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

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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, “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

  • R. Scott Dixon, CPA

    The Fletcher Williams will states that the original trustees, which she appointed by term #13 of her will, will cause a corporation to be “procured,” and the trustees to appoint its initial Board of Directors. That much is clear by her language. There was no mention made as to whether the corporation will be “nonprofit” and I am not sure that term even existed in 1901. So clearly a corporation was formed by terms of a will. So who is (are) the owner(s)? Do the terms of the will effectively create a trust that would be the owner of the corporation? One other thing was made clear by Mrs. Williams. None of the land conveyed for use of the “Sweet Briar Institute” corporation can ever be sold or alienated by the corporation. She used the word “forever” many times in the will. How would the corporation “alienate” the land? Can any smart legal scholars shed light?

  • Sue Wolfrom Naumann

    Thank you for a well written and informative article. I believe that we are only at the tip of the iceberg. It is obvious that the 3200 acres is a prize to someone interested in developing it. It located beside a new VA major highway. I just think that the BOD thought we would just wring our hands and cry into our embroidered hankies!

  • Kathleen Pegues

    Sweet Briar College sits on 3,250 acres of pristine land–not 800 acres. It is one of the largest college campuses anywhere and one of the few remaining colonial-era parcels.

  • Ellen Attar

    The college sits on 3,200 acres of pristine land and has many historic buildings on the campus. A few individuals gathered power unto themselves and forced non compliant individuals off the Board, one of whom had pledged 3 million dollars to the school. The head of the SBC Board of Directors, Paul Rice, donated 10 million in one bequest, to UVA for an engineering program, but has donated less than 60,000 to Sweet Briar. He has donated many millions of dollars to both is high school and UVA. As director of the Board, he has been either a leader in corruption or a leader of incompetant trustees. Other directors have left under duress as well. The Board’s refusal to hire an admission director and refusal to conduct a fund raising campaign raise red flags and indicates that their true intent has been destruction of the school. This is enforced by the report of a commercial shredding truck working outside the office at 3 am, busily shredding evidence. We may never know what the true motive is, but this Board and President should not have the power to destroy a college that is loved and supported by alumnae, and one can only hope that all the evidence comes to light in a trail court and the Board will at least be ousted so that the college can be saved.