This post has been updated.
A group of faculty and staff members at Sweet Briar College has filed a motion supporting a lawsuit that seeks to stop the school from closing, and warns that they plan further legal action.
The president of the small private women’s college in Virginia shocked faculty, students, staff and alumnae when he announced last month that the 114-year-old school would shut down forever at the end of August. Since then, supporters of the college have raised more than $5 million and mounted efforts on several fronts to stop the college from closing.
The faculty group also plans to file suit challenging the closing, according to the motion, in part because it claims James Jones was not properly elected to the position of president of the college, invalidating his leadership of the board toward closure.
They argue that the college leadership had no legitimate basis for terminating their employment, as officials provided no proof of financial exigencies.
The group of 84 faculty and 65 staff members filed a friend-of-the-court motion Monday supporting a lawsuit brought by Amherst County Attorney Ellen Bowyer.
Bowyer has asked the court for an injunction, arguing in part that charitable funds have been misused, and that closing the college would violate the terms of the will under which it was founded.
College officials have said the claims in that case are not supported by Virginia law.
A spokesman for Sweet Briar sent a statement in response to the faculty group’s action: “While we understand that the faculty and staff involved with this motion are concerned, the College does not agree with a number of the underlying assertions. The College also intends to oppose the motion on the grounds it is procedurally improper.”
In a significant setback for those seeking to keep the college open, last week Virginia Attorney General, Mark Herring, argued that the county attorney did not have standing in the case.
The faculty and staff argue that they have a significant interest because not only do they stand to lose their jobs, but many own houses on the Sweet Briar campus. They don’t own the land, so the closing of the college leaves them forced to sell their homes.
The faculty statement questions the abrupt announcement by the college president that Sweet Briar must close within months due to “insurmountable financial challenges.”
The county attorney’s lawsuit challenged that as well, and faculty and staff maintain they have “every reason to believe the College was on sound financial footing.”
Some faculty members have delved into the college’s enrollment, financial aid and other financial data and strongly questioned the president and board’s analysis of the challenges.
They had already held a unanimous vote of no confidence in the president and board.