In the wake of an announcement that Sweet Briar College would close because of financial troubles, faculty and alumni have mounted efforts to keep the school open. Save Sweet Briar, an alliance of faculty and alumni dedicated to the cause, was formed. The group has gotten about $3.2 million pledged to the cause, but James F. Jones, the college president, has said the school will need far more: about  $250 million.

On Monday, the group mounted a legal challenge to the closure. Lawyers from Troutman Sanders, hired by the group, sent a letter to lawyers for the college, demanding that the president and board of directors step down.

The lawyers argued that the school’s financial picture might not be as gloomy as Jones has painted it.

We are deeply concerned that your clients’ decision to close the College’s doors appears to be unwarranted. The Board and the President decided to close the College despite having an endowment of nearly $90 million, with assets substantially exceeding liabilities and no accreditation issues. Indeed, the 2013 and 2014 audited financial statements for the College show that net assets (total assets minus liabilities) actually grew by over $4 million from 2013 to 2014. This change was directly attributable to endowment gains and alumnae contributions.

They also charged that the president and board of directors may be violating state law by closing the school, alleging that they solicited donations for Sweet Briar even as they intended to close it.

Additionally, we believe that the Board and President failed to carry out their legal obligations under Virginia’s charitable solicitation laws. Virginia law makes clear that funds solicited for the general purpose of the College must be used for that purpose … Thus, any use of any funds solicited for the College’s general purpose – operating an educational institution – to carry out activities to close the College would violate Virginia’s charitable solicitation statute.

Tuesday, officials with the school responded, disputing that closing the school would violate state law: “Neither President Jones nor the Board of Directors has violated any duties or statutes.  Such allegations are wrong and unfair,” the school said in a statement.

A change in the College’s leadership will not change Sweet Briar’s insurmountable financial, recruitment, and operational challenges. It would instead further destabilize an already fragile situation. The Sweet Briar College Board of Directors and the College’s President will continue to serve in their positions.
While we believe the group trying to prevent closure is well intentioned, its desired outcome, should it be realized, would have far-reaching and negative consequences for the College’s students, faculty, and staff.
Threats of litigation to keep the College open could also delay efforts to determine how restricted funds may be utilized and further jeopardize Sweet Briar’s ability to close our operations responsibly, including meeting our responsibilities to students, faculty, staff, and creditors.
The College’s focus will continue to be on providing support to our students, faculty, and staff as they navigate this difficult transition.