A federal judge ordered officials Friday at The Citadel, one of the nation's last two public all-male military colleges, to begin preparing a plan for co-education, indicating that he may soon force the college to admit women.
The judge, C. Weston Houck, of U.S. District Court in Charleston, then ordered officials at the public college to develop a program to deal with any incidents of sexual harassment or abuse that could result from the inclusion of women in its corps of cadets, and he suggested that some incidents on campus had not been dealt with appropriately.Houck closed two weeks of often arcane testimony with an acknowledgment of what lawyers in the case have been discussing since the trial began: that the case is almost certain to go to the Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, in Richmond, and perhaps to the Supreme Court. He said such appeals were inevitable, expected and perhaps necessary in a case that has broad implications for women's rights.
In saying that a flurry of legal action would surely follow whatever decision he makes, Houck said Shannon Faulkner, the woman who is suing the school in hopes of being admitted as a full member of the corps, would be irreparably harmed by having to change colleges with each successive legal proceeding.
The judge also put college officials on notice that at the very least he planned to require that Faulkner, 19, be allowed to stay in The Citadel's day program, as he ordered last year.
"Everybody is just going to get out of here and catch a train to Richmond," he said, referring to to the Appeals Court there. "But if Shannon Faulkner doesn't leave here as a member of the corps of cadets, I fully expect that she'll continue as a day student."
Gen. Roger Clifton Poole, The Citadel's vice president for academic affairs, said the judge's remarks should not be taken as a decision in the case. He said that he interpreted the judge's remarks as a routine caution to plan ahead and that they should not be taken as a sign that the college would soon be forced to accept women.
Poole also said he thought the federal judge had been a "victim of propaganda" on the issue of sexual harassment.
"I was incensed at the judge's insinuation," he said, denying that Faulkner, who has been attending day classes under a temporary court order, has been subjected to unfair or abusive treatment.
But before excusing lawyers for a break over the Memorial Day weekend, Houck indicated that he would probably disregard the contention that the state of South Carolina has a proud and legitimate tradition of single-sex education that now just happens to serve only men.
A resolution in the case, he said, could take any one of three forms: co-education, the creation of a parallel program or a move to make the school private.
Citadel officials have often said the school will not go private, and Houck has made it clear that he is not satisfied with what the defense has provided as a parallel plan.
That has left co-education as the most likely resolution, though the judge said he did not expect to issue a final decision for at least a month. The lawyers have until June 16 to prepare their closing arguments.