Timing Could Be Deciding Factor in Sweet Briar Case: Will Court Act Quickly to Prevent Damage?

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Time's running out

April 9, 2015; Washington Post

Correction notice: This article was corrected from the original verison published earlier today to reflect that Jessica Campbell has dropped her complaint against Sweet Briar College. 


Currently, a suit is underway to keep the doors of Sweet Briar College open. An injunction filed by Ellen Bowyer, the Amherst County attorney, has been filed on the grounds that charitable funds are at risk and that a closure would violate the terms of the will under which the college was founded.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring yesterday filed his own brief regarding the second case, arguing that the county attorney does not have legal standing to bring the case. The attorney general’s opinion presumably will carry a lot of weight, and it may result, if the court agrees, with a dismissal of that case even before the merits of the case are heard.

Previously, the closure was also being challenged by alumna Jessica Campbell. Motions associated with Campbell’s action sought to stop the sale of assets of the college and require the college to continue operation for the whole next school year. However, once Saving Sweet Briar Inc. announced that Bowyer had also filed a suit, Campbell dropped the complaint and instead is filing a motion to “nonsuit” “Campbell v. Sweet Briar College.” Meaning, “in the interest of judicial economy,” Bowyer’s suit will be the only one moving forward. 

Timing could be the deciding factor now, since students and faculty must decide soon where they will spend the next year and some have already applied for transfers to protect their educational and professional futures. The lawyers are asking that the process be jumpstarted by the court to prevent the whole thing from becoming moot.—Ruth McCambridge




  • Michael Carl

    Virginia Delegate Ben Cline, a lawyer, has tweeted “Herring gets it wrong. Amherst (the county) can bring suit in addition action by the Attorney General per VA Code 57-59(D), which states:

    “Whenever the Attorney General, or any attorney for the Commonwealth or the attorney for any city, county or town has reason to believe that any charitable or civic organization, commercial co-venturer, professional fund-raising counsel or professional solicitor has operated, is operating or is about to operate in violation of the provisions of this chapter, the Attorney General, attorney for the Commonwealth or the attorney for any city, county or town, in addition to all other actions authorized by law, may bring an action in the name of the Commonwealth against such charitable or civic organization, commercial co-venturer, professional fund-raising counsel or professional solicitor, or their officers, directors, or other agents to enjoin the continuation of such violation, solicitation or collection, or the engaging therein, or the conducting of any acts in furtherance thereof and for such other relief as the court deems appropriate.”

    Seems pretty self-explanatory. The Attorney General of the Commonwealth of Virginia is disregarding the code of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

  • SBC Mom 2017

    It is ironic that the photo selected for this article is an Hourglass. The “Interim President” James Jones Jr. referenced in a recent interview how he put an Hourglass on his conference table to symbolize the importance of time and how quickly it can run out. A very telling move when you analyze, piece together, and try to assimilate the information that this weak Board of Trustees had been accused of both doing and not doing. They spent time meeting secretly (a select few as was reported in part by Sweet Briar Alumna, Mrs. Jones in a the Class of 69’s “Keeping Us All Together” Blog last month), contacted the Attorney General via the high priced Sweet Briar Legal Team to be “Clorox Clean” with their process/ shut down methodology and essentially told everyone except the stakeholders (faculty, staff, students, alumnae and community leaders) what was going to happen. Meanwhile on the side of what they were not doing, what is becoming clear is that there has been a ongoing passive decline in leadership (and I use the term leadership loosely,) direction and stewardship of Sweet Briar College and it looks to be an intentional downward slide. No Admissions Director, lack of students, No Capital Campaign, reduced income, poor decision after poor decision.

    Mr. Jone’s actions since moving into Sweet Briar House last summer indicate that he has been closing shop since he arrived. He knew when he was hired what was a stake and has done exactly what he was hired to do, make it stop. The vote to close Sweet Briar may have occurred at the end of February, but the downhill slide was nothing new and they clearly either wanted it to happen or were powerless to end it in any positive manner. I believe the truth will be borne out int the legal discovery process and it will not reflect well on the key culprits in this Suicide move. This Board failed to CHANGE and time marched on. The Board perpetuated a culture of keep ones pearls on, acting properly (not uncivil or dissenting) and doing whatever we did before because that is all we know. That just didn’t’ cut it in today’s world of higher education. Does that mean that the decision they made to close is correct? No, not on any level. The lack of transparency and failure to communicate and literally working in secrecy betrays all inherent duties entrusted in this very Board of Trustees. The Duty of Care and the Duty of Loyalty were absent. Where was the oversight of the Board, what is the mechanism?, Are they representative of its stakeholders? Did they communicate with their constituents? Can you see their governing documents, bylaws and minutes? None of those items are public information and in the absence of true leadership the end result was a catastrophic BETRAYAL of TRUST.

    Sweet Briar’s community takes its Honor Code very seriously. Why didn’t our own Board of Trustees do the same? Because they could and the rest were duped along the wat. They pushed out staff, Board Members were asked to leave, and brought in “Consultants’ to do the work THEY were entrusted to perform. For the life of me I cannot understand how we have a Chairman of the Board in Mr. Rice who gives Millions to nearby UVA yet withdraws a 500k contribution to Sweet Briar College? Why is he the Chairman? Why not give Sweet Briar millions for a Science Center, or a Yoga Center? Is UVA more worthy? Is it because your loyalties are to UVA and you simply want our land for some private benefit? By killing this institution and everything they have stood for, what does Mr. Rice stand to gain? A clearly successful individual in business doesn’t understand how to be strategic and bring in appropriate resources, or chooses not to restructure to ensure the success of the very college he is entrusted to guide and protect? Really? There is strategy involved in this wind-down mentality and it is NOT in alliance with what Indiana Fletcher Williams stipulated in her will.

    Soundbites about Sweet Briar being too far from a Starbucks float through he Media offered up by our Leadership as a reason for closing. Really? WE COUD LEARN SOMETHING FROM STARBUCKS and it is not the proverbial location, location, location. It’s about people and why you exist. To wit:

    It’s just a moment in time—just one hand reaching over the counter to present a cup to another outstretched hand. But it’s a connection. We make sure everything we do honors that connection—from our commitment to the highest quality coffee in the world, to the way we engage with our customers and communities to do business responsibly. – Starbucks –

    Starbucks looks at and understands all of the things this Board FAILED to do: Brand Consistency, The Experience, Customer Service, Language, and Mission. Which of those items did this Board and its ancillary culture attend to? None that represent’s Sweet Briar’s interest. It starts at the top in any organization and what Sweet Briar College needs is a CULTURE that is authentic, honorable and consistent. A culture of connectivity has launched #SaveSweetBriar. I would guess that (by their own admission) the current Board struggles with how to utilize technology and connect in any meaningful way and yet they are entrusted to guide Sweet Briar to infinity and beyond? We’d have been better off with either a Starbucks Barista or Pixar’s Buzz Lightyear leading the way.

    This situation could have been prevented. Hopefully with the Court’s help and not just the recent amicus brief/ political (hidden) ties that bind suggesting WE have no standing. We believe we do and that in time (tick tock, tick tock) those who failed Sweet Briar College will be shown the door to allow others who are ready,willing and able lead be allowed to make the right decisions. IT’S TIME. I’ll call the Moving Van.

  • PhysicsDoc

    This standing issue is a bunch of BS and Herring knows it. He told Ms. Bowyer about two weeks ago that she did in fact have legal standing and that she could proceed. Now at the eleventh hour he does a 180 as if he were speaking about this for the first time. Is ANYONE in the press going to research and report on this? Delegate Ben Kline has come out publicly and said Herring “gets it wrong” according to the VA statue in question.

    So is Herring just a dim bulb? Did he not know the section of the code that Kline is talking about and that Bowyer referenced in the court documents (which are all over the internet by the way), or is something else at work? Or is Herring perhaps saying that the law is whatever he says it is no matter what the law itself might say? This whole affair is indeed making the state of Virginia look like a banana republic. It’s embarrassing and how I wish there were an adult in the VA state government who would step in and put a stop to this nonsense. Jones did illegal things regarding donor money at Trinity College while he was president and the CT AG halted it. Jones is most likely trying the same thing now (albeit for different reasons and is probably just the face of the effort, Rice possibly the motivator) and the VA AG tells him to go right ahead, no problem. Wow.

    SBC does have some financial problems but it does NOT need to close (see Prof. Gottlieb’s analysis), especially when so many now want to and most likely can save it, albeit with possible changes to its structure. So why are Jones, Rice, and now definitely the VA AG fighting to defend closure? Does this make logical sense? And why aren’t the media asking these questions and trying to find answers?

  • Campbell

    Stay tuned, Vixens! Many are seeking action further than Updike was willing to go. More story to come. Don’t lose hope for our current and future students as well as current and retired faculty and staff, many of whom own homes on campus. We do not grieve the loss of a college. We stand united for.the rights of real people, not to be tossed aside as collateral damage. Vixens, like the Phoenix, are rising.