SPECIAL EDITION: 50TH ANNIVERSARY OF CO-EDUCATION AT RC
September 20, 2021, marks the 50th anniversary of the merging of the American College for Girls (ACG) and Robert Academy. Trustee Emeritus and former RC headmaster James Maggart was a teacher at ACG, and became the RC lise director after the merger. As a member of the planning committee and later an administrator, he helped navigate this important milestone for RC. The RCQ asked him about his recollections of that time.
I joined the planning committee of the merger in the fall of 1970. One of the main issues was about where the merged school should be located. As the discussion around the locations went on, we focused on curriculum and a list of facility needs for the co-ed school. ACG lise was a four-year program, and the Academy was a three-year program, so the curricula were quite different. It was clear from the beginning that we had to have three separate programs for the first couple of years, until we got everybody merged together: A program for boys going into Lise II, one for girls going into Lise II and a third program for the entering Lise I students. We had to figure out the assignments for teachers and the location of the classes because the girls and boys in Lise II and Lise II couldn't be in the same classrooms at the same time. We basically had to have three different schools operating simultaneously.
Another challenge was that the two schools had different prep programs. The boys school used the SEFT program (Spoken English for Turks) which was very formal and prescribed. The girls school had a more flexible program, where the teachers had a lot of leeway to adjust their activities, their assignments and readings. It was tough to work out which program to stay with, and in the end we chose the SEFT program. That stayed in effect until I came back as Head of School in 1977, when we made a decision to switch to a more flexible program.
In early spring of 1971 the decision was made that we would be on the Arnavutköy campus, so we started the planning of facilities thinking the merger would take place in the fall of 1972. We were at one of our meetings, and we were suddenly told that the merger was going to take place the following fall. We had to really kick into high gear then!
A major question was how to accommodate the faculty. The faculty housing on the Arnavutköy campus was basically full. Foreign schools in Turkey were restricted in terms of what they could do with their facilities, so we were not allowed to build any new buildings on either campus. Luckily the Turkish Ministry of Education was flexible with us in terms of renovations, which helped a good deal.
Not being able to add buildings created problems with the boarding department as well. The girls had always lived in Sage. It had beautiful views of the Bosphorus and nice rooms, but it was decided that that would become the boys dorm and the girls would move to the top floor of Gould Hall. It was a challenge to sell that to the girls. Many of them were not at all happy with that move. Once we did start school in the fall, the girls had more restrictive rules in the boarding department than the boys had in theirs. The boys were allowed to stay outside later in the evening, to use the athletic facilities. The girls were not that happy. In turn, the boys were unhappy about leaving the atmosphere of the Bebek campus. They'd had a very free reign there, and they could mix with the university students, so they felt like they were, in some ways, a bit older. The girls were not allowed to leave campus without a chaperone or special permissions, so when we merged, the boys had to adjust to being restricted in the campus.
Another interesting change: In the girls school we had family dining. There would be one faculty member at each table. The faculty member would serve the food and try to have a meaningful conversation with the students. I think the girls were happy they no longer had to sit with a faculty member, when we switched to a cafeteria style with the merger, and people just sat wherever they wanted to.
The other big challenge was to find enough athletic facilities for both the boys and the girls because before the merger we had no indoor gymnasium, so it was decided that the auditorium, which is now the library, would be converted into a gymnasium. That was very controversial and took a lot of diplomacy to work out between the two schools.
Yet another issue that came up was about school president. Both schools had already elected presidents in 1971, and when the merger happened earlier than planned, the girl who had been elected president from the girls college said, “I'll be the Vice President, and the boy can be the president.” I questioned her on whether that was a good decision, but she was adamant, and that's what we did.
Despite some bumps along the way, the cooperation between the two faculties and the students was unbelievably good. I believe the merger has strengthened the RC fabric, particularly because it brought the alumni from both schools together into a very strong Alumni Association.