Sweet Briar

April 29, 2015; WDBJ-TV (Roanoke/Lynchburg, VA)

Readers know we have been carefully following the case of Sweet Briar College, where the college president and board have voted to close the school only to be met with a stakeholder revolt. As I have written previously, this kind of situation illustrates why boards must understand that part of being good fiduciaries is actively listening to constituents. An insular boardroom places the organization and the interests of stakeholders at risk.

Yesterday, Bedford County judge Jim Updike ruled that 2007 Sweet Briar alumna Jessica Campbell’s suit against the closing of the college could go forward. The ruling was made based on the judge’s opinion that there is a rational basis for finding that a contract exists between the school and its students.

The judge also issued an injunction against selling, destroying, or transferring any of the college’s assets through September. Campbell also asked, as other actions had, that the college be enjoined from closing, but the judge turned that request down.

Also yesterday, saying that time was of the essence, Amherst County’s attorney Ellen Bowyer filed an appeal of a previous decision made by Updike that also turned down a motion to enjoin the college against closing. Bowyer filed with the Virginia Supreme Court, seeking a speedy decision on her motion to block the closing of Sweet Briar College.

This places the many stakeholders trying to halt the closing of the school in a better position. A suit filed by faculty—also arguing that they have contracts that have been violated—has yet to be heard.

Meanwhile, in a radio interview yesterday, Gov. Terry McAuliffe invited the parties involved to pull him into the situation. “If somebody wants to come to me with a creative plan—I’m open to it; I’ll look at anything.”

After his monthly “Ask the Governor” call-in show on WTOP, McAuliffe said, “If people want to come to me and get me personally involved, I’m all for it. Anything I can do to promote jobs and economic development—these are 300 jobs down in Amherst; this is a big deal to us,” he said.—Ruth McCambridge