Sweet Briar Officials Insist the School Will Close No Matter What

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Despite the efforts of a concerned group of alums and the support of faculty and staff, the board and President of the all-women's Sweet Briar College say the school will most certainly be closing.


Since the abrupt announcement that the over 100-year-old institution of higher education would be shuttered, the group Saving Sweet Briar has attempted to raise $20 million to save the school (so far they've collected just over $3 million). They're skeptical about the allegations that the school is closing because of financial troubles, and have also threatened to sue its administrators, retaining legal counsel to do so.

But as the New York Times reports, it seems like their work may be in vain.

"The school is going to close," the school's interim president, James F. Jones Jr., declared flatly, seated in the parlor of the 18th-century yellow brick home of the school's founder, Indiana Fletcher Williams, who in 1901 bequeathed her estate, a former Virginia plantation, to establish Sweet Briar in memory of her deceased daughter, Daisy.

Mr. Jones has a personal stake in the matter: His wife, Jan, is a 1969 graduate of the college, and their grandniece is a senior here. "I totally expected people being devastatingly sad, and I expected there to be some anger," Mrs. Jones said in an interview. "But honestly, I never expected the venom and the irrationality."

It seems odd that the President of a school that's a part of (for lack of a better term) the college industrial complex, which works hard to instill devotion and community, in part so it can reap the financial benefits of such connections, would be surprised that such sudden news would greatly upset people. But despite the skepticism that some are throwing towards Jones and the Sweet Briar Board over whether this closing is really required, the school is steadfast in its claim that finances are dire:

But the school has $28 million in deferred maintenance, and nearly $25 million in debt, Mr. Jones said, adding that financial consultants had determined Sweet Briar would need a $250 million endowment to survive. The board considered alternatives — including going coeducational or merging with another school — but ruled them out as not viable.

"You don't just take 'ladies' off of every other bathroom door and put 'men' up," Mr. Rice said. "You have to add programs and facilities, athletics. All of these things take significant investment and time."

In the meantime, they've held a college fair to help women transfer to other schools, providing current Sweet Briar students with a lengthy set of questions they can ask their potential new alma maters. With some of these schools they've also "established 'teach-out' arrangements...under which students may transfer through an expedited process."

In the meantime, life continues as semi-normally as possible at Sweet Briar until the school year is up.


Image via the Mary Helen Cochran Library/Flickr



Are they not obligated to complete the course of study for students they've already admitted? What happens if a student doesn't get accepted into another school?