ATLANTA — Breaking down a 152-year-old all-male tradition, a federal judge Friday ordered The Citadel, South Carolina's state-supported military institute, to immediately grant full admittance to its first female cadet.
U.S. District Judge C. Weston Houck said in a ruling in Charleston, S.C., that the student, 19-year-old Shannon Faulkner, must be admitted in the 1994 fall term, which begins in August. The school has a year to set in place a plan to accommodate other women who may want to attend.
"We're thrilled," said Valorie Vojdik, an attorney on Faulkner's legal team. "We think this is a major victory for women's rights in this country."
School officials said they will appeal and will seek a stay of the judge's order requiring Faulkner's immediate admittance.
"An institute as venerable as ours should not be required to transform itself by being forced to become co-educational until after the United States Supreme Court has ruled on an issue this significant," said The Citadel president, Lt. Gen. Claudius E. Watts III, in a written statement.
In a later interview he said, "We believe that we are entirely in compliance with the Constitution."
Houck ruled that the school's refusal to admit Faulkner because of her sex violates her rights under the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.
"I never doubted that one day I would win," Faulkner said. "I was told I would never enter The Citadel's gates. Now, I've entered them and I'm very happy."
In the past, Houck has severely scolded school officials for dragging their feet on his orders to prepare contingency plans to admit women. Friday's ruling also had a critical tone. The judge compared the school's opposition to admitting women to the way schools once resisted racial integration and said officials at The Citadel had "continued to defend this case at a cost of millions of dollars to taxpayers of South Carolina when they do not have a single case to offer in support of their position."
School officials had contended during a 10-day hearing in May that they were justified in admitting only men because there was no demonstrated demand by women for a Citadel-type education. They also argued that single-sex schools were part of a state policy of offering a variety of choices in higher education.
Houck found, however, that the school "failed to articulate an important policy that substantially supports offering the unique benefits of a Citadel-type education to men and not to women." The Citadel is the only military school in the state and the only single-sex public school.
He said lack of demand does not justify denying admittance to women. Testimony during the trial indicated that the school had no way of determining the extent of women's interest because it threw out their applications.
"The Citadel has made no secret of the fact that its primary goal in this case is to keep Faulkner out of the Corps of Cadets," Houck wrote. "Not once has (the school) done anything to indicate that it is sincerely concerned to any extent whatsoever about Faulkner's constitutional rights."
The American Civil Liberties Union, which had supported Faulkner, praised the ruling. Sara L. Mandelbaum, acting director of the ACLU's Women's Rights Project, called on the school "to assure (Faulkner's) safety and a smooth transition when she enters the Cadet Corps in the fall."
If the school is successful at getting a stay, Faulkner would not be admitted to the corps until after appeals are exhausted.
Faulkner, a 1993 high school honors graduate, applied to The Citadel last year and was accepted. The school revoked its acceptance of her application, however, when it learned she was female. In January, the school was ordered to admit her to day classes alongside male cadets while the case was being decided. With Friday's ruling, she must be allowed to participate fully in the school's rigorous military training.
Details of how she will be accommodated on campus will be decided at a hearing in August.
In a plan the school submitted to the court in June, it said that if it was forced to admit Faulkner, the school would favor holding off on her participation in military training until next year. Then she would be required to receive a crew cut, a uniform and a private room in the college infirmary. Later, according to the plan, she would be allowed a regulation military haircut for women--hair above the collar that doesn't interfere with headgear.
Watts, The Citadel president, acknowledged that other military institutes such as West Point admit women, but he said the presence of women at The Citadel would drastically alter the environment of the school.
He said he was disappointed by Houck's comparison of the case to racial discrimination cases. "Black and white men you treat the same," he said. "You don't treat men and women the same. There's a physiological difference."