Jacqueline G. Wexler, a former Roman Catholic nun who fought the Vaticanâ€™s authority and won, then found herself on the other side of the barricades when she became president of Hunter College in 1970, facing student demonstrators storming her office, died on Thursday in Orlando, Fla. She was 85.
Her death was confirmed by her daughter, Wendy Wexler Branton.
While still a nun and battling the church on many issues, Ms. Wexler drew nationwide attention as a bellwether of the liberal reforms of the Second Vatican Council. She fought successfully against church control of Webster College, the small Catholic womenâ€™s college near St. Louis that she headed in the 1960s. She advocated greater participation by women in church leadership and criticized the churchâ€™s ban on birth control.
Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, the Catholic televangelist, referred to her as a â€œBenedict Arnoldâ€ in 1967, the year she won autonomy for Webster and simultaneously renounced her vows. Dick Cavett had her as a guest on his late-night TV talk show.
Ms. Wexlerâ€™s appointment in 1970 as president of Hunter, one of 11 colleges in the City University of New York system, coincided with a turbulent year in its history. Students, roiled by a combination of antiwar politics and local tensions caused by rising fees and a new university-wide open admissions policy, held demonstrations that shut down the campus repeatedly that spring. [more]