The surprising decision came more than a year after the college announced its impending closure.
By Riley Mulcahy
In March 2020, COVID-19 became more and more of a reality, and the adjustment of this new reality set in for everyone. Still, for Notre Dame De Namur students, there was another level of uncertainty. The school, located in Belmont, California, released a report in October 2019 announcing its dire financial situation and drastic measures for the school to stay open. Listening sessions, conflicting communications, and a student-led protest ensued until it was finally revealed after California’s shelter in place order that undergraduate students (except for those graduating in the Spring of 2021) would have to transfer. In light of last week’s news that the school’s campus will be sold to Stanford University, a sense of shock has come over alumni and a weird sense of closure as well.
Notre Dame De Namur’s history in the Bay Area is rich and diverse. Founded in San Jose in 1851 and relocated to Belmont in 1922, the school was the first California college to give women baccalaureate degrees. The school was recognized as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, and the majority of its students were supported heavily through financial aid. Stanford’s campus purchase feels misplaced, as the students served on the two schools’ campuses are drastically different from a socio-economic standpoint.
As an alum of NDNU and a grateful transfer to Saint Mary’s, I am personally at a loss for words. It is hard to understand how a school whose mission was to serve students who might not otherwise have the chance to go to college could sell its campus to a research magnet university. In a press release, Stanford notes that the purchase of the campus could “unlock opportunities to provide space for programs that are emerging from the Long-Range Vision and extend the reach of the university’s Continuing Studies course offerings to more Bay Area residents.” As someone who participated and helped plan protests when NDNU was not giving us any information on its possible closure, the phrase “Long-Range Vision” seems ironic. Maybe instead of buying the campus for its personal gain, Stanford could have given NDNU the tools to reopen itself to undergraduate students who need a small, supportive college in the center of the Bay Area.
The details of the impending purchase and how NDNU will benefit from the sale have not been made immediately available. In a statement about the upcoming sale, NDNU’s newly minted President, Dr. Lizbeth Martin, remarked that the sale provides NDNU “the flexibility to grow again in new and exciting ways.” Stanford announced that it does not see the purchase as an opportunity to move any research or offices from their campuses in Palo Alto or Redwood City. The use of the Belmont campus will be in addition to the work that it is already doing.
Several students from NDNU, including myself, transferred to Saint Mary’s last year after a stressful transition to online learning in the midst of knowing that the college we had been at for two or three years would no longer exist. Although I am happy with my Saint Mary’s experience thus far, there is still a part of me that cannot believe I attended a school that no longer gives degrees to undergraduate students. Stanford’s campus purchase marks a finality of an era of uncertainty for many of us, but the transition into a Stanford campus will take years. Stanford will have to go through the process of making improvements to the campus, and NDNU will still have a graduate school for the time being.
Even though the sale is surprising to me, I am hopeful that Stanford will honor NDNU’s history somehow, and it won’t just turn into another Stanford campus. NDNU is adjacent to Notre Dame Belmont and a Province for nuns, but only NDNU’s campus is included in the sale.
Melanie Moyer '22,