Sweet Briar College -- now slated for closure if its leaders have their way -- observed what may have been its final graduation ceremony on Saturday.
The Virginia college's president "reluctantly" skipped commencement, explaining that as the architect of the dramatic plan announced earlier this year to close the school, he believed he might be a cause for disruption at the event. "In the last 24 hours, it has come to my attention that there are faculty members and alumnae who have threatened, sometimes quite publicly, to repeatedly disrupt the ceremony tomorrow should I preside,” James F. Jones Jr. said in an e-mail sent Friday to Sweet Briar students and faculty.
At the commencement, some faculty member silently protested by wearing ribbons bearing the school's pink and green colors.
The school's commencement speaker, Mayor Teresa Tomlinson of Columbus, Georgia, who graduated from the college in 1987, firmly supported the cause of those attempting to keep the school open. "Women's colleges have never been more relevant, and apparently not everybody is clued into that," she told the crowd, according to published reports. "This college needs to continue."
Litigation is pending to determine whether Sweet Briar will be allowed to close as announced by its leadership, or whether efforts by alumnae, faculty and students to grant the school a reprieve will change anything. The New York Times reported
that the legal cases are moving quickly, with oral arguments set before the Supreme Court of Virginia on June 4.
Legal efforts to block the planned closure of Sweet Briar College are continuing as the school enters its potentially final month of classes after more than a century as a venerable college for women in Virginia.A group of more than 120 faculty and staff members have filed a motion
in one court case supporting the efforts of Amherst County Attorney Ellen Boyer to enjoin the closure and plans to disburse the college's charitable funds.
Separately, more than 50 faculty members have filed a lawsuit
challenging their dismissal at the end of the school year, seeking to stop the closure, and requesting more than $40 million in damages.
Sweet Briar's president shocked students, faculty, alums and the higher education community in March by announcing that a strategic plan had led to the conclusion that the school was not viable in the long term and instead should close at the end of the semester.
According to The Washington Post
, "The faculty lawsuit argues that the college does not, in fact, have a financial emergency. During the past five years, the case asserts, net assets rose from $126 million to $135 million while the endowment grew from $85 million to $95 million. During the same time period, according to the case, debt dropped from $42 million to $25 million."
Inside Higher Ed reports
that a coalition of alumnae and others opposed to the stunning news that Sweet Briar College will close at the end of school year are planning to implement a legal strategy to keep the school open. As a result, the group -- Saving Sweet Briar -- is urging current students to delay plans to transfer.
"As we advance our legal strategy and develop alternatives to the closure of Sweet Briar College, it is critical that current students give our efforts time to bear fruit before they commit to attending other institutions," said a statement from the group, according to Inside HIgher Ed.
A school spokeswoman countered that delays in transfer were ill-advised. "It is important for students and parents not to delay developing their transfer plans for the fall semester," the spokeswoman said via e-mail to the publication. "Students who delay the timely selection of a new academic home limit their collegiate options and their potential access to financial aid from other institutions. It is important to remember that our accreditation ends as of August 25, further supporting our students' need to find a new institution now."
Students and others with concerns about their own legal rights and remedies who wish to share their concerns with attorneys at College Watchdogs may do so here
or by calling 1-877-540-8333.
The surprise announcement that Sweet Briar College intends to close at the end of the school year continues to roil students, faculty, and alumnae who are questioning whether the forced demise of the small liberal arts college is necessary and appropriate.
If you are someone with concerns about the harm that the closing of Sweet Briar may be causing to your and others that you wish to share with the attorneys at College Watchdogs, click here
to submit your concern and contact information.
As previously reported, the rural Virginia college for women, which was founded in 1901, created nationwide attention in the higher education community when it announced on March 3 that its board had voted to end operations later this year due to "insurmountable financial challenges" identified during a year-long strategic planning effort.
The news took the school with more than 500 students and nearly 300 faculty and staff by surprise, sparking a litany of questions about transfer options, employment assistance, the fate of the school's nearly $90 million endowment, and disposition of Sweet Briar's beautiful campus and buildings.
Twitter postings about the closure went viral, with slogans such as #Thinkisforgirls and #SaveSweetBriar. Alumnae have announced intentions to raise $250 million in an effort to stave off closure. And some school advocates have been questioning the decision-making of school president Jimmy Jones after finding that he had been the subject of some criticism at his last post at Trinity College in Connecticut.
According to a report in the Washington Post, more than 4,000 women are involved "in a fast-moving effort to keep the college open, at least until the current students can graduate." The newspaper quotes a 1993 graduate, Kelly Gardner Headd, as stating, "Many of us are suspicious about the motivations behind the decision. . . . Did the board and/or president have an as yet unacknowledged incentive to make this decision and with such suddenness? And to keep alums in the dark until it was too late for alternatives to closing to be considered?"
Meanwhile, a number of Sweet Briar's competitors are moving quickly to assist current students -- and reap the benefits of their tuition dollars. Among the schools offering expedited application processes are Hollins University, Lynchburg College, Randolph College and Mary Baldwin College, all in Virginia. Kettering University in Michign has siad that it will accept Sweet Briar student in the fall who are pursuing degrees in business, science, technology, engineer or math, according to Bloomberg Business. Virginia Tech also plans to accept late admission applications from students affected by Sweet Briar's closing.
The Washington Post also reported that there has been speculation that Liberty University, the evangelical Christian school in Lynchhburg run by Jerry Falwell Jr., might be interested in acquiring the campus. Mr. Falwell has stated that he doubts that Liberty would develop the Sweet Briar campus as a satellite.
The dramatic news and unfolding developments are raising many questions for those most directly affected by the closure plans, including current students, faculty and staff, and recent alumnae. If you are someone with concerns about the harm that the closing of Sweet Briar may be causing to your and others that you wish to share with the attorneys at College Watchdogs, click here
to submit your concern and contact information.
Sweet Briar College, a small liberal arts college for women in rural Virginia founded in 1901, surprisingly announced today that it will close at the end of the school year. Financial problems and an inadequate endowment were cited as reasons for the stunning news. "I know this news is upsetting and may be surprising," said school president Jimmy Jones in a video announcement. According to an official press release, the school's board voted on February 28, 2015, to close the college "as a result of insurmountable financial challenges." The college said that it would begin immediately to help current students transfer to other colleges and universities.
More than 500 students are currently enrolled in the school. The school is located outside Amherst, Virginia, about 70 miles northeast of Roanoke and 60 miles southwest of Charlottesville.
According to a school press release, the college began in March 2014 a strategic planning initiative that ultimately did not yield "any viable paths because of financial constraints."
In a video announcement about the wind down, a school official said that the process of concluding academic operations would be handled with "integrity and compassion," but that some details were still being worked out. The current semester is scheduled to be completed as planned, with current students being offered assistance in finding new academic homes, which may involve "teach out" options with selected institutions. The college said that it "hoped" to provide severance to faculty and staff, but that the details were yet to be determined.
In concluding remarks in the video message, Sweet Briar President Jimmy Jones said that while "this is without question a special place in one of the most beautiful campuses in the country, the college's true home is within each of us."
If you are a student or faculty member with concerns about the closing of Sweet Briar that you wish to share with the attorneys at College Watchdogs, click here