Anger and Activism Greet Plan to Shut Sweet Briar College

Mar 23, 2015 · 316 comments
Robert (Pittsburgh)
It has been three weeks and the alumnae group still has not filed for an injunction. Meanwhile, the college has suffered significant losses, as Jones held a college fair and met with the Virginia attorney general. Why the delay? The alumnae group's law firm, Troutman Sanders, may be seeking an exorbitant retainer to take on the case. The alumnae group needs to understand that their agreement with Troutman can be cancelled, regardless of the language in the contract. There are other attorneys who can handle and injunction quickly and on a pro bono basis, at no cost to the group. Time is wasting. This college is rapidly burning to the ground.
LT (Boston)
What women's college graduates know is behind the pearls are smart, tenacious women who are used to fighting injustice and standing up to support their sisters. Sweet Briar alums, your fellow women's college graduates support you. Fight the good fight and don't hesitate to let us know how to help.
EK Young (Des Plaines, IL)
When we first received the news that Sweet Briar would be closing, it made sense to me. I reflected upon my time at Sweet Briar, remembering the increasingly liberal acceptance rate, and the scourge of restricted giving. I am aware that a tiny, rural, women's college can be a tough sell. I understand that the announcement of Sweet Briar's closure has opened the relevant discussion on the future of liberal arts education. I would never argue that the college's financial difficulties were unapparent to me.

What was unapparent to me was why the Board of Directors would have made this announcement on March 3rd. I read an article in Bloomberg praising the closure announcement: touting the orderly fashion in which the college could now close & commending the foresight of the Board to close before finances got truly dire. But there was nothing orderly or honorable about the timing of their decision.

Why did they wait until after most transfer application deadlines had passed for current students? Why did they wait until not a single member of our beloved faculty would be able to secure a position for the upcoming academic year? And most importantly: How long did they know closure was certain, & how much deliberate thought went into the timing of the closure announcement?

The Board created absolute chaos with the timing of their announcement and, for this reason alone, Interim President Jones does not have the right to be surprised at the reaction of his stakeholders.
susie (New York)
Perhaps they could consider merging into another larger institution the way Mount Vernon College for Women did with GW in 1999?

From wiki: " In 1997, the Board of Trustees decided that the College would close as an independent institution. As of June 30, 1999, Mount Vernon became affiliated with George Washington University. The school is now known as The George Washington University - Mount Vernon Campus.[22] Before being purchased by GW, only female students lived on the campus, but now male and female students live on the campus. GW also constructed new athletic fields and other facilities."
BKzilla (Glen Carbon, IL)
At a time when so many recent and second generation immigrant families would love to see their daughters in a single sex school, fewer are to be had. I predict the tide will turn back one day soon, when demand picks up.
Air Marshal of Bloviana (Over the Fruited Plain)
Oh me oh my! Just when you thought a man cannot fill the gap, Mr. Jones comes along.
HLS (maine)
As a member of the class of '84, I was stunned and deeply saddened to hear the news. I wasn't horsey or rich but I was fortunate to receive an excellent education and a great deal of personal attention from mostly Ivy League-educated professors. My undergrad at Sweet Briar was considerably more rigorous than my grad program at Tufts (sorry, Tufts). We were one of the last colleges to require seniors to pass comps in their major (until 85 or 86) and to require at least intermediate-level foreign language proficiency.

But, as much as I mourn the demise of the college, I see the #savesweetbriar campaign as misguided and irrational. Every dime that campaign spends on a lawyer will diminish the amount of support and severance they can offer to faculty and staff...not just administrators but the many people in the Amherst County community who work on the grounds and in the dining services and support staff.

Because of my work/study job at the affiliated artist colony across the road, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, I got to know many of the people who worked in the college kitchens. I may be one of the only Sweet Briar students to ever knock on the back door of the dining hall and say, "Hey, would you guys please push my car so I can pop the clutch and get it started."

Thirty years out, the successors of those funny and kind men who will lose their jobs need the best possible package to move onto what's next. Anything else is unconscionable.
Walker (NYC)
Wouldn't it be better to support these workers with jobs at a continuing Sweet Briar College, rather than severance? Mr Jones is not a legitimate president. He is an interim president, there was no search process. Closing Sweet Briar is irrational. The closing decision, done in secret, is what is illegitimate and unethical, not the savesweetbriar campaign. Indiana Fletcher was an astute business woman and safeguarded her will against profiteering by her nephews and nieces. She would be appalled that the guardians of her estate chose to betray her 114 years later.
SqueakyRat (Providence)
This sounds like a swindle in the making.
O'hea (Northeast US)
The law firm representing Saving Sweet Briar has sent a letter to Sweet Briar college citing several legal violations and possible fraud on the part of the President and Board. Apparently, the County Attorney has sent them one as well.
TomMcDonald (La Crosse, WI)
This is the beginning of the sad closure of many, many educational institutions that forgot, or ignored, long ago, that the only reason they exist, is to empower students to be successful in school and in society.
When students = revenue and the students don't come, you don't blame the students, you blame the educational leadership. Education reform and deep learning are mandatory in today's environment to attract, engage, retain and graduate students. It quite simple, they lost sight of their strategic mission and are paying the ultimate price in doing so. It's a harsh lesson that others won't hear.
Jim (.)
There aren't enough smart kids or jobs in the country to justify so many places, incredible that some debutante school with horses was getting huge subsidies from taxpayers. The truth is 90% of people in higher education are just scammers, it's the banality of evil
Sippio Murray (Florida)
Here is part of the Wikipedia entry for James Jones. Quite by coincidence, I'm sure, there was a request to delete the entire Wikipedia entry on March 3, 2015 - the day he announced the failure of the college. The request for deletion was denied. Let's just say water seeks its own level. The BOD found him at a party for God's sake.

In 2009, Jones faced criticism for allegedly raiding Trinity's Shelby Cullom Davis endowment and using the funds in contravention of the wishes of the original donor.[15] Professor Gerald Gunderson, the Shelby Cullom Davis Professor of American Business and Economic Enterprise at Trinity College filed a complaint with the Connecticut Attorney General's office and a review revealed that Jones had for some years been drawing on the Davis endowment without approval. Jones only agreed to adhere to wishes of the original donor in late 2013, when Prof. Gunderson commenced litigation.

In 2003, prior to Jones's arrival at Trinity College, it was among the top 25 Best Liberal Arts Colleges, and 9th among the nation’s most selective Liberal Arts Colleges according to US News and World Report.[18]

As Trinity's rankings began to plummet, Jones persuaded the Trinity community to join the Annapolis Group, a group which includes colleges such as Kalamazoo College, which refuses to participate or provide information to U.S. News & World Report or other college ranking organizations.[22]
partlycloudy (methingham county)
How much did Jones get paid for one year? Probably a lot more than he should have gotten paid. Sad for the students. And all those horses will be sold or go to auction. Change should have been initiated long before that idiot took over.
Debbie (Thurman)
And now, a word from the Saving Sweet Briar attorney:
Blueridgemama (Virginia)
Yes! Time to step aside,Jimmy Jones. We've got this.
Ted wight (Seattle)
Luckily my mother, a Sweet Briar, graduate around 1934 or so, has passed. She would be sad, and my first cousin, too. But while many would argue that college should be for everyone, rich or poor. I vehemently disagree. When liberal governments pour billions into making everyone equal, it fails, and as with Sweet Briar, everyone gets sucked into equality I'd poverty and failure. Housing, healthcare, VA, along with college loans have been wrecked with LiberalProgressiveDemocrats' utopian mismanagement. Democrats can gin up emotion and strongarm legislation through, but are completely inadequate to manage anything. How's Obama's own secret service doing? Or Amtrak or Social Security's disability, or.....
Not A Victim (Somewhere In IL)
Have you noticed it's the Republicans who are defunding education at all levels?
Air Marshal of Bloviana (Over the Fruited Plain)
Really, NAV, defunding schools at the present dropuot rate is simply taking a step back and waiting for an improvement. Nobody would miss compulsory education.
Kit (US)
What Sweet Briar needs is a "Buck" Smith at the helm.
Julianne (North Carolina)
Note that President "Buck" Smith takes no salary. It is outrageous for Jimmy Jones (who is retired) to draw a generous salary just to close Sweet Briar.
Cecilia (DC)
Sorry to hear about Sweet Briar; I wouldn't have thought it was in such dire straits. It reminds me of when Bradford College--a tiny liberal arts college in Massachusetts--had to close too, under similar circumstances. If I recall correctly, what got them into trouble was taking on huge debt to build lavish dorms to attract students...and then the students never came. They also closed pretty swiftly.

I'm surprised that for such a small school there were so many majors. I think they should have revamped the curriculum so that they had a liberal arts curriculum and a science curriculum - and then each curriculum would have a few major areas of study, plus the option of independent seminars so that students could study something they liked, without the cost of having so many classes. (Or have an agreement with other nearby colleges, like the Five Colleges do, so that they could take classes at those nearby schools.)

Really, Sweet Briar was so small that it needed to be a boutique school, and not try to expand. (Adding that engineering major looks good on paper but was probably distrastrous financially, since it didn't help increase enrollment.) Customizing the school so that it could meet its financial obligations *and* still provide an excellent education should have been tried before closure. Since students go there for the women's college experience, it didn't need to be everything to everyone.
killroy71 (Portland, Ore.)
Sounds suspiciously like the academic equivalent of a hostile takeover - sell off the assets, pay yourself a bonus and call it good. Not saying there isn't legitimate cause of concern, but it's good to see the alumnae rallying around and calling for forensic audit. Maybe years of mismanagement, and this guy is just the bearer of bad tidings. Or he's a hatchet man. or both.

As to the relevance, when gender stops being relevant (like, never), then so will gender-specific institutions.
Liza (California)
Real Estate in that part of the county is worth many many millions.
Sell off most of the land and put all of that money back into the school.
Here is San Diego the Opera was abruptly closed due to lack of funds.
Turns out the president was earning an an extremely high salary.
Now new people are running it.
They threw in the towel much much too early.
First sell most of the real estate. Get some people in there who can turn it around.
Something about this just does not smell right.
Barbara (Virginia)
I would not deny "that part of the country" is very pretty, but it's one hour south of Charlottesville and two hours southwest of Richmond -- and three hours at least (driving) from Washington D.C. It is at least one hour from either of the main roads (interstates 64 and 81). Even if they could sell or lease the land, it's not clear that it would be nearly as valuable as you assume it would be.
Preston (Darien,ct)
Barbara is correct. It's not a real estate play, not way out there. No jobs in the area so no value for commercial or residential.
Realist (Ohio)
"At 45, Mr. Ashbrook describes himself as “teacher-scholar” — not widely published enough to get a tenured job at a prestigious university, but too old for a lower-level starter faculty job."

And there we have in summary what is wrong with so much of undergraduate education these days.
Barbara (Virginia)
How so? Actually, what it probably means is that he received a PhD and instead of spending scads of time doing research, he spends a lot of time actually teaching and meeting with students. Many of us would say that is how college should work, but often doesn't.
infrederick (maryland)
This sudden closure is so contrary to the best interest of the all parties involved and so unlikely given recent investments in the College, that it seems likely that there is another explanation than the one given the the President of the College. Given the immense value of the land involved I think that this entire process must be halted by Court order so that there can be an impartial outside investigation of the Board's actions, the Board members, the past president and the current President. Did the Board members fulfill their fiduciary duty? Cui bono?
newsy (USA)
Is there an AAUP chapter representing the faculty?
Is there a Student Government Organization?
Are there Board minutes that can and, in fairness, should be made public?
Disposition of holdings should be part and parcel of decisions to close. Are faculty members receiving severance packages, health care for a certain time period, etc.?
The community is financially impacted. Was the Chamber of Commerce notified in a timely fashion?
Where does the President intend to plant his flag next at 67 years? He has reason to announce that to the Board, Faculty, and students who are suffering because of his decision.
How long did experts work on an alternate plan?
(I have never been to the college and know nobody affiliated with it.)
I attended a small woman's liberal arts college that is thriving because the president and board made timely intelligent decisions and did so with a much smaller endowment.
Carol Ann (Washington, DC)
I worked in fund raising for Mount Vernon College in Washington, DC, which was another exclusive women's college with a wealthy alumnae body that was "absorbed" into George Washington University when the financial problems got to be too great, leading to its ultimate demise. I was there until a few years before the closure, until being laid off in a round of "maybe a whole new development team can fix things" cuts, and MVC's financial problems were well known in the community and among donors and prospective students. (The College had accepted a loan from Georgetown University to stay afloat and, when it came due, George Washington stepped in, leading to the "merger".)

Because MVC's financial problems were so well known, it became difficult to recruit students and it became difficult to raise funds, even from those wealthy alumnae. So, to all those who say that the Sweet Briar Board and administration should have been more forthcoming about the issues that face the college, I say that unless you lived through being a college administrator in such circumstances you don't know what you're talking about.

While I hate to see any college close, I recognize that some times it happens. When it does need to happen, it can be done in an orderly fashion or it can be done in an unholy mess. As painful as it is, I think that the SBC Board is trying to do the best that it can under difficult circumstances.

I wish all parties concerned well in this journey.
Clair Ramsay (Little Rock, AR)
Something stinks...I can smell it all the way down here. They have forgotten what they have taught us - #thinkisforgirls. We WON'T stop until we win.
Marcia Thom Kaley (Lynchburg, Va)
Clair - we are beginning to remember what we taught you!!!! Some of us have never forgotten....holla holla girlfriend!
RPW (Jackson)
I applaud and want to encourage the effort to save SB. I wish that effort all the best. However, I think the effort to save SB will need to include ending the isolation of that very beautiful place by allowing in men, and changing the name to something more gender neutral ("Briarwood"?). I think the sense of isolation on those beautiful hills and amid those stately buildings may have grown in the years following the change to coeducation at Virginia and W&L. Even my old boarding school in Lynchburg went coed a number of years ago. I think for SB to survive for the long run it will need to evolve just as Randolph College evolved from Randolph-Macon, but that should be doable, and not an excuse to close the school. Find a way, or make one.
creegah (Murphy, NC)
Maureen Baggett (State College)
I am a 1969 graduate of Sweet Briar College who also participated in the Junior Year in France in 1967-68. As I read through the comments I thought I could clarify some misconceptions.
1. I was a full scholarship student. Even back then Sweet Briar was not just for rich girls. I did not even know where the stables were.
2. Interim President Jones was not chosen, because he was met at a party. I know that two members of the Board of Trustees have known him for 45 years. He was also on the Committee charged with choosing the next president.
3. The will establishing Sweet Briar states that it is for women only. The will was broken by legal means around 1966 to modernize racial language and admit all races. It is unlikely that someone is coveting the land for a big housing development as someone suggested.
4. Our transcripts and the records of the Junior Year in France and Spain are to be kept at Hollins College.
4. The Board of Trustees is made up of people who love and cherish the college every bit as much as the people who are attempting to save it. Every avenue has been explored and then explored again to try to keep Sweet Briar open. If it could have been done, believe me, they would have done it.
Kathryn Meyer (Carolina Shores, NC)
Since students and parents didn't know it the statement that "every avenue has been explored" is not believable. Furthermore, adding to library certainly portrayed a very different picture.
Walker (NYC)
How can you say with a straight face that every avenue was explored, when the college's biggest asset, its well-connected alumnae base, was kept in the dark? It is amazing how many creative solutions are now in the mix, from Co-Ed masters programs like Mills College, to international student recruitment, to creative use of partnerships with urban universities to take advantage of 3,250 pristine acres for state-of-the-art environmental science shared institutes....the list is long. The president was there 7 months. He hired consultants to produce trend lines based on a dead model. He didn't try.
Diane Mott Davidsom (Evergreen, CO)
The president and the SBC board did not announce the school was in trouble. They did not mount a cost-cutting program, nor, more importantly, did they commence a major fund-raising campaign. It looks to me as if they worked in secret for over a year toward an easy answer. Are these not reasons for venom and irrationality, Mr. Jones? Shame on the board and the president; they should resign. And in a time when both the stock and bond market were doing marvelously, whoever was in charge of investing should also resign. Meanwhile, I am giving to, and I hope the Acting US Attorney for the Western District of Virginia, Anthony P. Giorgio, is looking carefully at what looks to us outsiders as something very fishy indeed.
Preston (Darien,ct)
No. The minute you announce a college is in serious trouble, the applications dwindle, enhancing the problem. That's why they couldn't do a "reorg". Going into emergency mode would make things worse, and faculty would depart as quickly as they could, adding to the death spiral.
RationalDebate (NJ)
I believe that there is something fishy going on. It is mind-boggling to think that the alumnae were not consulted and that the decision to close the college was made behind closed doors.
james ponsoldt (athens, georgia)
i agree that something doesn't smell right here. follow the money. who gets the land and building? who might have a financial interest?

board deliberations must be made public. i would thiink alumni (whose degrees would be de-valued if the school closes) plainly have standing to challenge that decision, as would financial donors.

the first thing that's needed is a detailed bio of the board members, along with mr. jones' background and other interests.
fritzrxx (Portland Or)
Alumnae, directors, and administrators were blind-sided?
Walker (NYC)
A wonderful piece by Joe Walker:
Don't Count Sweet Briar Out Just Yet

"....But to give up without a fight, without a capital campaign to raise money, without at least a year-long open discussion of the pros and cons of keeping the school open? Sweet Briar College may be a private school, but it is also a public trust, a valuable institution, something that its leaders should be working hard to perpetuate, not to shut down."


"The history of Sweet Briar is entwined with that of Amherst County. The fortune that was passed along to found the school had its origins in local tobacco plantations that date to the 1700s. The labor of enslaved African-Americans built those plantations, which included what is now the beautiful Sweet Briar campus.

The labor of the slaves went unacknowledged for hundreds of years. Sweet Briar leadership still declines to say what will happen to the 3,000-acre campus and the historic buildings if the school closes."

If the Board succeeds in closing and selling this gorgeous campus, proceeds should be returned to the African American ancestors of the slaves that built this plantation - as reparations - many of whom still live in nearby Amherst.
Walker (NYC)
The article referred to was written by Joe Stinnett, not Joe Walker.
elorac (california)
I was among the legions of those familiar with Sweet Briar College to receive news of its closing with a mixture of shock and sadness. I also felt gratitude for having been the Margaret Banister Writer-in-Residence there from 1989 to 1991, preceded by poet Michael Waters and followed by poet Mary Oliver. The College's commitment to support of the arts must be counted as one great loss of its closing. My personal paean to the extraordinary place takes the form of a poem, "In Time, with Holsteins," in my book THE DEED. The long tradition of engagement with writers at Sweet Briar College is clear from two articles in The Sweet Briar News of February 14, 1935 describing a lecture there by Gertrude Stein four days earlier on her book THE MAKING OF AMERICANS. Let us register the manifold unique contributions of Sweet Briar College as we regret its closing.
Walker (NYC)
I'll never forget a poetry reading by James Dickey.
Frank Lauran (Hood River, OR)
Follow the money.
killroy71 (Portland, Ore.)
Doesn't the board have a fiduciary responsibility? They are supposed to put the college's good above their own. The state needs to make sure that is happening.
Surviving (Atlanta)
Happy graduate of Mount Holyoke College, and a graduate from Sweet Briar's Junior Year Abroad in Paris. I never, ever thought about attending an all women's college until my Junior year in high school. My father, my sister and I were visiting colleges - the standard Northern car trip visiting college after college. We were driving past the MHC gates and my father said "Hey, I think I dated a girl from Mount Holyoke" (eyerolls in the back seat, yes), and made a surprise turn into one of the most spectacular campuses I'd ever seen. I ended up having my college interview then and there and an amazing tour with an extremely smart international student (right up my alley since my family had lived both in Southeast Asia and Africa). That unexpected turn changed my life. It's too bad and terribly sad that Sweet Briar won't be there to change young women's lives. Yes, we can go to coed colleges, but unless you've attended a top-notch women's college, you just can't understand why they are so very, very important. It's all about the education you get there - don't be thrown off by the "pearls" in the first paragraph of this article - it's all about an environment laser focused on educating its students to the nth degree.
O'hea (Northeast US)
The corporate world of Mergers & Acquisitions has hit higher ed. Just like the corporate world, it isn’t always so nice and isn’t so ethical.

I was a Director of Admissions at two small rural colleges that merged. In both cases, enrollment was drastically turned around. However, in both cases, the President and Board were in a mad rush to end the college. The circumstances at each was very dubious. While many of the problems and numbers of Sweet Briar are classic and repeated almost everywhere with struggling colleges, this President and this Board and this decision need to be fully investigated. Why? Because they are following what sounds like the exact script use to force other colleges into closure. I say force because this tactics have been used by Presidents and board members for personal gain. Attorneys and accountants for Save Sweet Briar and the State of Virginia need to do a full forensic investigation.
Danielle O. (SBC '03) (Newtown, CT)
I'm disappointed in our interim president, his wife, and our board of directors for having such a pessimistic outlook and lack of vision on the whole situation. Alumnae, students, parents, faculty, etc did not know that closure was even an option being considered. Seeing the way that most people are rallying around efforts to save the school I believe if they would have reached out to us about this the situation could have been turned around sooner. The president and BOD should not be surprised that we are fighting this decision. If they, too, respected, loved, and saw the same value of this college and all the experiences that come with it than they should be fighting along side us not against us. We are a passionate, educated, diverse group and we want to see Sweet Briar continue on for many years to come.
creegah (Murphy, NC)
If the education at SBC was as good as you think it is, all of the alumnae would understand the financial situation rather than act like a bunch of spoiled brats whose lollipops have just been taken away. So you stave off closing for another year or two by laying off half the faculty, cutting classes and eliminating scholarships. Then what? Don't prolong the agony. One thing you should have learned in's important to choose your fights wisely. This one id unwinnable.
Monica S. (London)
This fight is not "unwinnable" and a careful financial analysis wouldn't lead anyone to come to that conclusion.
Please, find an overview of SBC financial situation here:
We have chosen this fight wisely.
O'hea (Northeast US)
There is at least one higher ed "consulting" firm that has one arm that places interim presidents and another arm that organizes mergers and the like. They also do things like consult colleges on which direction they should take. Now image College X wants to acquire more space. Imagine College Y needs an interim Presidents. What if these consultants represent both Colleges X and Y. Simple, tell College X you found space and place a president in College Y who will glady follow the consultant's directions, so that College X can acquire that space. A lot of money to be made there. It happens.
RTC (Ringoes NJ)
Philosophy is the backbone of liberal arts and the pillar of understanding and intelligent expression.

Philosophy majors leads to doing anything well doctoring, lawyering, teaching, managing anything, a household. Whatever.

Too bad SBC could not make better arguments for the applications of a trained mind
Steve (USA)
SBC offers a philosophy degree:
Carter (Portland OR)
It's obvious that some developer is after the campus real estate on the cheap. And the college board is probably complicit.
Alice Deane (Friday Harbor WA)
I am a graduate of Mills College, a women's college that survived the challenge to remain a women's institution. A lot could be learned from the story of Mills, including the student and faculty strike that greeted the decision to open to male students. Mills has become stronger and more financially secure since then. It very sad about Sweet Briar, female educational institutions are very important.
creegah (Murphy, NC)
Mills also has an endowment of $189 million and a very high ranking by any standard. SBC has a much larger campus, an original charter that no one in these modern times could possible be proud of and an invisible ranking.
artschick02 (Toronto)
My question is this: How well known is SBC outside of the south? What about internationally? I don't know much about SBC - I only heard about the school from the internet some 15 years ago. If I had known about the school, I would likely have considered the school. Perhaps the problem is not just the lack of finances/bad accounting, but also because they're not marketing themselves well enough?
Monica S. (London)
You are bringing up a very important issue that me and my fellow alumnae have been discussing in the few weeks after the announcement. We all had fellow students coming from all over the world. Apparently the practice of recruiting abroad was given up under the last president for reasons that remain unclear. The lack of international recruiting and of recruiting in general (see the lack of a Dean of Admissions for the last two years) dealt a blow to the school. At the same time, though, how can the administration lament falling student numbers and not invest in Admissions?
artschick02 (Toronto)
Other than local public schools, what kind of school DOES NOT RECRUIT?
Jon (Washington, DC)
Is anyone likely to make money off buying, selling, or redeveloping Sweet Briar's real estate and other physical assets? Is any firm related to any of the Board members likely to be involved? Just wondering.
mp (Southeastern US)
My understanding is that the original deed doesn't allow the property to be sold. That was probably one of the many questions Mr. Jones was dealing with in Richmond.
Ryn (Texas)
I attended Sweet Briar in 1969-70. It was a wonderful year and I cherish the friends that I made there. But when I attended summer school at my state university in a dynamic city, I could not go back to that remote albeit beautiful campus. There was an exciting, challenging world out there and I wanted to jump in full force. I fear that my experience reflects the challenge of many colleges outside of urban areas.

It still saddens me that the SBC leadership could not be more creative or resourceful and partner with another institution. I fear that some real estate development ploy is in the works.
Moderate (PA)
...and follow the money, Sweet Briar students.

Real estate. Other assets.

Who will gain from your demise?
Moderate (PA)
"My advice to the women of America is to raise more hell and fewer dahlias."
- William Allen White

Godspeed Sweet Briar students!
Marcia Thom Kaley (Lynchburg, Va)
"If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down, these women together ought to be able to turn it right again..." (Sojourner Truth)

Wisdom from one of our greatest philosophers.
EuroAm (Ohio, USA)
"Fifty years ago, there were 230 women’s colleges...Last year, there were 46."

Fifty years ago (1965) American society was in the early phases of transitionally segueing from the "June Clever" female role model to a more out of the kitchen into the World liberated female role model, who, along with their male counterparts it should be noted, were eschewing the sexually segregated institutions in favor of sexually integrated colleges and universities...after all, sexual segregation is noway to experience new found sexual liberation.
Edward (Midwest)
No faculty or student loves her college so much as when it is announced that it will close.
Terry Franklin (Los Angeles)
I attended Sweet Briar's Junior Year in France program in the 80s. It was one of the better run programs, and it changed my life. Makes me sad to think the institution might just disappear.
G.B. (Maine)
if nothing else current and former students should make certain that their academic records will be made available to them for the next, say, 50 years. here's why: after she graduated from a college that a couple of years later went under, a friend went on to raise a family. when her children left the nest 20 years later this former student decided to return to college to continue her education at the graduate level. only problem was she was told her undergraduate academic records were no longer available and had almost certainly been destroyed. she could not prove to the satisfaction of the college she was applying to (which of course required official transcripts) that she'd ever attended college at all. she had no choice but to start an undergraduate degree all over again.
Carol Ann (Washington, DC)
The law requires that the records be turned over to another college so that alumnae have access to their transcripts. In this case, I believe that Hollins College has agreed to accept the responsibility.
Marcia Thom Kaley (Lynchburg, Va)
One of the greatest things we can teach our students is to answer the call for action when it comes. At Sweet Briar, the call is here.
xalto (nc)
Board members recruited Jones after running into his wife at a party . . . No reason to think that wouldn't go well.
Keith (Kentucky)
I only wish the alumni and the the school 's supporters could keep the doors open. Not being "to the manor born, " I can appreciate the grace and grandeur these women most likely keep alive. Coming from a not so privileged background myself, I see very little in Sweet Briar's detractors' defense of he poor and impoverished. Wake up and look at the millionaire trash, of every ilk, in this country who confuse wealth with success. While I have no desire to "ride to hounds," the tasteless, envious venom in some of these emails makes me want an English saddle, even if I haven't a horse! Read the passage in Virginia Woolf's Orlando where s/he meets up with gypsies--those who own the universe. Sweet Briar closing won't assuage class envy for very long.

"Two cheers for democracy...!"
Carl Hultberg (New Hampshire)
Perhaps with the current prevalence of sexual attacks at co-educational facilities all women's colleges are not such a bad idea after all. Our planet needs a real human female consensus, not just more women trying to be "one of the guys". Why should women's sentiments be considered "passe"?
Anita (Nowhere Really)
I read somewhere that professors have 3 classes a week on average, 15 students each, that there are three full-time post office workers, two full-time chaplains, 40 horses owned by school. I wonder if some sort of reality check on how this place seems to be run vs. the real world might have saved it. Just a thought.....
dld (virginia)
Three courses per week that meet between 3 and 9 hours each. (This is more than at small liberal arts colleges in the northeast.) Preparation, grading, working with students individually (which is a hallmark of the school), mentoring alumnae, and the service work that goes into running programs and a school, leaves faculty working on average 60-80 hours per week.
Class contact is the outcome of, and produces, many many hours of work.
CaptainDave (New York)
This is a telling paragraph: "Board members, aware that Sweet Briar was teetering financially, recruited Mr. Jones, a recently retired president of Trinity College in Hartford, after running into his wife at her 45th reunion last spring." You don't "recruit" a President by running into his spouse. You recruit a college President by retaining a reputable executive search firm who completes a rigorous process that examines a broad pool and evaluates a concentrated slate of finalists. No wonder Sweet Briar is in trouble.
Barbara (Virginia)
I noted that as well and immediately recalled the demise of the New York City Opera: one of the board members recruited Gerard Mortier to become the artistic director of the institution after meeting him at dinner one night. Thus ensued the events that unraveled the entire enterprise. You don't run a modern college on the basis of a small network of contacts. Given Sweet Briar's needs, a person with experience in financial development was needed. At least if that person had concluded it wasn't meant to be, at least you could trust that he or she had the requisite experience to make that kind of decision. Here, it's as if the president is saying that because he can't do it, nobody can.
O'hea (Northeast US)
Very true comments. So many board members are under the impression that since they have been successful in their own business, how hard could it be? Any of their friends can do it. The truth is that it is often more difficult and more complex than their own business. Still, I have come to doubt all these we just ran into one another stories. That is covering that they did not want to bother with a search, and had an agenda already in mind.
Marian (Boulder, CO)
When you decide to go to a college, you want to graduate from that college, because that college's dreams are yours. I always admired Sweet Briar, think they're doing what they must; feel horribly for their students. Sad day. Check out Smith, Mt Holyoke, Wells, Mills.
Marcia Thom Kaley (Lynchburg, Va)
"....but honestly, I never expected the venom and the irrationality". President Jones' remarks are indicative of an administrator sorely out of touch with those he has been called to serve. As an Assistant Professor at Sweet Briar College, I can attest to the devastation leveled upon a community on March 3. Perhaps the problem lies in the fact that the folks on the Board of Directors nor our President really understand that we are a family - much more than brick and mortar. Indeed, a great portion of my colleagues have lived, breathed and loved Sweet Briar College for most of their lives. For myself, teaching at Sweet Briar has been the fulfillment of my professional career. I have always endeavored to be in a position to influence the education of young women - to nurture, encourage, empower. I am not alone. Faculty and staff are, integrally - daily - involved in the lives of our students. We know them by name, county, family, age and zodiac sign - we spend time in their development as students - more importantly, we spend time in their development as human beings. We do not solely invest ourselves in who they are as students, we invest ourselves in who they are becoming as citizens. Faculty and staff at Sweet Briar College remain connected long past what may be thought of as normal. We are not normal - we are beyond normal - we are a part of each other's lives.
Locavore (New England)
You also misread the paragraph. The quote about venom and irrationality is attributed to MRS. Jones.
Erin A. (Tampa Bay area, Florida)
I have no dog in this fight (or, more fittingly, no horse in this race) but I can't help responding to some of the gloating dismissiveneas here.
One need only read this very article to see the statistics on the demographics, financial assistance, and number of first-in-family college attendees. While dismissing the loss of the school and offhandedly saying that these women (not to mention the faculty and staff) will find another place with little effort, it would perhaps be wise to consider how poorly positioned a number of these woman are. If she is the first in her family to attend college - already she is faced with challenges. If the financial aid package she received at SBU is more generous or flexible than what she'd find elsewhere - and many of these students received aid - who is to say she'll be able to stay on track and graduate? Or perhaps the school's location is key and the challenge of moving beyond the region is one that cannot fit into her family, economic status, etc. Whatever the case, the school seems to have achieved greater diversity than many of its peers, and doesn't seem to be just a horsey finishing school for wealthy, white Southern belles.
I can feel just as much eye-rolling disdain at times for self-important educational institutions. But my impression is that such a reaction would be misplaced and unjustified here.
Marcia Thom Kaley (Lynchburg, Va)
"Irrantional" behavior? To not expect revolt when our community is threatened? Indiana Fletcher Williams gave Sweet Briar College as a legacy to honor her only daughter - a daughter who would never complete her education. "Irrational" behavior? To attempt to silence the voices of generations of those who have benefitted from her bequest? Perhaps it is President Jones and the Board of Directors who act "irrationally" in believing a community can be closed....simply, cleanly. Those of us who are fighting.....those of us who are clinging to the gates and saying "hell no, we won't go" are standing in solidarity with the hundreds of employees and thousands of alumnae - as well as - the thousands in Amherst County who will feel the impact of the closure of Sweet Briar College. Economically, the college is in no immediate danger. The only true danger, as I can see it, lies in allowing those who believe they are the decision makers to remain. We simply owe it to the thousands of women we have educated to fight for what we love. I have seen firsthand the incredible impact a Sweet Briar education can have on a young woman. I will never believe the commitment to that impact is "irrational". To those who do should be ashamed of yourselves and, yes, you should leave. President Jones, you say the movement to Save Sweet Briar is going "no where" - respectfully, I would encourage you......look again!
word factory (Virginia)
What do you expect of some axe-man who was obviously hired to preside over the college's demise? He can deny it all he likes--it's perfectly obvious.
WastingTime (DC)
My wonderful undergraduate college was women-only at the time. It had rejected numerous proposals to merge with the very wealthy "brother school" with which it had a loose affiliation (we were allowed to use their library if escorted in by one of its students and we could take courses on its campus; we even had a regular shuttle bus from our suburban location to its Baltimore campus). It was a special, wonderful place. Years later, when it seemed as though the options were co-ed or die, they chose co-ed. To me, my wonderful college no longer exists. It is but one more small four-year college. I read an article showing the endowments of numerous small colleges. Sweet Briar had a larger endowment on a per-student basis than did my college. The total endowment is about 50% greater than Sweet Briar's. Doesn't look promising and it doesn't look like going co-ed will prove to have been a solution.
steve (nyc)
The situation may be more complex than apparent in the article, but the situation doesn't look so dire. I have significant experience in institutional finance. The debt level is not debilitating. In fact, the debt to endowment ratio is quite manageable. Anyone claiming that debt is choking the college is either misrepresenting or naive.

I can't speak to the enrollment trends or the school's cash position. My instincts suggest that the short term problem is cash flow - not debt, not deferred maintenance. Based on the numbers on the 990 and the information in the article, the college could actually take on more debt - perhaps $10-15 million - to manage cash flow while rebuilding a better operating model and building enrollment. It would be interesting to know the interest rate on current debt. If it's a few years "old," the additional cash might be made available simply by refinancing, with overall debt service not increasingly significantly.

At the core are questions that I can't answer: Is the college, with its current mission and leadership, a viable enterprise? Can a small, beautiful, rural college thrive with the right kind of unique mission?

There may be more here than meets the eye, but I see no urgent justification for shutting down the college. It appears that the Board has come to believe the idea of the college is not sustainable. That's just sad.
Centrist (Lexington, KY)
Declining enrollment is a major problem, seldom mentioned by commenters here.
nds (New York, NY)
Declining enrollment would be addressed with a proper Director of Admissions, and unrestricted giving might be changed with a Director of Development/Planned Giving. While $3 million raised in less than 3 weeks won't solve the entire fiscal problem by itself, nor is it chump change. Most importantly, it shows there is a donor base. Time is what is needed now, and transparency.
Monica S. (London)
I agree with your reading of the financial situation. As an alumna, though, I know that we alumnae would be happy to donate to cover operational costs until we can turn the financial situation around. Enough borrowing already. With a new President and Board of Directors alumnae will be happy to donate.
poslug (cambridge, ma)
Read the comments on the Roanoke article. Some assets are off the books? And who did they hire as their consultants (was that legal cover, remember consultants offer "opinions"). Follow the money.
A. Tobias Grace (Trenton, N.J.)
Sweetbriar has been marketing a product for which, like chastity belts and hoop skirts, there is a markedly dwindling demand. Few teenagers in this day and age want to go to a single sex school and for the life of me, I can't imagine why they would. The college should have integrated the sexes years ago, aggressively raised endowment funds (instead of adding a glossy but now useless wing on the library) and added a college prep/remedial component. Now it seems to be too late. The need for such changes would appear to have been obvious. That they did not occur raises the possibility that the institution's failure is not accidental. An investigation of the real estate aspects of this situation might be revealing. One is reminded of the closing of St. Vincent's Hospital in new York and the complicated real estate issues involving the board of trustees that raised questions regarding the integrity of that process.
LFSarrouf (Massachusetts)
Thank you for covering this issue, however, I must say I was disappointed in the critical aspect of your piece as it appeared as though you took everything Dr. Jones said at face value. Business Insider ( ) and The Roanoke Times ( ) looked at independent analysis of the numbers and came to a very different conclusion than Dr. Jones' and his administration. Square Deal ( ) and Ethics Alarm ( ) did a thorough job of questioning the ethics of the decision to close. I am familiar with the online discussion and while it does at times break down into anger, this is typically followed by reminders that we are "fighting with family" and to return focus to problem solving. I am unclear as to what Mrs. Jones is referring to as "irrational" or "venomous".
Jill Fahy (Burlington, VT)
More than 15 years ago, Sweet Briar began changing the way it borrowed money, setting the foundation for what has become $25 million in bond-related debt. Instead of issuing bonds that carried the same fixed interest rate for decades, allowing trustees to know how much they would have to set aside in interest, the college began making bond swaps - a risky form of financing that promises lower borrowing costs, but is inherently at odds with the school's ability to manage funds prudently and preserve available cash.
On what advice and under what circumstances did the college see fit to make these high-risk swaps? Did trustees adopt a written swap policy that spelled out how and why swaps will help Sweet Briar's overall debt management plan? Did this policy include an analysis of the risks, such as the huge termination and financial service fees that are embedded in these deals? Did trustees even have the time and commitment it takes to understand and monitor these complex and complicated swaps? I doubt it, as entities much larger than Sweet Briar have fallen victim to similar deals.
Let's say trustees are found to have made bad financial decisions. What then are we to think of their current, unyielding argument that enrollment woes are solely to blame for their decision to close?
Sweet Briar's so-called "downhill death spiral" was put into free-fall, not by sagging enrollment and changing societal trends but by the negligence of a board entrusted with keeping her robust.
eliza (San Diego)
This reminds me of the drama that played out last year with the San Diego Opera. Its Board announced one day last March that the opera company would close its doors a month later, after its final performance of the season, and just ahead of its 50th anniversary. There had been zero prior communication about any kind of problem to the public, its employees, its subscribers, or anyone else. An uproar ensued. Its major constituencies objected, the board was reshuffled, the long-time artistic director (who supported the closing) was fired, and funds were raised from the public and some major donors. This month the San Diego Opera, new life breathed into it, is just wrapping up a successful and critically acclaimed season, it has hired a new director, and its future appears reasonably stable.

The Sweet Briar students, alumni, faculty and other interested parties are right to push for a reconsideration of the decision. No board should make this drastic a decision without having engaged the parties most critically affected. People won't step up with solutions when they aren't aware how dire the problems are. In San Diego, it was a shocking thought to many people that the Opera would close, and their concern and willingness to help resulted in new solutions. The board made the decision to shut down without having given everyone who cared the chance to help.
partlycloudy (methingham county)
Mary Baldwin grad here. It's sad when women's college have to change to stay relevant in this era. But from what I've read on the chronofhorse board, the administration of Sweet Briar wanted to close down the school and mismanaged everything.
Now the horses you show are all for sale. Everyone needs to try to save these horses because there are so many unwanted horses, many go to auction and off to Canada for slaughter.
Debbie (Thurman)
Regardless of the outcome of the Save Sweet Briar movement's efforts, the horses will never be improperly disposed of, I assure you.
Tom (Massachusetts)
It would seem best to just let the school close. Let future classes of students apply to schools with a better future. Don't saddle them with this mess just to satisfy your own needs. Move on.
Debbie (Monroe, VA)
It's much bigger than the perceived "needs" of a large contingent of alumnae who feel disenfranchised and deeply wounded by being cut out of the picture. Sweet Briar is at a critical crossroads that just might herald the dawning of a new age in higher education — one that is sorely needed — if it is given the chance. Many of us alumnae will do all in our power to see the college that taught us to go out and change the world lead the way in changing an imploding, broken system.
curtis dickinson (Worcester)
The devil is in the details. And they ain't come to light...yet.
Jenny V (Nyc)
My grand-aunt Anne Pannell was Sweet Briar's president for over 30 years. She dedicated her entire career to the school. Very sad that such leadership doesn't really exist on colleges anymore.
E (Wells)
Dear Jenny V,
At Sweet Briar, I had the honor to have my work study job in Pannell. What an experience to have the opportunity to be immersed in that art collection every day and to experience the many visiting exhibitions that Pannell housed. As a public school educator, I have taken this rich experience that your grand-Aunt allowed for and shared it with my students.
Maria Ferran (Charlotte)
Sweet Briar's culture is a study in polarity.
Old Sweet Briar: Exclusive, Traditional, Niche.
New Sweet Briar: Inclusive, Progressive, Global.
Interestingly, these two forces happily coexist on campus, keep the balance and create a healthy, challenging and engaging dynamic. We like it that way.
Someone decided to try and silence the conversation with the unfortunate misconception that shutting off funds, abusing power and ambushing the college would guarantee their desired outcome. All they did was invite the whole world to Sweet Briar's magnificent debut. Bless their hearts.
MarkL (San Diego, CA)
Many people are missing the facts of this article. If the board was smart, they hired Jones to research the college's options. They referenced that a consultant was hired & at least 1 option was to raise a larger endowment. Their current endowment was mostly restricted making it not much of a resource. But here is the real problem, new student admissions were faltering, which is why they were offering discounted admissions to just keep the school running. Students choose a college for their degree, no a year worth of eduction, such as Sweet Briar. If their admissions is faltering, it is not realistic for the college to run until everyone graduates, with no new admissions they have no revenue. Knowledge of their desperate financial situation would have the same effect as shutting down. They would have no more interested students. Large companies, colleges, whatever, don't just shut down when they still have options. Most likely the BoD saw this as an appropriate time to shut down while they have some funds to pay creditors. As far as the library goes, they would first begin an endowment for the project seeking donations. At larger private universities this can take a few years or more. Its only then that they draw up the plans, permits & construction. The project had already begun before their ailing finances were coming into focus. Seems like the BoD & president are merely exercising good fiduciary responsibility
Debbie (Monroe, VA)
Hardly. Given the great success of Sweet Briar's two previous capital giving campaigns, I submit they tucked their tails and refused to do the hard work they were put there to do.
Kennith Echeverria (Chapel Hill, North Carolina)
I cannot fathom the idea of having the institution I attend close and force me to “transition” to another university. My heart is heavy for these girls, some of whom were about to embark on their senior year. I simply cannot understand how this university, which recently remodeled its library ($8.8 million), close so unexpectedly.
newsy (USA)
and other colleges have descended like harpies while the save group is actively working...
PF Gibson (Buena Vista, VA)
The announcement of the closing of Sweet Briar was released on the noon news program of the local CBS station WFBJ7 - BEFORE it was announced to the students, faculty or the alumnae! My husband and I live near Lexington, VA (home of Washington & Lee and VMI) about 30 miles away from Sweet Briar. As the mother of a Class of 2004 alumna, I was stunned when I happened to catch that newscast. I immediately called my daughter who lives in Durham NC. She had just received an email announcing the closure. Both of us felt as if we had heard of the sudden death of a dear family member. There had been no warning.
Communications from SBC had been sparse in regard to fundraising. As parents we received the occasional solicitation and phone call during the student fundraising phonathons. Certainly there was no professional targeted solicitation of donors in recent times. If there was, it was well hidden.
The #SaveSweetBriar campaign has raised over $3 million in its first two weeks. These women are serious about discovering what led to the sudden door-slamming demise of their alma mater.
Katherine Barrett Baker (Manakin-Sabot, VA)
In the immortal words of Margaret Mitchell: "Land is worth fighting for, worth dying for, land is the only thing that matters, because it is the only thing that lasts." Someone wants that land. Conspiracy theories? Yes, there are 2 or 3. Pick one. Doesn't matter, because the truth WILL come out in court. Always does, and I for one, cannot wait to see justice served. This rush to "close" the college, thus "breaking" the 1899 Last Will and Testament of Indiana Fletcher Williams, who founded this college for the higher education of women, has been done so sneakily, so underhandedly, and so suddenly, by Jim Jones and his posse, with he and his wife saying as recently as 2 days ago in interviews the college "will close" and that it is a "done deal," the only conclusion any of us can figure on is that there is something rotten in Denmark. Nothing is done until we, the Alumnae, Faculty, students and staff, the Sweet Briar Community rest, because this unique destination of higher learning for women, this historic and safe home away from home, this land on which we were nurtured and came into our own as young women, this superb education we received where we were taught to be leaders, not followers, this incredible school in which we formed life long friendships is so important to us and it should be extremely important to anyone in this country who seeks excellence in education. Please donate $10 today to #SAVESWEETBRIAR. Your daughters will thank you.
B.Smith (Oreland, PA)
I agree! Someone wants that land and they may very well get it. Follow the money.
Carol Ann (Washington, DC)
I can't help but think that everything that is anachronistic about Sweet Briar is summed up alumnae quoting "Gone with the Wind" in order to try to save it.
nds (New York, NY)
"At booths at a campus gym, representatives of other schools tried to lure Sweet Briar students."
NYT: stop trying to create friction where it doesn't exist. The word "lure" is highly objectionable and wholly inappropriate. The present students have been left high and dry by their own administration and Board of Directors (who have failed in their duty of stewardship of the SBC assets and mission), being told on March 3 that they are SOL for where to finish their college degree after August 2015, when most colleges are already handing out acceptance decisions to incoming freshman. At least 10 of the schools at the gym as pictured are part of an agreed upon "teach-out" program, which includes an expedited and streamlined application process, including extended deadlines, extra priority is given to the transferability of credits (that being of gen ed nature are too often not accepted as transfer credits - the latest shell game in US collegiate affairs), financial aid.

This whole situation is no one's Plan A, and not even a dreamed of Plan B. It is more reminiscent of the Kindertransport program during World War II. To accuse these colleges of trying to "lure" the Sweet Briar students is like accusing Great Britain of kidnapping the children of the Kindertransport program. The colleges in that room are saviors, not predators.

I am proud that my alma mater, Hollins University, tho' SB's athletic rival, is a teach-out school. Alumnae of Women's Colleges are all SBC.
word factory (Virginia)
Absolutely right, and well said. If only some place(s) could do the same for SBC's poor, marooned faculty.
jay65 (new york, new york)
I predict enough traditionalists will come forward to save this rather anachronistic place. I hope they do. The State of Virginia cannot help, as I see it, for the same reason it was not allowed to maintain VMI as all male. I think there should be private colleges for women only and for men (name me one that is left) for those who think they will thrive better in such a place. I went to the first private, declared co-ed university in the nation. Yes, Cornell was and is private, though it was also Land Grant, and gets state funding for three of its undergraduate units (four are supported by higher tuition and endowment funds). That was my choice. Of course it has more Nobels than any small, private men's, women's or co-ed liberal arts college. Irrelevant. Freedom of choice. I bet the ladies in pink and green can speak in complete sentences after they dismount.
word factory (Virginia)
Many thanks for your condescension. I imagine that many of us can speak in rather more complex sentences than you can.
AC (Chicago, IL)
Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana and Hampden-Sydney in Farmville, Virginia are the last remaining colleges for men. Both consistently rank quite high in most academic publications.
Kenneth Ranson (Salt Lake City)
Something is rotten in the Shenandoah Valley. Jones and the board announce that the school will close, with no previous notice and no public campaign to save it, and then Jones opposes the public campaign that is organized without him.

With no more information than that I would suspect that there is some party who is interested in acquiring the real estate.
newsy (USA)
A House of Cards? SMILE,please.
sklund (DC)
If you want to read the height of arrogance, read this commentary by Jan Sheets Jones, wife of the president. She is utterly disdainful of anyone who opposes her husband, most notably the devoted alums who are rallying to try to explore other options.
Anna (Bowling Green)
While I agree that Mrs. Jones' writing is upsetting, I want to be sure that we all acknowledge that she, like everyone, is entitled to her own opinion. Professors have taught us that having an opinion is our right and duty, that's one of the hallmarks of a Sweet Briar education. Of course, the flip side is that if you are going to express your opinion, you need to have supporting facts. I fully support the #savesteetbriar campaign and expect that in the end, we will win and the wonderful education provided at Sweet Briar college will continue for many future generations.
Steve (USA)
@Anna: "While I agree that Mrs. Jones' writing is upsetting, I want to be sure that we all acknowledge that she, like everyone, is entitled to her own opinion."

Mrs. Jones has a conflict of interest, because her husband's reputation and job are being threatened.
William LeGro (Los Angeles)
"I never expected the venom and the irrationality.”

Leave it to a male executive to describe female reaction this way. That language is code for "female inferiority." For me, that statement reveals both his real attitude toward women and his lack of real commitment to the institution he was chosen to lead. Regardless of Sweet Briar's financial issues and what may be its dwindling future as a gender-specific college, I can't think that this old white guy is the right person for the job of Sweet Briar president.

It's a women's college - why isn't a woman in charge? And I don't mean Carly Fiorina.
Burroughs (Western Lands)
That statement was made by the president's wife, a graduate of Sweet Briar...
Steve (USA)
@William LeGro: "Leave it to a male executive to describe female reaction this way."

His *wife* made the statement you are referring to. The linked letter[1] has more on her perspective, which includes complaints about "the peeling paint, the shabby parlors, the rotting balcony". NB: She writes in a confusing mix of the first- and second-person, and she defends her husband this way: "The President answered questions honestly without being hysterical or giving false hope."

Locavore (New England)
You misread the paragraph. The quote is attributed to MRS. Jones.
HT (Ohio)
The alumni, faculty, and students who want to save Sweet Briar should visit Antioch College for some lessons on how to save a small college. Antioch College was the original part of Antioch University. In 2008, the branch campuses of Antioch University were thriving, but the College was not. The University closed Antioch College in 2008. Alumni organized a campaign, purchased the College from Antioch University, and reopened Antioch College in 2011.
Dolores b (Washington, D.C.)
I feel bad for students and the alums. But when I step back from those personal feelings, I can't help but think that a good many of the U.S.'s lower tier liberal arts colleges should just shut their doors. The degrees aren't worth much and they certainly don't prepare kids to be competitive in today's more technical society. More like the European system, which doesn't churn out thousands of sociology majors per year... Individuals can take enrichment classes in the liberal arts their entire life at community colleges, on line, etc. instead of earning lackluster degrees.
Anna (Bowling Green)
If by "degree" you mean "piece of paper" then you are absolutely correct. Paper is pretty worthless. However, the education and abilities certified by that piece of paper are incredibly valuable. All you need to do is look at the sorts of jobs Sweet Briar graduates are currently holding.

I would whole-heartedly disagree that a liberal arts education doesn't prepare young people to be successful or competitive in today's technical society. Again, look at the positions held by graduates of Sweet Briar College alone! We've got women serving as diplomats, lawyers, doctors, leading biologists and chemists, there are a whole host of top-tier computer science field positions occupied by Sweet Briar graduates, not to mention the many engineering graduates who've gone on to to management positions in big-name companies and firms. The thing about liberal arts education is that it builds the foundation for a strong, well-rounded, and confident person. Liberal arts curriculum challenges individuals to explore themselves and the world around them, then ask questions, formulate opinions, and develop effective ways of expressing and backing those opinions. When you think about how a successful person navigates life or any work environment (technology or otherwise), the most basic description is information intake, analysis, factually based opinion, and expression of opinion. This is exactly what a liberal arts education provides.
Judith McCaffrey (Boston)
Liberal arts courses enable students to not only explore the STEM courses, but to delve into the areas of langauges, literature, humanities, and applied arts. Along the way they hone their skills in thinking critically while they widen their acquaintance with contemporary and historical scholarship. Nothing lackluster here, and certainly worth learning in order to enhance their personal as well as their professional lives. If the sole aim of college education is "to be competitive in today's more technical society," heaven help us all.
Loreen (California)
The "European system" absolutely churns out thousands of sociology majors per year. You can study art, literature, philosophy, sociology in France, Germany, Switzerland, Norway. In fact, people there have a great deal of respect for those studies. The only difference is that the universities are paid for by taxes, not tuition.
John (NC)
What has happened at Sweet Briar College is unconscionable if not criminal. Interim President Jones should resign.
Nick (SLC)
Despite all of the conspiracy theories listed in the prior comments, it is not very likely a college can survive on 500 customers.

Open the books to the detractors and let's see them save the school.

Courtney Selvage (Providence, RI)
It survived for 114 years with about 700 maximum students, so that statement is uneducated and false. No liberal arts college has thousands of students.
Centrist (Lexington, KY)
Harvard? Yale? Princeton? Etc., etc.
Carol Ann (Washington, DC)
It survived for most of those 114 years without having the excessive current discount rate on tuition and with better four-year graduation rates. Those issues have to be factored in to the decision to close.
java tude (upstate NJ)
Open more colleges! Don't close this one! If the school stays open, I'm in for 25 bucks. How 'bout you? (we just need 10,000 contributors at $25 each to make up the shortfall endowment.)
Econ101 (Atlanta)
They need 250 million - 10,000 contributors at 25 bucks each will leave them only 249.75 million short.
lstompor (Naperville, IL)
I feel a Kickstarter/crowdfunding campaign coming! And it would be a great idea!
java tude (upstate NJ)
oops, you are correct. we would need $250 each from 1,000,000 contributors.
Sara (New York)
It's puzzling that the board would employ the President on the basis of his having headed a college that has nothing in common with Sweet Briar - because they met his at a party and learned his wife went there! It's like some convoluted affirmative action that obviously didn't serve the college - and his coldness and "surprise" at the "venom" is telling. The women are doing what others have done successfully to save other colleges. Guess they're bad girls for not just saying, "Thank you, sir, may I have another?"
Burroughs (Western Lands)
The president's wife, Jan Jones, a 1969 graduate of Sweet Briar, made that remark about "venom" and "irrationality," although it would fit the narrative if her husband had.
Kevin (Northport NY)
Most private colleges and universities are real estate corporations with a sideline in education. This was all about real estate deals.
leftcoast (San Francisco)
I guess my heart goes out to all the horses that will not be matriculated in the following academic year. I am a chap who went to a state school with the help of an academic scholarship, work on the weekends, a RA position during the week. I now volunteer about 20 hrs. a week with the hardcore homeless. The thought that some very well-off children will not be able to bring their childhood horse to school does not seem to have that much gravity in a relative sense.
Megan C Maloney (Oak Ridge)
Sweet Briar's financial problems are largely being blamed on discounting tuition and issuing merit scholarships. I was a recipient of both, and like most students, also worked, volunteered, and interned. Not everyone there did the horse thing. It's great to have something you care enough to work for, like homeless rehabilitation; for some of us, it's getting interested women access to STEM classes and careers, and supporting education that isn't memorization and a series of tests.
Maryce Ramsey (PNG)
I graduated from SBC 30+ years ago. I am from a small town in Oklahoma, the first generation of my family to get a college degree. I worked summers and during college as well and went to SBC with the help of a scholarship. I spent a summer during college in Botswana building a health post with Crossroads Africa and joined the Peace Corps after I graduated with my degree in International Relations. I later got my MPH in International Health and have spent my career in public health and development. So perhaps you need to check your assumptions.
SweetVixen (northern virginia)
You obviously didn't read the article or you would know more about the stats on SBC students receiving financial aid. Sweet Briar does have a world class riding program, but it costs less to run & brings in far less $ than the division 1 sports programs at most universities. Before bashing SBC, know that most of our students financial experience are closer to your own college financial experience.
Chris Kox (San Francisco)
Convert it into a college prep school. You'll never have money problems again.
Anonymous (Brooklyn, NY)
Don't follow the money, follow the debt. Perhaps in the last few years, financial entities run by relatives and friends of the Trustees lent money to the college secured by all of its assets, or at least a substantial portion of its land holdings. Push the institution into bankruptcy, and voila, your chosen creditors leapfrog the others because the debt is "secured", and they might get $85 million in assets on a loan a fraction of that sum.
susie (New York)
Yes, something seems amiss. Certainly, there is a lack of transparency here.

While $85MM seems like a small endowment, I just looked up the endowments for other small liberal arts colleges, and relative to student body, it is not out of the ball park. Bates, for example, had an endowment of just under 3x that of Sweet Briar but had more than 3x the student body.

This definitely seems strange.
Bruce (Dallas)
The lack of a Division 1 Football team hurt them.
Megan C Maloney (Oak Ridge)
Ha! The alumnae were joking about this as well: Our undefeated (nonexistent) football team...their budget got reassigned to academics.
Wayne E. (Hattiesburg,MS)
Also needed a black studies program and VP for Diversity
Karen (Oakland)
I just returned from a trip to Virginia, and the local thinking is that Jerry Faldwell's ultra-Christian Liberty University wants to take over Sweet Briar's campus and facilities tin order to expand Liberty U. The two schools are only 12 miles apart, and Liberty certainly has the assets to take over Sweet Briar. Personally, I hope that Sweet Briar alums are able to pull the proverbial rabbit out of a hat and keep their alma mater open.
Megan C Maloney (Oak Ridge)
We cannot let LU take this school. While I find the students of L.U. are generally well-meaning young people who just want to do the right thing, I cannot agree with their college administrations stance against teaching well-established science, or their policies negatively affecting LGBTQ students. Not on our campus.
Kenneth Ranson (Salt Lake City)
See my post above. The only logical explanation for Jones behavior is that he is working in the interests of someone who wants to acquire the real estate.
RPW (Jackson)
Joe Stinnett (Lynchburg, Va)
I've followed this closely and still have heard or read nothing that indicates Sweet Briar has to close immediately, as the board has proposed. Yet the board and administration appear to be ready to spend money to fight any legal challenge to the immediate closure. I hope they will take a deep breath and give this at least another year to play out with an open discussion, and to give those who want to save the school time to develop support and resources. Sweet Briar is also a key part of Amherst County -- as a major employer, not to mention in education and culture -- and it's a shame that so far no local leaders have stepped up to help save it.
sapereaudeprime (Searsmont, Maine 04973)
I know it's not ladylike, but my grandmother and mother, who both went to Smith (AB '09, MA '45), would have broken the legs of the administrators who tried to close their schools. This sounds to me like administrative malfeasance at a criminal level.
Anna (Bowling Green)
I agree that Sweet Briar is worth saving and that it is incredibly important to the surrounding community of Amherst, Va. Many local businesses have stepped up and offered to donate portions of their profits to the #saveSweetBriar campaign. Just off the top of my head, The Briar Patch Restaurant and El Mariachi Restaurant (both in the town of Amherst) have had several days where 15-20% of profits were to be donated. Just down the road in Madison Heights, La Carreta Restaurant has had several donation-day events and hosted at least two Alumnae gatherings in support of saving the college. In the city of Lynchburg, the Market on Main Restaurant has an on-going deal where $3 of all sales of the "Sweet Briar Burger" will go to saving the college. Non-restaurant companies, like High Peak Sportswear (a local clothing printing company) has developed Sweet Briar t-shirts that are being sold, portions of their profits are being donated to save the school. Furthermore, outside the immediate community, Sweet Briar alumnae who own businesses, such as Vixen Vodka, are donating a portion of their sales towards the efforts to keep Sweet Briar open. It's really very heart-warming and amazing the outpouring of local and national support!

Visit to make a pledge or donation, read more news articles and find out what other efforts are on-going!
lstompor (Naperville, IL)
I wonder if they shouldn't exploit the penchant for all things equestrian... Start a pre-vet school equine studies program, a degree in barn management, a riding/polo/rodeo team and course of study. Paradise!
George (US)
What a patronizing man Mr. Jones seems to be. He calls this "hype"? They ought to hype him right out of there!
L. Livingston (Charlotte,NC)
I totally agree but I think the adjective "patronizing" is too nice a word. I can think of much stronger language to use for Mr. Jones.
Linda (New York)
Surely recent donors, such as those who supported the library, would have standing to sue, since closing the college would be misuse of their gifts, if there are any as yet unexplored options for keeping it open.
LesB (SoCal)
Somewhere out there there's a billionaire reading this article....
Dean (US)
The chairman of the board, Paul Rice, sold his tech company around 2005 for $448 million. He has means, but the college's current financial model is unsustainable.
John H Noble Jr (Georgetown, Texas)
Yep, better to acquire a nice school in a picturesque location than some professional sports team. In the end will it be aesthetics or the bottom line that will decide?
jaxcat (florida)
Sweet Briar has become passe' and unfortunately not much can be done to correct that status. Many comments here, gloating in delight, exhibit envy and pique for feeling among those excluded from a very exclusive school. Time has not been sympathetic for the single gender school which as a graduate of one such an institution, I feel sorely its loss.
MJS (Atlanta)
I remember the lovely recruiting brochures my daughter was receiving for this college just 3-4 years ago. The number and plushness of theirs recruiting materials stood out to me. Only they and Washington University in St. Louis sent as much and as nice material. Washington University in St. Louis has about 15-20 times as many students. It charges around 60k a year, they have one of the lowest Pell Grant admittance rates in the country. They give very little financial aid compared to most private schools that are considered Elite or the level below the Ivies.

Now Sweet Briar could have saved a bundle if they had not wasted all the money sending the Vera Bradley themed marketing material through the mail, my child never look at them unless I shoved them in her face.

I went to a small 2,400 under grad Catholic college with the current Govenor of Virginia, maybe he can press for someone in VA to look into what was going on. It looks like the HBCU in Atlanta where the Headmaster embezzled about $20million or so when the school was going on.
RPW (Jackson)
When I was at W&L law school, I often made the lovely trip over the mountain along the winding road from Lexington to meet pretty girls. Always I found the beautiful buildings overlooking the broad lawn and the mountains beyond, and the girls who loved the school, all made Sweet Briar a magical place. It is a special aesthetic, the best of the Virginia life. A few years back I took my wife, who had gone to University in the Deep South, to see it. She was stunned at how beautiful it is, the active riding program, the seeping views across the lawn. I do not want to imagine it closed, or that way of life becoming left only to history.
Fellastine (KCMO)
Speaking of irrationality, commenters here have dived in head first.

From the article:
“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.”
Get it? The wife of the school’s interim president, James F. Jones Jr. said that, not Mr. Jones.

2013 is their latest report available online. All nonprofits file a form which is easily found with a quick search.
Courtney Selvage (Providence, RI)
"President" Jones referred to it as "emotion" and "hype," and has written off the "feelings" of alumnae in other interviews AND to the alumnae on a conference call. So while his parroting wife may have called them irrational, and while it may be irrational to jump to the conclusion that he said those things, it's really not too far off.
Michael in Hokkaido Mountains (Hokkaido Mountains, Japan)
"SWEET BRIAR" has become "SOUR BRIAR" with all the Bitterness, Acrimony and Recriminations.
James Conner (Northwestern Montana)
Whether the decision to close the college was made without sufficient input is a question separate from whether the financial facts support the decision to close Sweet Briar. It might have been handled differently, but in the end I suspect the decision would be the same.

Sweet Briar will be missed, but its memory will fade more rapidly than now thought. Its students can and will be educated equally well elsewhere.
Kevin (Montreal)
I have a senior position in higher education fundraising. No-one uses new endowment to address immediate operational needs like the ones described here. The explanation for closure provided by the college president sounds fictional.
Kenneth Ranson (Salt Lake City)
Exactly. Why does Jones keep saying that the college needs $250 million to stay open, when that figure is for long term, ironclad financial security. He can continue to operate the college for many years with the current income stream and endowment. This man wants to close this college and someone or something is providing him with a powerful inducement to do so.
Claire (Tennessee)
Indeed, and that is exactly what SBC has an obligation to do. If your asserts (including fair market value of real estate) exceed your liabilities and if it is possible to maintain cash flow (which it should be for many years to come even with discounting and even with restrictions on the endowment), you keep your doors open in service to the mission. "Bleeding money" is what non-profits are supposed to do--you don't close because it is happening. That money isn't being wasted--providing a top-notch education for women who need huge discounts (e.g., Pell-grant recipients) is a great use of funds. You close your doors only when you cannot accomplish your mission at all anymore, all assets having been leveraged by all legal means.
Richard Grayson (Brooklyn, NY)
I am very sad about this. I can't really speak to this issues involved, or whether this decision was inevitable or it can still be reversed, but I was a fellow at the nearby Virginia Center for the Creative Arts in the summers in the early 1980s and we had access to the Sweet Briar campus and library during our residence. It's such a beautiful campus with wonderful people.

Only in reading this did I find out that Virginia Intermont College in Bristol had closed. That's also sad. I know Randolph Macon Women's College in Lynchburg, where I taught at the summer Virginia Governor's School for the Gifted, had gone co-ed years ago, changed its name, and sold off some of its art holdings to stay alive.

I hope somehow Sweet Briar College can stay open.
mr isaac (los angeles)
Demographics don't lie. There will be consolidation throughout the ranks of higher ed as the pool of grads drop. We don't need all of the schools, period.
Joe (Rochester)
One way to stop this problem is to stop paying crazy administrator salaries. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education survey, in 2011 Jones earned $660,000 at Trinity College in Conn (student body of 2000 or so). The Sweet Briar president was then paid $330,000 to run a college of 740 or so students. I am sure Jones's salary is at least in the $500,000 range now. Add in the numerous 6-figure salaries of middle managers and there is the problem. Have faculty run the college in the manner of a rotating chair over a faculty administered senate with 4 year cycles. Can it possibly be a worse idea than paying someone half a million bucks to shut down your institution in this arrogant manner? College presidents are grossly overpaid. Their only useful function is to raise money; he failed at Trinity and has brought his special brand of belligerence to Virginia. Fire him, pure and simple.
Courtney Selvage (Providence, RI)
I think we all sincerely hope that he, and the rest of the Board of Directors will be thoroughly investigated. This doesn't just happen.
Stourley Kracklite (White Plains, NY)
Sweet Briar's liabilities are $53 million. Not paying the President will lower that to $52.67 million. If Sweet Briar has 175 middle managers and they all will work for free as well you have a point.
sapereaudeprime (Searsmont, Maine 04973)
No college administrator should ever make more than a full professor. In the better university systems in Europe and in the old system here, the administration was rotated up out of the faculty and either retired or rotated back into the faculty after a suitable time at the helm. When the faculty elects the administration, they know what they're getting. When the trustees choose the administration, they sniff along paper trails and hearsay.
John LeBaron (MA)
For the very best spin possible, it seems like the new President and Board didn't even try seriously to save this institution. It is as though a variety of possible options seemed not worth their time or effort to examine thoroughly. As for the timing and orchestration of the announcement, it is unconscionable, especially to students and faculty.
sapereaudeprime (Searsmont, Maine 04973)
I would suspect criminal involvement.
Helen Lewis (Hillsboro, OR)
As a graduate of Wilson College (see above), I can sympathize with the
pain and anger of the Save Sweet Briar group. Moreover, I find the
timing of this announcement really sad for faculty when many liberal
arts colleges think of March as the deadline for next year's contracts.
So lack of caring, lack of creative thinking and planning and lack of
real leadership seem to be predominant in this situation. To the
students affected and to the faculty, take heart and bon voyage!
downstate (New York)
It's hard to face something like this, and the natural reaction is to look for a scapegoat in conspiracy or incompetence. A lot of the comments here call for an investigation or propose various schemes that could have saved the college. The sad fact is, though, that there's no malfeasance here and no easy solution. The college was hemorrhaging enrollment and had been for years. To keep it going, they had been running a discount rate that any college administrator could tell you was unsustainable. Their unrestricted endowment was far too small to make up the difference. All of this was widely known; the only thing that wasn't known, and the reason for the surprise of the announcement, was whether the latest plan to boost enrollment was going to work. It didn't. As the admissions season progressed, it was clear that things were getting worse rather than better, and the president and board decided to pull the plug.

Should they have announced the gravity of the emergency earlier? Maybe - but it would have been suicidal for their admissions efforts, which were the last hope for saving the situation. Could they have held the college open another year? Maybe - but without an incoming class, and with all of the students who could do so transferring, there would have been nothing close to enough tuition to operate the college, and their credit would be nonexistent. The board's decision was, unfortunately, a reasonable one. They're not heartless monsters - it's just a sad situation.
Hank Rearden (USA)
I refer you to the following thoughts by EthicsAlarms as the reply to your comment: A Question: Who has a right to control a Not-For-Profit College when the Board that wants to shut it down can be replaced with a Board willing to Continue?
Humanista (Atlanta, GA)
Finally, words of wisdom and reason!
Sleater (New York)
It strikes me as bizarre that a college would open a new library addition one year and the following year, with an $85 million endowment that has continued to grow, shut everything down. Were there really no other options for Sweet Briar to pursue? Could the college really not at least wind down so that the current freshwomen (and any new transfers) could receive their degrees in three year's time? Given the wealth of the alumnae base, why not put out a call to raise even more funds for the endowment? The president's announcement reeks to high heaven, and I say this as someone with no direct stake in Sweet Briar College's future. It does appear that Mr. Jones was brought in to shut off the lights, though without anyone not on the board having any idea what he was planning to do. Just awful!
A C (Hudson County, NJ)
"It does appear that Mr. Jones was brought in to shut off the lights,"
"Chainsaw James."
Courtney Selvage (Providence, RI)
The library was actually built on restricted donations from 20 years ago. Many people question the decision to build it, and claim that it showed that the school was financially sound, but the fact is that the school was having issues prior to Jones' arrival. Given this, however, it is clear that the BOD and "president" Jones have made a swift decision, and claim that they didn't reach out to alumnae because there simply wasn't the interest in giving to the college. As the last three weeks have shown, that is blatantly incorrect.
LaDee Dah (Superbia USA)
An $85 million endowment is a pittance. MIGHT throw off $3 or $4 million in a good year. If it's restricted too much, it's not helpful.
Nancy (Upstate New York)
The president of a women's college accuses women of expressing "venom and irrationality?" First he shuts their college, and then he uses classic sexist and paternalist language to shut them up. Isn't that why women chose women's colleges in the first place, so they can go four years without men trying to shut them up? (Their first mistake might have been hiring someone just because his wife went there). Ms. Humenuck, Ms. Chavigny, and the others quoted here don't sound irrational to me. In any case, the students will recover and the alumnae donors will have to come to terms with how much money and time they wasted. The true victims are the faculty and staff. Only a few professors will be competitive for full-time academic jobs elsewhere, and the hiring season is winding down, so even they will have to wait a year. My heart goes out to them. I hope they can sue and at least receive some sort of settlement, particularly the ones who are losing their homes as well as their livelihoods.
seanfoc (Seattle)
Heads-up people... It was the President's WIFE who was quoted saying those "paternalistic, etc..." things.
Megan C Maloney (Oak Ridge)
The faculty unanimously voted to support of the alumnae's efforts to keep the school closing. Their letter is posted at "", our nonprofit. We're working hard so that the staff and faculty that did so much to build our futures won't lose theirs. We don't want them to move or quit; they've built great academic programs and we want to protect them for future students to experience.
SweetVixen (northern virginia)
President Jones has said similar things in other interviews & in a conference call to alumnae. His wife is only parroting his talking points.
Chasseur Americain (Easton, PA)
On the question of faculty pensions, most private, and many public, US institutions of higher education do not pay pensions. They, and faculty members themselves, instead make substantial payments each year into 403b retirement plans. If this was the case at Sweet Briar, as it likely was, the Faculty members "own" the accumulated funds in their 403b plans and will not "lose" a pension. Obviously, depending on how close to retirement an individual is, the eventual funds available then may be significantly less it would have been had the closure not occurred.
Hdb (Tennessee)
This editorial from the Roanoke Times has more details that raise questions about whether the college was really in dire financial straits.

The two facts that raise the most questions are that there was no warning or long-term discussion about financial woes and that they built an $8.8 million library in the past year.

Strange things are happening in higher education. There seems to be a shift in the power structure where college presidents, boards, and state legislatures (for public institutions) have hidden agendas.
Megan C Maloney (Oak Ridge)
I cannot accept that they didn't feel they could go to the alumnae who donated the $8.8 million for the library and ask them to reassign it to more pertinent costs. The library was already spacious, with plenty of computer labs, even years ago when I attended ('08), though I'm sure the new one is impressive. I can't imagine that anyone who donated would prefer to fund a new, empty library on a closed campus rather than have their money keep the school open. Sweet Briar's academics, particularly women's STEM programs, are worth saving. I hope the alumnae can get a chance to restructure the budget and recruitment. SBC's got a great campus full of multi-decadal research plots, opportunities to publish in peer-reviewed journals as an undergrad, small class sizes (8:1), direct contact with faculty (no TAs), great study abroad and internships -- and it's one of only two women's colleges with an accredited engineering program. There's a lot of reasons to attend, which the administration weren't leveraging in their weak and understaffed recruitment effort. The Board and Pres underestimated young women in high school today, just as they underestimated the alumnae.
joddy (quincy, Illinois)
Someone wants all of that land.
Centrist (Lexington, KY)
What for? To farm on? It's in the middle of nowhere.
Hope (Cleveland)
Consultants told the Board to close the place down. All over the country, universities are hiring consultants (at huge prices) to tell them to do things that are hurting the universities. Until faculty and students insist that colleges and universities not follow corporate models and get rid of expensive consultants and expensive (and way too large) administrative bloat, things like this will keep happening.
Megan C Maloney (Oak Ridge)
The administration also hired consultants which recommended "narrow-piping" recruitment ( focusing on few likely to enroll and pursuing them), and then did the opposite, shotgunning a wide swath. The predictable result was that they received a record number of interested applicants who then did not enroll. The administration did not hire the appropriate recruitment staff needed to communicate with potentially interested students nor follow the advice of the studies they commissioned. They also did not get alumnae involved to attend career fairs or discuss the school with interested students. Now we alumnae are hoping to replace the board with those who have more dedication to the school and relevant professional skills.
mjb (Tucson)
Yes. Sometimes consultants are quite useful. But often they cover managerial and administrative incompetence. Good grief! Get some internal training and apply the new skills and information to managing your house.
Dr Russell Potter (Providence)
$250 Million? Chump change to the 1% -- with the Koch brothers planning to spend nearly $900 million on the upcoming presidential race, it seems to me that, if there are such crazies on the one side, maybe someone is just crazy enough to support a college like this.
Centrist (Lexington, KY)
The problem is finding him or her.
Clem (Shelby)
“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.”

So, you know the guy who gets really angry when you ask him about all the late nights at the office? The one who says he can't believe you would accuse him of cheating...who storms around, saying it's unbelievable you don't trust him...who calls you a crazy, paranoid lunatic? -- That guy is definitely cheating on you.

Now we have a college administrator complaining that all those crazy, irrational women are getting so vicious and hysterical and demanding to see his books, and he just can't believe they wouldn't take him at his word.... No kidding something doesn't smell right.
Megan C Maloney (Oak Ridge)
It was his wife who said this, actually, though that doesn't change the fact that she's using a weird definition. "Venom" doesn't fit alumnae efforts to support students by delivering groceries and roses to them or showing up to welcome them back after spring break. "Irrational" isn't usually used to describe starting a nonprofit to collect $3.1 million of personal and corporate pledges or hiring a lawfirm to protect stakeholders such as faculty, staff, current students, and past donors while we explore options to restructure. The only even slightly mischievous thing I've seen is when someone stomped "#SaveSweetBriar" into the fresh snow outside the president's provided on-campus house. Although those white-tailed deer are pretty brazen...could have been them.
Ted Manning (Peoria, Indiana)
It was Mrs. not Mr. who said those patronizing things! OTOH, he said similar things, so they are quite a couple!

The writer of the article, though, blew it by writing that the president has a "personal stake" in what happens because his wife went there and his grandniece is about to graduate. That's a *connection* not a *stake* in the outcome-- unless there really is something he has to gain by all this!
Lawrence (Wash D.C.)
Life at Sweet Briar was sweet alright, but it wasn't sustainable. Enrollment was too low. Faculty too numerous. Tuition discounting too great. Endowment too meager.

As accountants would say, Sweet Briar had "going concern" problems. BOT did the only reasonable and responsible thing to draw a line under it.
Clem (Shelby)
Why is it we always hear about too many faculty and students paying too little tuition, but we rarely hear about too many middle managers making too much for doing too little not too well?
Jim Davis (St. Louis)
Sweet Briar appears to be one of the casualties of the arms war begun by institutions of higher learning about 20 years ago. With access to easy student loans, many universities started on a building boom that hasn't stopped yet. With an emphasis on amenities, many of these universities offer a standard of living which is better than the one the student will be able to afford after college is over. This is due to the fact that the student will then be paying off the debt that they were encouraged to acquire. Unfortunately, the degree which they received may or may not be an asset in this regard. This whole system needs to be reexamined.
Sam (Florida)
Absolutely, I return to my University every 5-10 years and can barely find my way around all the new buildings and fancy suite style dorms, aquatic centers, etc. Then I hear dire pleas from said University about donating money because tuition and room/board has gotten so expensive and the state is not giving the public university as much money.

I say stop building so many buildings, but the answer I hear is that you have to keep building those buildings to compete in the US World & News ranking that rewards library size over other much more pertinent data points (and believe me, I love libraries). You have to offer private bathrooms and suites and upgraded home like dorms in order to appeal to students and parents, etc. Said students and parents are taking on more debt to pay for those fancy digs.
WJH (New York City)
In the not so distant past this college refused to allow its faculty to accept federal grants such as NSF grants even if they were awarded to faculty. The reason is that by accepting federal grants schools fall subject to the reporting requirements of affirmative action title IX etc. Sweetbriar just wanted to remain a "lady's college" with a certain exclusive atmosphere. All things considered I am not sympathetic.
sweet vixen (northern virginia)
"Lady's College?" "Exclusive?" You don't know much about Sweet Briar (that's two words btw) and its real atmosphere. If by exclusive you're referring to the amount of students who receive financial aid or who are the first in their families to go to college, then so be it. This issue is about educational choice. Having the option to attend a small, woman's college takes nothing away from other options out there. By supporting Sweet Briar's closure, you support limiting educational options, limiting diversity, breaking the very clear intentions of the will of SBC's founder, selling off Historic Trust bldgs on the National Register of historic places, selling off land protected under the Nature Conservancy, likely destroying active archaeological digs which have led to the discovery & restoration of a former slave cabin...take the time to learn about what you comment on so casually. There are literally thousands of us alumnae who are fighting closure & stepping up to do what the board & past presidents should have done.
Charles (Clifton, NJ)
Very, very fine writing by Cheryl Gay Stolberg. I don't know what to say. The U.S. prides itself on diversity, yet, as these schools close, we all are injected into the commonality of mediocre education.

It's part of the reason why the middle class loses. The decreasing number of diverse schools means that the wealthy simply have more options. The middle class goes to fewer individualistic schools.

If one doubts me, I am a child of the '60's from whose high school students went to many different schools. A raw conservative would say, "Meh, let Sweet Briar collapse."

The finances need to be examined, and management always to be mistrusted. Heck, I was in a major computer company that failed because of an inept board of directors. Sweet Briar can have inept management as well. Hopefully it can survive the greed engendered in the '80's.
Dolores b (Washington, D.C.)
It sounds as if the administration could and should have done much more sharing earlier to bring the community along. What did they expect when they spring a decision on people so abruptly?
I'm-for-tolerance (us)
"...honestly, I never expected the venom and the irrationality.” I don't see much irrational about women who staked their future on degrees from this place now being hung out to dry, with little hope of scholarships this late in the year; and professors left scrambling for positions, owning properties that are at risk and that certainly will be difficult to unload in the unlikely event of finding another position. Futures and finances cannot recover quickly from something that has clearly been poorly executed.
Angelino (Los Angeles, CA)
I think the students are right. The current president too old, unimaginative, tired, retired, and cannot be bothered saving a small college for women. He should quit and the students and alumnae get their sleeves up and go to work.

I cannot believe a moment a college with 500-student enrollment needs $250 million dollars to keep in business. That is a half million dollars per student to stay in school.

I would investigate if the school property was promised to a developer, and recent deposits to the schools board members accounts.
Big Cow (NYC)
The school had more like 600 students, and a tuition of something like 45k. 500k would return only 50k a year in investment income if you are lucky - 250 million sounds about right as a back-of-the-envelope calculation.

The super weird thing about all this is the sudden nature of the announcement. It would have been just as easy to make the announcement 3 years ago and let everyone graduate. Something funny was discovered in the books. It's the only explanation.
Ralph J. Steinberg (Santa Cruz, Ca.)
The sudden announced closing of Sweet Briar is highly suspicious. The College Administration faced with financial challenges that it could anticipate should have appointed a select committee of faculty, student representatives, alumni as well as the Administration and Board representatives to have an audit by an independent controller, and made this report and its finances completely open to the public for inspection. The current President and Board's handling of the situation is autocratic, stupid and self-defeating! The notion that an alumni committee does not have legal standing to challenge its actions is laughable!
Ruthie (Peekskill/Cortlandt, NY)
Beneath all is the land. First rule of real estate.
Mary Ledwith (New Jersey)
So many are saying in the comments to just merge with another college or university. What makes people think.that a university would want to aquire all.that debt? Even Notre.Dame said no when St. Mary's Woman's College of Notre.Dame ask if they would like to merge.

At least St. Mary's is surviving and have some joined classes with the Fighting Irish...but thanks. Thank goodness girls can now attend ND.

I would hate to see St. Mary's go the way of Sweet Briar. St Mary's is where my parents met in 1949 and 66 years later they both still love them.

If the board knew this last year why not an announcement then to start fundraising? I am a sap.for good endings. I would love to see them "Do one for the Gipper".
SweetVixen (northern virginia)
Why not indeed? This is precisely the reason that the alumnae, students/patents, faculty & staff are fighting mad about it! Recently appointed President Jones has been quoted saying that they knew that closure was possible about18 months or so ago. We guess that the board & president decided to keep their decision secret rather than let stakeholders know. Why not include alumnae & faculty & others to try to prevent closure? Ego? Alumnae will get to the bottom of it one way or another.
Centrist (Lexington, KY)
There are negative consequences that occur when the problems of sustaining the place are discussed openly for a lengthy period, particularly faculty leaving and attendance plummeting.
Nancy (Great Neck)
Would there be a private college with which Sweet Briar could merge?
flatpick (Prince WIlliam, Virginia)
Noting the extensive equestrian facility there, I am reminded of the 1932 Marx Brothers Movie: Horsefeathers, where Groucho, as recently installed Dean Wagstaff of Huxley College calls a faculty meeting:

WAGSTAFF: Have we got a stadium?
WAGSTAFF: Have we got a college?
WAGSTAFF: Well, we can't support both. Tomorrow we start tearing down the college.
SweetVixen (northern virginia)
Amusing but the riding program isn't the problem. The lack of transparency
David Null (Claremont, CA)
I'm an Emeriti Professor with good PhD, JD, and LLM. I would be happy to teach for room and board (in the dining hall) during the school year. I'm sure there would be other retired faculty that would be willing to do the same.
Lucinda Kempe (Long Island)
What a generous offer. Good onya!
SweetVixen (northern virginia)
Thank you Dr Null! Join the #savesweetbriar movement! Check out!
MSL (REston VA) provides important info as to his career at Trinity College before he went to Sweet Briar.
danielle8000 (Nyc)
Plenty fishy about this guy (wiki says, among other things):

In 2009, Jones faced criticism for allegedly raiding Trinity's Shelby Cullom Davis endowment and using the funds in contravention of the wishes of the original donor.[16] Professor Gerald Gunderson, the Shelby Cullom Davis Professor of American Business and Economic Enterprise at Trinity College filed a complaint with the Connecticut Attorney General's office and a review revealed that Jones had for some years been drawing on the Davis endowment without approval. Jones only agreed to adhere to wishes of the original donor in late 2013, when Prof. Gunderson commenced litigation.

Fall in Trinity's Rankings
In 2003, prior to Jones's arrival at Trinity College, it was among the top 25 Best Liberal Arts Colleges, and 9th among the nation’s most selective Liberal Arts Colleges according to US News and World Report.[19] After Jones was appointed as Trinity's 21st president on July 21, 2004, Trinity College:

fell to 45th according to US News [20]
fell to 78th according to Forbes [21]
fell to 196th according to The Washington Monthly [22]
As Trinity's rankings began to plummet, Jones persuaded the Trinity community to join the Annapolis Group, a group which includes colleges such as Kalamazoo College, which refuses to participate or provide information to U.S. News & World Report or other college ranking organizations.[23]
Dean (US)
Sweet Briar should become part of the UVA system and follow the model of Oxford College of Emory University -- a coed, two-year alternate campus for only freshmen and sophomores, who then move to the main campus as juniors. It's a great entry point for international undergraduates and a great way for many American students to start their college experience, with smaller classes and lots of hands-on advising. It would also help relieve crowding at the UVA campus in Charlottesville.
SBC '99 (Washington,DC)
That is exactly what my husband and I said. UVA at Sweet Briar. That might appeal to the chairman of Sweet Briar BOD who currently donated millions to UVA and thousands to SBC. He has gifted the primary funds for a new Engineering Building for UVA. The point is that the BOD and Jones claimed to have left no stone unturned in looking for a solution to keep SBC going. They seem determined to speak failure into existence where it was not before this year.. This is a devastating choice which we believe is not being seen in full rationale.
cbd212 (massachusetts)
Yes, SBC'99, you just put your finger on one of the problems. And that problem used to plague women's colleges a lot - their boards and alumna would give their money to their spouses' schools before supporting their own alma mater. I am a little dismayed at interim Pres Jones' weak excuse of nothing can be done. Maybe part of the problem is that he is an interim not a permanent - there's no real commitment and no real loyalty. It's a great school, it deserves better.
Dean (US)
P.S. Having such a two-year starter campus as an option would also allow concerned parents to send their kids to UVA with less fear about the binge drinking culture and bar scene in Charlottesville, which has contributed to assaults against young women on and off campus there. The young woman UVA student who was murdered was wandering around those bars when she encountered her killer. Young men are also at risk from the binge drinking, for other reasons.
Carolyn Egeli (Valley Lee, Md)
Women's colleges don't make money any more. But there is still a need for them. Considering the danger of rape on campus, it seems that single sex for women is a place where women might feel safe to learn and be themselves.
Sleater (New York)
Do you not realize that the "grocery cashier, the waitress..." etc. may also be IN COLLEGE? Not everyone in college lives a life of leisure that does not entail a job, including service work of the kind your describe. It's 2015, not 1915. Lots of women and men in college work. They have no choice, because even public universities and colleges are unaffordable for more and more people.
Blueridgemama (Virginia)
The Sweet Briar BoD has had a long history of shared governance with faculty,until this last year. At every turn the faculty was blocked by the interim president and the board from shared decision making. Why? Why was the board so secretive? Why does this interim president belittle the efforts of many powerful women to stop the closure? Something stinks.
Marianne (South Georgia)
I am old enough to remember when most private colleges of merit where men only. Women were barred from applying. After the Civil War, a large number of women’s colleges were founded on the East Coast from Agnes Scott in Georgia to Cedar Crest College in Pennsylvania. The amazing thing is that they still work today. Young women learn in environments that focus on THEM – in STEM fields where women are underrepresented to traditional fields where women’s college graduates are the best of the best. Why aren’t these colleges supported on the same level as former men’s colleges? Sweet Briar should have a $200 million endowment. Why didn’t its successful alumnae supporting this college? Why aren’t the alumnae of the remaining women’s colleges doing the same?
Megan C Maloney (Oak Ridge)
The alumnae were not informed of the depth of the financial or enrollment problems. We only saw the administration building numerous huge renovations -- senior dorms, art buildings, gym, library -- and we assumed there was enough to expand. I personally assumed we were growing, particularly with the new engineering program. No one said there was deferred maintenance. We're still trying to get the financial documents so we can understand what happened and plan for restructuring. As alumnae, yes, we were complacent and trusting. They did not tell us what was going on, they did not ask for our help in hiring the necessary permanent full-time skilled recruiting staff, they didn't ask us to go out to college fairs and talk to students -- something many of us would have loved. However, we are now taking back our school, and I'm glad to say we have the support of our faculty, staff, and that a number of colleges (women's, men's, and coed neighbors) have also made statements of support and even fundraised and donated.
Centrist (Lexington, KY)
Are there no alumnae on the board?
Stephen J (New Haven)
Women's colleges generally have smaller endowments than traditionally male colleges at the same level of quality. That's because very few women had big pots of money to donate. Of course this is changing. But it's changing very late in the game for the surviving women's colleges, except for the tip-top ones (Wellesley, Smith, etc.).
Chester (NYC)
Closing Sweet Briar may be the most sound decision, but it is stunning that the president of a woman's college would indict its supporters as "irrational". Shrill. Hysterical. Bossy. Irrational. These are the words ascribed to women with strong opinions - proving the necessity of a safe place for young women to come of age.
Marjorie (California)
Amazing how many of the posters here posted comments that showed clearly they hadn't read the article -- only skimmed before going to the keyboard! I would have liked to think better of NYT readers!

It was MRS. Jones, the president's WIFE, not the president, who made those comments. A rather stupid comment, one would think she would have thought a bit before uttering it.

And she is an alumna of Sweet Briar. It may be a great educational institution but in Mrs. Jones'case they failed to teach her discretion.
Ted Manning (Peoria, Indiana)
Chester, re-read that passage! I thought, too, at first, it was the president, but it was his wife, a 1969 graduate of the place, who said it. The paragraph was poorly written, but worse were *her* remarks.

Similarly bad were the president's declarations that the efforts to save the college were doomed to failure!

How does he know that without even trying?! There should have been an opening of the books and a several years campaign to fix things. He should follow Lord Grantham's lead and, along with the Downton Abbey folks, know enough to save the place while preserving its historic values and worth.
Daniel (Toronto, Canada)
One way to raise funds is to sell off part of the campus. At 3,250 acres, for 532 students, selling 1,000 acres would surely raise a tidy sum which could be used to refurbish the buildings. Then look at setting a realistic tuition, and reduce the discounts through scholarships, so that the school is operationally in the black.

Openness with the finances is very important, and it appears the current administration and Board are not sharing all they know with the alumnae, staff, and students. Something is missing here.
SteveRR (CA)
Living in Ontario - you should understand structural deficits.
A cash inflow only buys you a little time.
Raising tuition is like a drop in the ocean - 532 students - say maybe half are paying the full ride - raise it by 10K - wow - a whole extra 2 million.
Like most universities - they are probably rife with over-paid under-worked profs who teach 2 courses a term and retire on a full pension and the associated admin staff and numerous vice-president all earning six figures.
Joe Bob the III (MN)
Among people who work in non-profit administration, there is a phrase for selling off assets to meet budget deficits: burning the furniture. Sure, it briefly keeps the cold at bay but then it's gone.

The principle is pretty simple: one-time funding doesn't fix structural deficits. It may buy you a little time but unless there is a structural fix in the offing, then you're just holding a fire sale for no good reason.
dld (virginia)
Sweet Briar faculty earn considerably less than peers at other institutions. Most devote 60-80 hours per week to teaching, and teach 6 + courses per year, most of which are offered only on an alternate year basis (meaning that they have a far greater repertoire of courses than at larger schools). The college reduced its pension contrbutions considerably; personal savings make that up. This information is available for those who want to speak informedly.
Navigator (Brooklyn)
When UVA went co-ed back in the seventies (by court order no less) it started the downward trajectory of the sister schools, where one of the unspoken perks were invitations -and free transportation- to the big party weekends at UVA where one could meet a nice boy from a rich family. Now that the big school is coed, it does not make much sense to sequester oneself in the suburbs of Lynchburg. I am surprised the school lasted this long. They must have spent a lot of endowment money to stay afloat until now.
cbd212 (massachusetts)
Actually, they have an $85 million endowment - not bad for a school that some think just existed to catch "a nice boy from a rich family." The reality is the women who attended Sweet Briar got fine education and it wasn't about catching "a nice boy from a rich family."
Susanna (South Carolina)
It is Mary Washington, not Sweet Briar, that was the "sister school" of UVa, the state of Virginia's public woman's college. (My mother was a member of Mary Washington's Class of '58.)
Frances (new York)
My degree is from a Virginia liberal arts college, that at the time of my graduation was facing challenges to its all female status from many fine Virginia colleges that were beginning to allow female applicants. Many of my classmates transferred to those coed schools. I recall that my graduating class numbered only about 100.

Before the end of the last century, Randolph-Macon Woman's College changed its name to Randolph College and became a coed institution. This was, and still is, a controversial decision.

The Sweet Briar decision seems sudden, but surely must have been in the cards for decades.
Pamela (Herndon, VA)
Looking back over the years, we're able to see some of what has been exposed over the past three weeks. The biggest problem, however, is that we've been told for years that "Sweet Briar is flourishing." No one had any reason to doubt the President or the Board before March 3rd. This decision blindsided us all.
Lawrence (Wash D.C.)
Apparently "flourishing" didn't include being financially sustainable.
Humanista (Atlanta, GA)
Just supposition, but I bet if the board said we are in financial trouble, the downturn would have been FASTER. Who wants to go to a college with financial difficulties?
JjChris (Chicago)
As several pieces elsewhere (the Chronicle of Higher Ed, Inside Higher Ed) have mentioned, this is especially devastating for the faculty. They have lost their careers, pensions and homes in one fell swoop, in a cruel and shortsighted decision that benefits the college's creditors at the expense of its students and faculty.
The closure wasn't announced until after the hiring season for next year (academic application deadlines commonly are set for Oct - Dec), meaning faculty weren't given enough notice to apply for other jobs - not that there are many out there to begin with.
Once they do get on the job market, the values promoted at small colleges like SB (devote all your energy to teaching, not publishing) will wreck their chances for the few entry-level jobs that are out there. Academic jobs go to those with the best research publication records, period - their years or decades mentoring SB students will count for very little.
To make matters worse, faculty were encouraged to build houses on SB land - which they will now lose or be paid little for, as the assets are sold off for pennies on the dollar for creditors.
Hope (Cleveland)
You are wrong about the chances of the faculty getting hired elsewhere. Whereas research universities want new faculty who will be actively publishing, many, many small colleges and universities are interested in having faculty devote the vast majority of their time to teaching, with perhaps some small scholarly output. What you have stated is an exaggeration.
Sara (New York)
There is an oversupply of Ph.D's in virtually every field of study that Sweet Briar offers. Its faculty will find themselves competing with much younger graduates, with more research and publications (because of credential/experience creep). Your comment shows little familiarity with the academic job market.
DAN (Washington)
I think that the handwriting should have been on the wall for all faculty members at Sweet Briar. With enrollment falling and demographics changing, it should have been clear years ago that the college was not headed in a sustainable direction. The smart thing to do would have been to bail two to three years ago.
Peter Melzer (Charlottesville, Va.)
The leadership is disingenuous to the hilt. Imagine the college still admitted students last fall into four-year programs with full knowledge that this was not going to happen.

Perhaps the leadership should have sought competent financial advice years ago. Perhaps board and president should have been honest about failed investments. Now they lost all credibility. How can we believe a word this president is saying? How can he show up in front of the students straight-faced? The college is not bankrupt. The leadership is bankrupt, morally.

Fire the president. Sack the board. No golden parachutes.

If spending restrictions on the remaining endowment can be lifted, sufficient funds may be available to continue with a new game plan.
Walker (NYC)
They even admitted next year's freshman class! Heartbreaking to those young women. Beyond disingenuous. Outright cruel disregard for the hard work and dreams of young women.
SweetVixen (northern virginia)
The board & now new president allowed the college to send out acceptance letters & awarded scholarships for next academic year knowing full well that they were planning to close. This is fraud in my book of not legally so. College staff knew little if nothing of the secret closure. They did not deposit the checks though of the students who committed to attend next year. Not only are current students scrambling for a back up an but those who planned to attend next year are now also scrambling.
Jessica Baker (DC)
Worse - the college admitted transfer students *this* semester! And they hired people too.
pete the cat (New york)
I've known a number of women who are Sweet Briar alumnae. They are not only accomplished women, but active contributors to their communities. Women's schools produce strong women and this school, I hope will, remain alive.
Audrey (not NY)
thumbs up from a proud women's college graduate! The benefits of a women's college are something no one (male or female) can ever understand until they have experienced it. Bryn Mawr class of "95
Megan C Maloney (Oak Ridge)
Bryn Mawr's community has been incredible to us -- both before and during this crisis. Thank your for all your continuing support! SBC '08
R Nelson (GAP)
In the fall of 2004 the president of my alma mater announced that it would have to go co-ed the following fall in order to survive. Many alumnae and students fought the decision, but the administration had laid out the economic realities and given the community time to get used to the idea. The school did survive, not only going co-ed but also expanding its offerings beyond the usual liberal arts subjects; accepting non-resident students such as women re-entering the academic world after raising a family; and increasing opportunities for its students by offering cross-enrollment with nearby colleges, requiring off-campus internships, and encouraging involvement in the village community, while retaining its best academic practices, such as small seminar classes and individualized majors, and its rich traditions of student life. All credit goes to a responsible, orderly administration that made a difficult choice and didn't wait until the eleventh hour. I'll always be grateful for the invaluable experience of a women's college--and glad that it thrives in its current incarnation. Kudos to President Lisa Marsh Ryerson, congratulations to President Thomas de Witt, and all good wishes to incoming President Jonathan Gibralter.
Wells College alumna, class of '66,
Scott (Seattle)
The sad and suspicious part of this is the lack of detail in the announcement and run-up to the announcement. While the situation may indeed be dire, the abrupt and final decision without supporting evidence shows the disingenuousness of the board and the college leadership.
Woolgatherer (Iowa)
And we should somehow care that those making this decision, in this way, are treated with vituperation? We need more of this sort of reaction in our nation, toward corporations as well.
Angela (Annapolis, MD)
Thank you. Yes yes and yes! This is the major point.
HKGuy (New York City)
I realize to those involved it's gut wrenching, but a tiny elite Eastern college that most outsiders considered a glorified finishing school closing is hardly a tragedy.
SBC98Grad (Washington, DC)
It may not be a tragedy to many, but to those of us who credit Sweet Briar for making us the women we are, it's like the death of a family member.

SBC used to be a finishing school, but that hasn't been the case in decades. Imagine 500+ women going to class in pajama pants and sweatshirts; definitely not the "finished" look. :)
SBC15 (Sweet Briar)
SBC98Grad, Sweet Briar was never a finishing school. I don't understand where that information comes from other than the fact that during the early 1900s even if a woman was educated they were still expected to have "lady like" manners. So unless we went down in academic rating, the first graduating class had a MAJORITY go on to grad school. NO finishing school would provide a route grad school. PS. I have done massive studies on SBC history and women's colleges in general and how they were effected by public opinion of woman. For example, if you look at Ralph Adam Cramm's original design, there were covered walk ways connecting the buildings....why you ask? Because woman were believed to be delicate and harsh elements weren't good for them and if they were in nice clothes, they couldn't just put pants and boots on to go walking through the rain and snow. Also SBC use to have single women faculty in the dorms with the students as a means of protection. It was just the way society viewed woman at the time, but at SBC those women went on to grad school and careers not to be finished. That was NEVER the purpose and the never the reality of SBC to be a finishing school
SweetVixen (northern virginia)
Sweet Briar was never a "finishing school" though that is a persistent misconception & stereotype even among some alumnae. It was founded as a college for women fashioned after similar colleges up North. By elite do you refer to all the students (check those #s!) who are receiving financial aid? Learn something about the subject you are commenting on before you press "submit."
Deborah Murphy (NYC)
My heart goes out to all of the fine women who have attended Sweet Briar. You nearly won me over, back in 1986 when I was looking at several women's colleges, but I chose Wells in Aurora, NY and am so glad I did, if only to attend a college that I can believe will remain in place in the academic marketplace. It was a close call for us, for many years, and in fact my dear school went co-ed in 2005. I'd like to believe that an open process and transparent finances on the part of Sweet Briar could open the door to saving the school, via co-education. I wish that Sweet Briar students/alumnae/faculty had at least one more option in addition to closing the school. You are all in my thoughts.
John Stafford (Bristol, RI)
The right thing to do would have been to run down the endowment and allow the remaining three classes to graduate. Very strange -- $85 million endowment, 60% restricted -- so $34 million unrestricted. Less than that in debt. Some deferred maintenance (I have about $25K for my house -- sigh).

I get the problem though. Bleeding cash every year. President tap dances year after year, finally pushed out. New hard-nosed guy brought in who realizes its a financial disaster. $3M in alumnae donations is a drop in the bucket. Probably they have a a big accounts payable problem, pension problem, severance problem, real estate (those faculty houses are a mess) problem, etc. If you have an honest conversation with stakeholders about dire financial pressures your enrollment in the incoming class plummets. Lots more bankruptcies to come in higher ed, many won't be this clean.
Nank (NY)
The right thing to do was to let the entire Sweet Briar community know that the straits were dire and they needed to act or the college would close. They have enough money in endowment to support themselves for several years without bankruptcy; their assets are far greater than their debt. Then the entire college community would either raise more money or not, but the students and alumni would have a choice. Instead, this president and his board simply made a unilateral decision based on a report from a financial agency. Closing the college this abruptly serves no one. It is a crime.
cbd212 (massachusetts)
1. Sweet Briar could petition the court to break loose some of the entailed $.
2. The board and interim president could open the books to show where the $ has gone.
3. There is an alumna spear headed fund raising campaign could insure the future.
4. How much money has the board given to the college? Do they all give? Or is Sweet Briar not number 1 in their philanthropies?
5. How did this happen with no one sounding an alarm? I smell a developer rat....
SweetVixen (northern virginia)
Yes! They never had that honest conversation with stakeholders though and are still silent when those stakeholders inquire about their "obvious" decision. That combined with their paternalistic, condescending tone has alumnae ready to get to the bottom of things. $3M in a few short weeks with no notice...many would love to have the backing of such dedicated alumnae. Too bad our new president & bd didn't value their greatest asset - those same alumnae.
Nora (Maryland)
Change it up. 500 students on 3000 acres is too few. The colors and the name is"sweet" all right but not attractive to a wide range of students, of both sexes. Pink, green and sweet is yesterday. Use the 3000 acres for something wonderful -- agricultural education, technology buildings, conferences. The sky's the limit. University of Virginia satellite campus, or any other Virginia, southeastern school. The "historically" wealthy alumnae will embrace change and should give to that cause. And open up the books, something isn't right.
uofcenglish (wilmette)
They will be sold for development, rather than to fund the college which was their mission. This is just awful.
Edith Spencer (Portland, Oregon)
Indeed. I have no doubt that the alums of this college are smart, accomplished women- but structure seems to be that as a finishing school for women aspiring to marry bankers instead of being women who become bankers.
Mike M (Ridgefield, CT.)
Never, ever, ever, trust someone if they are living a very comfortable upper middle class life these days and they tell you they are in a high executive position in a "non profit".

In the old days, it was the local pastor. Now it's charities and education.
jefsantamonica (New York)
Or the NFL .....
Vox (<br/>)
This all smells bad...

Some questions I hope will be answered:

How/why did this come as such a surprise to faculty, alums, and current students? Why was the board and former president Parker cloaking the situation in such secrecy?

What sort of golden parachute did Parker get before flying the coop to Carnegie Museums? Were they aware she was essentially managing the place into the ground? Some 'recommendation' for a 'manager'!

And does this allow the board and college to trash contracts and pensions fo faculty/staff since they're essentially 'bankrupt'? Is THAT the mostivation for closing, rather than merging?

And how much were these "financial" consultants--and others--make?

"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."
Stephen J (New Haven)
If a college declares "financial exigency," all the usual rules about tenure go out the window. You don't actually have to be closing, just at high enough risk of closing to justify that declaration. It's an unusual move (terrible for public relations!), but it can be done. So while this move probably is being taken in part to get rid of faculty, that isn't the entire reason.
F. Schmid (Los Angeles, CA)
There is something wrong. Some trustee or friends of a trustee is going to make a lot of money. Count on it.
uofcenglish (wilmette)
This is just an excuse to liquidate the land holdings and make a profit. You are absolutely right, and some board members are profiting for sure.
A. Stanton (Dallas, TX)
Horses and everything. Seems like a nice place and a pity to close it down.
I'm always surprised by the number of billionaires who buy overpriced paintings and endow universities, art museums and hospitals without seeming to derive much fun from their activities. Here's a chance for Sheldon Adelson and Warren Buffett and Bill Gates and the Koch brothers to get away from all the stuffy people they have to put up with and be a hero to some nice young girls. Go to it, guys.
Sophia (chicago)
Did you read the article? Permit me to quote:

"Of students who entered in fall 2014, Mr. Jones said, 43 percent received Pell grants, federal aid for needy students; 37 percent are first-generation college students; and 32 percent are minorities. Like other small women’s and liberal arts colleges, Sweet Briar has tried innovating to stay competitive," and, "the school has been generous with scholarships."
Deborah Spencer (New York City)
I did not attend this college, but I was member of Sweetbriar's creme de la creme Junior Year Abroad program in Paris in the late 1960s. I am sad if this truly excellent program has fallen by the wayside. It changed my life.
Stephen J (New Haven)
There is no question but that small liberal arts colleges are struggling - especially those that try to remain single-sex institutions. But there is indeed something fishy about the board's sudden action. Board members are supposed to represent the interests of all the college's constituencies, with students, alumnae, and faculty members high on the list. To make a sudden decision to close up shop without warning or discussion sounds more like the board of a sleazy for-profit real estate development firm.

Which raises the other big questions. What happens to the $85,000,000 endowment? And even more: what happens to the idyllic 3,250 acre campus with its 18 miles of woodsy trails and lovely old buildings? All to be sold off, obviously - in order to pay $28,000,000 in debt? And why did the Board evidently think everything was okay as recently as last year - raising funds for and building an $8,000,000 library is hardly the move you make when survival is at stake.

Maybe the Board members are well-intentioned but were asleep at the switch until now. Or maybe they're equally off-base now. Or maybe, just maybe, there is something rotten in the state of Denmark.
SH (Charlottesville, VA)
Completely agree - something's very rotten about this!
ncprof (Ohio)
They actually can't sell the land, which is a part of the problem. One of the conditions of the land's donation was that it could only be used for education purposes.

And building a library *is* a move schools make. What schools like Sweetbriar need are students, and students want new facilities. You build them in hopes that the students will come.
QED (New York)
Or maybe decisions like building the eight million dollar library pushed the college past the point of no return. Sounds like there is more debt than is being revealed courtesy of the prior administration.
Here (There)
No point in bailing out the boat until you've plugged the hole in the bottom. The school appears to be losing sizable sums each year. Unless the alumnae plan on financing the school permanently, I don't see what good a bailout will do.
jane gross (new york city)
This really touches a nerve as a 1969 graduate of Skidmore College, when it was still all-women, we had to wear skirts to dinner, say grace and learn to pour tea and walk at the same time. None has ever been of much value. Girls also brought their horses, which were boarded at the nearby harness track. And those of us who would never otherwise have ridden a horse, learned on rejects from the Saratoga yearling sale, in other ALMOST thoroughbreds. In what I assume was no more than a coincidence, my brother, 5 years younger, was in the first coed class at Vassar. By second semester of his freshman year, when men were 1/8 the school population, they already ran the student govt, the newspaper, the literary magazine etc. And graduation for that class of 1974 included both the old-fashioned daisy chain and a cross-dressing class speaker, later to go on to trans fame.
Mary Ann Donahue (NYS)
Re: "learned on rejects from the Saratoga yearling sale, in other ALMOST thoroughbreds."
Not sure how to interpret this statement. Yearling thoroughbreds from the Saratoga sale would not be suitable mounts for novice Skidmore riders. Maybe the rest is meant to read on other ALMOST thoroughbreds.
Cantabrigian (Cambridge, MA)
Sweet Briar should have fired President Jones. Instead, President Jones fired Sweet Briar.

What arrogance.
Vox (<br/>)
What about the prior president who (as usual with these things) skated free to bigger and better things, leaving a disaster in her wake?

Education (again!) mirrors business in what "ceos" get away with before leaving...
SweetVixen (northern virginia)
Vox - the previous president is taking a break from facebook we hear. She runs the Carnegie museums in Pittsburgh which just announced layoffs.
NineShift (River Falls Wisconsin)
As a majority of university presidents in the survey cited now understand, the financial model for higher education has been broken since the start of the 21st century.
Megan C Maloney (Oak Ridge)
How can the Board of Directors and President claim they did everything to reverse declining enrollment when they didn't do something as basic as hiring a new Dean of Enrollment, Dean of Admissions, Director of Development, and Director of Alumnae? You need a full and competent admissions staff to organize a presence at college fairs and recruit students. They didn't fundraise, despite the obvious interest: alumnae have raised $3.2 million at Saving Sweet Briar, Inc. since the attempted closing announcement, and they didn't ask alumnae to reassign the $8.8 million used to build the new library to more immediate and necessary costs. This closure and the actions of this incompetent administration make no sense. The Board of Directors and President need to make the minutes of their meetings and the full financial documents of the college open and accessible to stakeholders, so that people who back the mission of the college can go forward with more innovative and competent restructuring.
QED (New York)
As a private institution, they don't have to make anything available to you.
Robin Rabbit (Hamilton, MA)
When my daughter was applying to college two years ago the admissions department at Sweet Briar was by far the most sincere, interested, ernest and personal of all the admissions departments we encountered (and we looked at over a dozen schools). I would not blame the demise on the admissions personnel - they were outstanding one and all.
Fitzcaraldo (Portland)
Well, I'm sure the nation's going to be in a whole lot of hurt because this small college that specializes in equestrian is closing.

Probably won't see another American win a Nobel prize in Physics for generations.
A. Stanton (Dallas, TX)
Fitzcaraldo, are you the same Fitzcaraldo that doesn't know how to ride horses and won the Noble Prize for physics not?
SweetVixen (northern virginia)
Yes, SBC has an amazing equestrian program but it is one of MANY colleges & universities who have equestrian programs. These programs cost far less than the basketball & football & other sports programs at other universities & colleges. Do some homework before you prove how little you know.