Virginia Supreme Court to Consider Appointing Fiduciary for Sweet Briar This Morning

June 4, 2015; Houston Chronicle

NPQ has been watching the apparent impasse between the board of Sweet Briar College and large numbers of its stakeholders for more than two months. With the great number and breadth of skeptics among the college’s public, and with time such a critical factor in the college’s future, the situation needs a hero in the form of a credible fiduciary.

That’s one of the matters that will be in front of the Supreme Court of Virginia this morning when the court will be asked by Amherst County Attorney Ellen Bowyer to temporarily block the board’s plans to close Sweet Briar College in August. This is an appeal of a circuit court ruling where the judge refused to enjoin the college. Ellen Bowyer is arguing that the college is a trust based on the will of its founder and Sweet Briar’s decision to close must be approved by a court, while the board asserts that as a corporation, the decision to close should be left with its board.

The problem comes when few appear to trust that board to make a fair decision that attends to the interest of the public. As Kenric Ward has written for the site Watchdog.org, “Sweet Briar sits on a rather large, 800-acre parcel, which is situated near an economic development zone. There are players involved on the board of directors and off campus who may have some interest in using that acreage for something other than a women’s college.”

Whether or not that asset figures into the decision, all involved deserve the clarity that would come with an independent fiduciary.—Ruth McCambridge