The Sweet Briar Donor Acknowledgement Letter Used in Suit to Block School’s Closing

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Save Sweet Briar

April 1, 2015; Business Insider Australia

The lawsuit filed by the Commonwealth of Virginia to block the closing of Sweet Briar College long enough to take stock of the situation alleges the college continued to accept gifts until just weeks before it announced the board’s decision to close. It specifically mentions a million-dollar estate gift from alumna Teresa Tomlinson, who’s now the mayor of Columbus, Georgia. That gift was acknowledged with the following letter…




…which now is an exhibit in the lawsuit filed by the state.

Tomlinson says she was never notified that the college was in financial distress, nor that Sweet Briar had already started the process of closure.

“My husband and I don’t have children,” Tomlinson said, “and I don’t have nieces and nephews, and so we have long planned on this being our legacy, our gift to Sweet Briar College, because we wanted it to go forward and continue with its great mission of educating women leaders.”

There is no question that the letter raises issues of integrity. The handwritten note, adhering as it does to good form, is made ugly by the context of an imminent vote for dissolution and does appear to raise issues of proper leadership and governance.—Ruth McCambridge


  • Plato429

    Thank you for the continued attention to the many questions surrounding the Sweet Briar College battle. Mayor Tomlinson is not alone because many alums confirm the college administration continued phone-a-thons while it was orchestrating the shutdown. Moreover, college development and fundraising staff were in donors’ homes asking for substantive donations / donors’ annual pledged giving, right up to the announcement. In addition, Reunion Chairs and Reunion Committees were instructed to solicit donations up to the day of the announcement with no warning whatsoever from the Administration to pause or stop such solicitations of their fellow classmates/alums. Alums acted in good faith; development staff not in the know acted in good faith; faith in leadership, trust in leadership. Only for leaders to make liars out of the students conducting these phone-a-thons; the alums chairing fundraising committees; the development staff who were sitting across donors’ kitchen tables up to just days before the surprise. We feel used and, yes, harmed.

    I cannot state if the above actions are legal. That is for a judge to decide in a court of law. It may very well be legal. However, is it ethical? Is it ethical for the previous President, Jo Ellen Parker, to leave with a public statement stating that Sweet Briar College is poised to flourish, just one semester, one semester before the shutdown is announced? Is it ethical to be destroying potential student-application records prior to the announcement to *ensure* the college cannot continue? The questions go on and on regarding the matter and debate of ethics in our society. Will this be the case that makes it known to alums across all colleges across the nation, that the law does not consider alums as “stakeholders”? We invested in a degree from our respective academic institutions and while again, the law may state to such effect, thousands are shaking their head at hearing, from administration leaders who sought our hard earned moneys, that although we donate and although we are graduates, we have “no stake” in this matter.

    It would be interesting for someone to research the giving patterns of the Board of Directors, including when they donated and when such donations either dropped off or stopped and if they withdrew pledges (There is a rumor that Chairman Paul Rice made a pledge of $500,000 that he withdrew in the past couple of years). Thousands of alums were asked to donate up to within days of the “leadership’s” announcement.

    There are many many questions surrounding the Board’s abrupt announcement. Sweet Briar College can thrive under visionary and responsible leadership. For more information please visit and on Twitter #SaveSweetBriar.

  • James E. Post, JD, PhD. John F. Smith, Jr. Professor of Management, Emeritus, Boston University Questrom School of Business

    Trust, the essential ingredient in every philanthropic relationship, depends on accountability and transparency. Sadly, both are missing in the Sweet Briar case. In my opinion, Interim President Jones flat out misled Mrs. Tomlinson about the importance and impact of her gift. Clearly, the $1million gift was not going to avoid the dissolution decision. Beyond the president’s behavior, one must ask “Where was the board leadership?”. Surely the board leadership knew of the gift, may have been involed in courting Mrs. Tomlinson, and likely celebrated her generosity. This case drips with duplicity and breach of trust.

  • Sandy Wierman

    Everyone who has ever given or considered giving to a non-profit in the Commonwealth of Virginia should be watching this case. It’s about more than a college closing. Whether your charitable gift is used in the manner you intend could be at the whim of a few board members, and not all may interpret an organization’s mission in the same way. Where is the accountability?

    Members of the Board who did not toe the line were pressured to resign. A departing board member wrote to Chairman Paul G. Rice: “Why do we even have a board? All decisions are made not even by the Executive Committee but by a small sub group of the Executive Committee, then passed on to the full board for rubber stamp approval. In fact, just this week the Interim President selection was presented to the Board and it wasn’t even felt necessary to take a vote! Is this good governance?”

    Sweet Briar College’s closure was not a failure due to financials (a convenient and timely smoke screen). What’s at stake here is close to $200 million in assets, not least of which is 3,250 acres of pristine rolling Virginia countryside that sits about a mile from the recently completed US Highway 29 bypass, the major north-south route through central Virginia. Job 1 – kill the college.

    Even at the fateful meeting in Washington, DC, board members had only a few minutes to look at the consulting group’s report on which the college’s future hinged. They had to hand it back “because it was incomplete”. There was no discussion and no verification. Even a month after the closing, no one else has seen this report. So, the decision to close the college was based on an INCOMPLETE report?!!!

  • Christina O’Leary

    Yes it certainly does raise issues of integrity. Thank you for highlighting this aspect of the situation. Please the other exhibits supporting the call for an injunction, including the 2014 letters from two board members forced out for questioning the very puzzling inaction by the board leadership in the past few years.

  • Leise Scheppe Hammer ’92

    As a Sweet Briar alumna, I am shocked and embarrassed to see such a letter from our Interim President. That he would accept such a generous gift with full knowledge of the closing of my alma mater is disappointing beyond words.

  • SBC Mom 2017

    So much for serving the public trust in an ethical and effective manner. TRUST is at the core of not only fundraising but the very roles each of and every member of the Board represents. This is not just an oops we made a mistake, this was done with full knowledge of what was to come. I can’t wait to see the timeline of this whole debacle in the discovery process. At no point was there the assumed and required ethical standards of honesty, accountability, transparency or communication with any stakeholders.

    Ms. Tomlinson is indeed a stakeholder, a highly esteemed graduate of SBC, a true professional who represents her community in the manner she learned at Sweet Briar, honorably. She’s not a faceless, nameless student (as Ms. Parker treated my daughter and family), she is an elected official and also the 2015 Commencement Speaker! This is how we treat our VIP’s? Did they think she would just roll over, keep her pearls on and be ok with their actions? Fortunately, she has not rolled over, but I feel sure her pearls are intact and her experience is key to the SavingSweetBriar effort. I cannot wait to hear her speech at the 2015 SBC Graduation. Summon the Media – we have a live one!

    Overall giving would be very interesting to analyze, and our Development Office knows full well who is supportive and who is not. I’d love to see the donations given by the Board so we are looking at real numbers, not just figures or “Simple Math” as described by Mr.Jones via the press. Additionally what are we paying Mr. Jones for this “Leadership and Stewardship” inherent in his “Interim President” position, and exacly how much has the Jones Family contributed to SBC? Why do we care? Because you are literally trying to cost us her life (SBC’s). No sum can reverse the damage done but we will do everything possible to do what is right because you failed. You did not have the COURAGE to lead, pure and simple. True Leaders LEAD, It’s not always easy but it is the right thing to do.

    As my children were taught…Nobody likes a liar. In fact, OMISSION of information is just another form of lying particularly when it is done with INTENT as was the case here. This is a life lesson with so many variables they are seeing played out in front of them. I only wish we weren’t in the middle of it all. Mr. Jones may get his 15 minutes of fame and a few sound bites, but his legacy will be tarnished forever. We will persevere in spite of a failed administration by working together and focusing on the mission, vision and values that make Sweet Briar unique. Onward and upward!

  • Louisa S. Greene

    My heart breaks for Teresa Tomlinson & her husband who have been duped by the current Sweet Briar President & development dept. officials. The greatest good to come out of this travesty will be that donors will ask tougher questions abt Sweet Briar’s future financial stability. As an educational institution granting donors tax-exempt receipts, the college is breaking a long-held trust of abiding by the donors’ wishes. Shame on the President for accepting the Tomlinsons’ bequest. He shd have held off accepting their heartfelt generosity until after the Board met & decided the college’s future. Most shameful is the way the President & current Board have left the students & faculty in a state of crisis.
    May the Commonwealth of Virginia state attorney’s office move quickly to save Sweet Briar from the immoral & irresponsible leaders in power today. At the very least , the state shd put a stop order in place re closure until a thorough investigation can be conducted.
    This crisis is a PERFECT case study for a top-notch consulting firm or MBA school to step in & provide strategic advice. Better yet – reach out to the Presidents of Mount Holyoke, Smith, and Bryn Mawr Colleges for guidance on how to keep a women’s college financially healthy! As a Mount Holyoke alum & development professional, I know there is no better solution to a financial dilemma than the resolve, commitment and leadership of a well-educated group of women. Mary Lyon, the founder of the first 4-year college for women – Mount Holyoke – 1837- would NEVER have allowed Sweet Briar to close. She wld have told her Board to get out of the Board room, go out into the world ( internationally and domestically) and find a way to solve the problem & to do good while searching for a solution. This message should have been the example the Sweet Briar President communicated. Admitting defeat & closing the college so suddenly was a poor example of leadership to his student body, faculty & alums. The Commonwealth of Virginia will, I pray, do what is morally & legally right to protect the incredible legacy of the many women who have made Sweet Brisr the unique educational institution it is AND shall be in years to come. Onward pink and green forever!

  • SBC4Ever

    The $500k gift that Rice withdrew is no rumor. This is a fact known to people on campus and comes from a reliable source; it occurred under Jo Ellen Parker’s presidency.

  • MDelledera ’81

    Since 1901 every student who enters SBC signs a commitment to the honor code
    “Sweet Briar women do not lie, cheat, steal, or violate the rights of others. Therefore, I pledge to uphold all standards of honorable conduct. I will report myself and others for any infractions of this pledge.”
    As stated in the student handbook, “Violations of the honor code are adjudicated through the Honor System and can result in warning, probation, honor probation, suspension, dismissal and/or expulsion. Each offense is judged individually as to its severity and appropriate sanction. This pledge and the honor code that it represents are an integral part of life in the Sweet Briar community.”
    Is Mr. Jones and the board exempt from this — NO! Have they violated the very essence of SBC – to be honest, trustworthy, caring of others’ rights? YES! Have they failed to uphold all standards of honorable conduct – even now as they refuse to resign? YES! Mr. Jones and Members of the board – YOU HAVE BEEN FOUND GUILTY OF VIOLATING OUR HONOR CODE – YOU MUST STEP DOWN OR BE EXPELLED FROM YOUR POST! Resigning is the only honorable thing left for you to do.

  • dcmamiller

    This sounds more like a Ponzy scheme than a legitimate college board, with Mr. Jones as the lead. As mentioned, Sweet Briar has $200 million in assets which certainly could have been leveraged if there were actual financial issues. The financial devastation which supposedly prompted the announcement has not been proven anywhere. It has simply been stated as fact by the president. And because he has stated it as fact, everyone is supposed to accept his “word”. When Sweet Briar is compared with the other Virginia Colleges of similar size, she falls in the middle or near the top for performance.

    Without any doubt, there are dirty deals already planned. Many suggestions have been made, from developing the land as a resort to allowing a gas pipeline through the property. Hopefully, someone wiill come out with the truth before it is too late and expose the real reason.

    Sweet Briar represents many things to many people. At at time when much is mentioned in the news about women’s inequality, it represents an institution for training women leaders. It represents the ideal institution where professors actually taught students rather than focusing soley on research and allowing teaching assistants teach our future. It is a place where the individual matters and has a voice, no matter what political leaning or religious leaning. It is a place where beauty is found in the surrounding countryside and harmony with nature. Sweet Briar College has inspired a small group of women to raise their voices so loudly as to be heard on both the national and international level.

    My prayers are that those we now still want to trust in government will do the right thing and remove from power those who we used to trust in our beloved college’s business. There is a team ready, waiting and available to take over the college in order to try and save her. They should be given the opportunity!

  • Katherine Barrett Baker

    Honesty. Trust. Honor. Civility. Decency. These are the personality traits any stakeholders of any corporation expect from their President and BOD. What we have here, ladies and gentleman of the “Court of Public Opinion” is Dishonesty, Mistrust, Dishonor, Uncivil behavior, Complete lack of decency. Look at this document very closely. Think about what it really says. What is says about the President of a college. What is says about what is going on behind closed Boardroom doors. What it says about what is going on behind all of our backs. On March 3rd, In announcing by total surprise and in absolute secrecy, the closing of Sweet Briar College, what the purported Interim President, COB and BOD have done to those Sweet Briar students, their hard working parents, and their entire families is abhorrent, unjust, rude, beyond the pale, mean, unjust and plainly wrong. Never even mind what they have done to and how they have treated the 20,000 Alumnae, the 350 Faculty and Staff members, and the Amherst Community at large. They all TOOK without asking and without transparency. Indiana Fletcher Williams GAVE all that she had, fortune, land and furniture, to found The Sweet Briar Institute, because she knew only what we GIVE remains our own. Please donate $10 today to Your daughters and grand daughters will thank you, and we thank you 🙂