AG Hosts Mediation Session on Sweet Briar’s Future

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May 6, 2015; Roanoke Times

With three lawsuits progressing through the courts and the governor weighing in on the need for a positive resolution, the office of Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring hosted a meeting yesterday to see if open and direct dialogue would promote an agreed-upon way forward. (The attorney general was not himself present at the meeting.)

As readers may remember, the board of Sweet Briar College voted to close the school on March 3rd, only to find themselves openly opposed and sued by any number of stakeholder groups, including alumni, faculty, donors, and the local town of Amherst with which the college has reciprocal arrangements.

Herring did not attend the three-hour session involving 25 participants, which was facilitated by Mark Rubin, executive director of the Virginia Center for Consensus Building, but delegated to Deputy Attorney General John W. Daniel II and other staff attorneys. Also present were Williams Mullen attorneys representing the college and board; Troutman Sanders lawyers representing Saving Sweet Briar Inc., the new nonprofit established to act as a vehicle for stakeholders wanting the college to remain open; and Amherst County Attorney Ellen Bowyer, who filed the one of the three suits that has progressed to the state supreme court.

Bowyer asked also that attorneys who filed separate suits attempting to block the college’s closing on behalf of faculty and a group of students, parents and alumnae be present, though they were not originally invited.

The court has granted a 60-day injunction blocking Sweet Briar from spending money raised for operating the college for shutting the institution down and has barred the college from selling or disposing of any assets for six months but has stopped short of issuing an injunction to block the closing.

Not for nothing, but we would have liked to have seen Herring sit through the meeting, since his position in the whole affair was made questionable by an amicus brief his office filed earlier that essentially attempted to undercut the standing of the county attorney, who was taking action. He did show up to wish the participants good luck, and in the end we can only hope the process moves forward with all due haste.—Ruth McCambridge