[Updated (6/21/2015, 9 p.m.) with additional reaction.]
Virginia’s attorney general announced on Saturday that an agreement had been reached to keep Sweet Briar College, which abruptly announced in March that it planned to close this summer, open next year after all.
The announcement of the women’s college’s closure sparked an outcry on and off the campus, as well as a flurry of legal challenges, and raised questions for other small institutions. The agreement announced by the attorney general, Mark R. Herring, would provide for the dismissal of the litigation involving the college.
The parties in the legal disputes are expected to meet before a judge on Monday to seek approval of the settlement. The agreement requires Saving Sweet Briar, an alumnae group that has been challenging the college’s closure, to deliver $12 million in donations for the college’s operations in the 2015-16 academic year, and $2.5 million of that money must be delivered by July 2.
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Mr. Herring’s office would also agree to release restrictions on $16 million from the college’s endowment to support Sweet Briar’s operations.
The agreement also includes an overhaul of the college’s leadership. It stipulates that at least 13 members of Sweet Briar’s Board of Directors, and its president, James F. Jones Jr., must resign after the deal is approved. Mr. Herring’s office said Phillip C. Stone, a former president of Bridgewater College, was expected to be appointed by the new board as president.
Mr. Stone was chairman of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ Commission on Colleges from 2007 to 2009, according to a biography posted on his law firm’s website.
“After seeing the extraordinary passion, courage, and strength of the Sweet Briar alumnae, I feel privileged to be asked to join their heroic efforts to save this great college,” said Mr. Stone in a statement on Sunday night. “I want to make it clear that my commitment is not merely to keep the college open for the coming school year but to help it embark on a path for its next 100 years!”
Sarah Clement, chair of Saving Sweet Briar, said in a statement that the deal was “an answer to the prayers of many and a powerful validation of the value of fighting for what you believe in.”
But many questions about the college’s future remain, including what will happen to Sweet Briar students who had already made plans to transfer: About 230 of them had worked out such arrangements with other colleges, a Sweet Briar spokeswoman told the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Ashley L. Taylor Jr., a lawyer representing Saving Sweet Briar, told The New York Times that some students had pledged to stay on if the college remained open, and he said the group was “confident” that there would be enough students for the coming academic year.
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Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond’s law school, spoke to The Washington Post about the challenges Sweet Briar’s leaders are likely to face in bringing the college back from the brink:
“It’s going to take a whole lot of very hard to work to make it happen. In two months, new classes will begin. So they need to do a whole bunch of things and do them very quickly. Retain classes. Get an incoming class. That may be the most difficult thing, because it’s so late. … Just scramble, I think, in the short term. Hold the faculty who haven’t made other plans. It’s a short-term fix” and people will have to wait and see whether that can be sustained over the long term, he said.
“I think this is the best that could come out of where we were. It gives them a chance.”
Sweet Briar’s faculty members are another question mark. June 30 marks the end of many of their contracts, according to The News & Advance, and two professors told the newspaper that many of their colleagues had accepted one-year positions elsewhere in anticipation of the closure. Deborah L. Durham, an anthropology professor, said she is part of a group of faculty members that is trying to plan for a much smaller student body for the coming academic year.
Patricia A. McGuire, president of Trinity Washington University — a women’s college that bounced back from an enrollment crisis nearly three decades ago by revamping its recruitment strategy — hailed the news of Sweet Briar’s reprieve:
Congrats @SweetBriarEdu now the hard work of reform begins! Agreement reached to keep Sweet Briar College open http://t.co/As605Vt6ti
— TRINITYPREZ (@TRINITYPREZ) June 21, 2015
For more, see this Chronicle article.