Four alumnae of Wilson College lacked standing to challenge the college’s adoption of a fully coeducational program, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court decided in Tishok v. Dept. of Education, __ A.3d __ (No. 136 C.D. 2015, filed Feb. 4, 2016). Wilson College, a private liberal arts college in Franklin County, was founded in 1869 as a women’s college. Although both male and female students have attended classes at Wilson since the 1970’s, the college limited its undergraduate residential program to women until 2013. In January 2013, Wilson’s board of trustees voted to make Wilson fully coeducational, including the residential program, and submitted amendments to the college’s articles of incorporation to the Department for approval. Four alumnae (Petitioners), three of whom are former trustees, objected and were granted limited participant status in the Department’s public hearing. The Department approved the amendments to the articles of incorporation, concluding that Wilson had satisfied the Department’s regulations and standards for institutions of higher education. Petitioners petitioned for the Commonwealth Court’s review.
The appellate court concluded that Petitioners lacked standing to seek review of the Department’s order and dismissed their petition for review. Writing for the unanimous panel, Senior Judge Colins explained that Petitioners’ status as graduates of Wilson did not give them standing because they are not directly affected by Wilson’s move to a fully coeducational program. Any adverse effect of the new program on the value of Petitioners’ degrees, the Court noted, was purely speculative. The Court also held that Petitioners’ status as former trustees did not confer standing, which must exist at the time a legal proceeding is commenced. Likewise, the fact that several Petitioners are currently honorary, non-voting trustees of Wilson did not change the result because they do not have responsibility for management of the college’s affairs and, therefore, lack a sufficient actual and direct interest.