Sweet Briar Professors Join Alumnae in Fighting to Save Sweet Briar College, Condemn Lack of Transparency and Intimidation by College Administrators
Lynchburg, VA – A group of Sweet Briar College professors joined forces today with thousands of alumnae fighting to save Sweet Briar College from closure and assailed Sweet Briar administrators for their lack of transparency in their handling of the matter. The professors also accused administrators of intimidating faculty by warning that severance packages for faculty could be eliminated or diminished if legal efforts to block the closure are launched.
“As members of the Sweet Briar faculty, we are standing today with the thousands of outraged alumnae on behalf of our students and demanding a reversal of the planned closure of Sweet Briar College,” said professors Claudia Chang and John Ashbrook.
“The college’s decision to close Sweet Briar without giving alumnae, faculty and students the opportunity to help develop a viable plan to save the college is unconscionable,” said Ashbrook. “We knew the school was in trouble, but not to this degree. If the administration and board had been more forthcoming and told the alumnae and faculty we were in this much trouble, I am sure we would have seen the same level of engagement as the Save Sweet Briar movement, but with more time to turn us around. Many of us suspected the previous two presidents and the board were not innovative thinkers and made poor financial decisions. And some of us, not me personally, but some feel that if we speak out there will be repercussions. However, if the faculty and alums give up, there will be repercussions for traditional liberal arts schools across the country. It isn’t just Sweet Briar’s fight. It’s a fight for liberal arts. Churchill said it best: ‘Never surrender!’ The students of Sweet Briar deserve better as do the faculty, staff and alumnae.”
“I want to go on record in saying there are so many faculty who really feel trapped, conflicted and fearful to speak for themselves,” said Chang, who has served on the college faculty since 1981. “On behalf of those faculty, I am ready to stand up to the administration, join our alumnae and fight this closure tooth and nail.”
Sweet Briar Assistant Professor Marcia Thom Kaley has been a member of the faculty for the past nine years. “My deep disappointment is in the fact that I know financial problems of this magnitude don’t happen overnight,” said Thom-Kaley. “The faculty was told that as of October 2014, the auditors had signed off on their audit of the financial state of the college without raising any alarm bells. The administration should have involved faculty, staff, students and alumnae three years ago in the fight to save our beloved home. If someone is bleeding – you do not stand there and watch them die – you call an ambulance – you enlist everyone you see to help you stop the bleeding. At Sweet Briar we have a wonderful leadership program called “Step Up” but it seems to me the Board of Directors sat down when it came to saving our school.”
The campaign to save Sweet Briar that Chang, Ashbrook and Thom-Kaley are joining has grown in intensity since it was launched hours after the stunning closure announcement on March 3rd.
Saving Sweet Briar, a Virginia not-for profit 501(c)3, was legally formed earlier this week to accept millions of dollars in pledges that have been pouring in since the school’s closure was announced. The not-for-profit also hired Troutman Sanders LLP, a leading law firm with more than 600 lawyers in offices located throughout North America and Asia, to mount a legal challenge to the planned closing of Sweet Briar College. The legal fight will be coordinated by Troutman Sanders’ Richmond-based higher education team, led by partners Ashley L. Taylor, Jr. and William H. Hurd. The team has previously handled several cases involving Virginia colleges and universities.
Saving Sweet Briar expects its legal arguments to be presented next week.