat-footed by its transgendered students. Barely in advance of publication of the New York Times story, Wellesley’s president, H. Kim Bottomly, sent the following letter, dated October 15, 2014, to alumni:

Dear [Alum]:

I am writing to alert you to an article that will appear as this Sunday’s New York Times Magazine (October 19, 2014) cover story, and which was posted online earlier today.

The piece raises questions about something we have been exploring on campus: what does it mean to be a women’s college at a time when ideas about gender are shifting? The responses we are hearing from our students, faculty, staff, and alums are as varied and complex as the notion of gender itself.

We expect the story to stimulate a great deal of conversation and I wanted you to have the statement that I provided to the Times.

I look forward to the conversation.

Who doesn’t like a good conversation?

Wellesley’s statement to the New York Times is as content-free as President Bottomly’s letter:

Gender identity is a complex matter, and the national discourse on this subject is evolving. In our view, as the leading women’s college, our responsibility is to contribute to the conversation in ways that are inclusive, constructive, and meaningful to members of our own community and to the community at large.

We are approaching the discussion of gender fluidity and transgender experience with sensitivity, and in a way that reflects our values and mission. I have appointed an advisory group to evaluate the College’s current policies and practices, and we are hosting a range of community events, programs, and activities to explore what it means to be a women’s college at a time when ideas about gender are becoming more fluid. By exploring these issues in depth together, we will determine how to best meet the changing needs of our community as a whole.

I am proud to be part of the Wellesley community where people feel free to share their views and argue for their convictions—a community that has always been proud of all its students and alums.

This campus exploration began at the start of the semester with President Bottomly’s Convocation address, Being a Women’s College in the 21st Century.

The cliche-to-sentence ratio of this statement exceeds 1:1.

As for Bottomly’s Convocation address, it did not specifically address “gender fluidity and transgender experience” or the like. The address is devoted instead to extolling the virtues of all women’s colleges.

One therefore could construe the address as suggesting that when women become men at Wellesley, they no longer belong at Wellesley. But I doubt that this is the message Bottomly intended to convey.

The bottom line is that Bottomly doesn’t seem to have a clue about what should happen when women become men at Wellesely. Either that or she doesn’t want to say.

Leadership used to mean more than looking forward to a conversation.