Lawyers representing a group of Sweet Briar College alumnae sent a letter on Monday to the college’s lawyer demanding the president and the Board of Directors step down or face a possible legal challenge.
In February the board voted to close the women’s college at the end of the current academic year, a decision that has roiled the Virginia campus and drawn sharp criticism from skeptical alumnae and professors. Now a nonprofit group called Saving Sweet Briar is saying the administration failed to exhaust all options when considering alternatives to closure, and violated Virginia law.
The group hinted last week that it was planning a legal challenge to prevent Sweet Briar from closing. Monday’s letter seems to lay out Saving Sweet Briar’s strategy in some detail.
We have learned that the President’s and Board’s reliance on a supposedly imminent bond default may not be borne out by the facts. Importantly, the College conducted a very successful capital campaign that raised $110 million, indicating a substantial ability to raise additional funds in the face of the alleged circumstances. It [is] alarming that the President and Board have made no attempt whatsoever to conduct a new capital campaign or consider other methods of meeting the College’s needs. In sum, it appears that the President and the Board have quit on the College.
As directors of a non-stock corporation, your clients are required to promote the College’s best interests, and your clients have good faith duties of care, loyalty, and obedience toward the College. In addition, these acts and omissions by your clients violate Virginia’s Uniform Trust Act as well as the common law of trusts.
The group also charges that the president and the board violated Virginia’s charitable-solicitation laws by spending college money on something other than running the institution — namely, the effort to close it down.
The College was intended to be “a perpetual memorial” to [founder Indiana Fletcher Williams’s] daughter and was established with the express condition that the donated land “shall never at any time be sold or alienated by the corporation.”
Thus, any use of any funds solicited for the College’s general purpose — operating an educational institution — to carry out activities to close the College would violate Virginia’s charitable-solicitation statute.
The letter gives the college’s leaders until 4 p.m. on Tuesday to step down or face legal action. A Sweet Briar spokeswoman referred The Chronicle to Calvin W. Fowler Jr., a lawyer for the college. Mr. Fowler said via email that he was traveling and could not immediately comment.
James F. Jones Jr., president of Sweet Briar, told The Chronicle last week that nobody in the administration had “any idea upon what grounds a judge would allow an injunctive order” that would reverse the board’s decision to close the college.