Sweet Briar College to remain open after settlement approval

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Amherst County Attorney Ellen Bowyer led the legal charge to keep Sweet Briar College open, taking the case to the Supreme Court of Virginia June 4.
Photo: Christian Hommel Amherst County Attorney Ellen Bowyer led the legal charge to keep Sweet Briar College open, taking the case to the Supreme Court of Virginia June 4. Photo: Christian Hommel

Students, faculty, and supporters of Sweet Briar College are breathing a sigh of relief that the home of the Vixens will stay afloat for at least another year.

Following months of uncertainty over the future of the women’s liberal arts college after President James F. Jones announced in March the school would close due to “insurmountable financial challenges,” Bedford County Circuit Court Judge James W. Updike Jr. approved a settlement June 22 to keep Sweet Briar open for the 2015-2016 academic year.

According to the signed settlement agreement and order, plaintiff Ellen Bowyer, Amherst county attorney, demonstrated that Saving Sweet Briar Inc., an alumnae organization founded to ensure the continued operation of the school, would transfer at least $12 million to the college in a series of installments beginning with $2.5 million on July 2. A second installment of $6 million will be transferred 30 days later, and 30 days after that’s received, a third installment of at least $3.5 million will be transferred.

Following receipt of the three installments, Sweet Briar will seek consent from Attorney General Mark Herring to release $16 million from the college’s endowment for the continued operation of the college.

Sweet Briar’s leadership will also undergo major changes before the start of the new school year, giving the nonprofit Saving Sweet Briar control. The settlement stipulates that at least 13 members of the college’s board of directors will resign, and at least 18 new board members will be elected. Current board members will appoint new directors from a list of candidates provided by the plaintiffs. The appointees will constitute a majority and control the board.

Jones is expected to step down within seven business days, and Phillip Stone, former president of Bridgewater College, will assume office.