Sweet Briar suit gets court date as activists say financial situation better than school claimed

The fight to save Sweet Briar College in Amherst heads to the Virginia Supreme Court on Thursday, June 4. Photo by Norm Shafer The fight to save Sweet Briar College in Amherst heads to the Virginia Supreme Court on Thursday, June 4. Photo by Norm Shafer

As the battle over the fate of Sweet Briar College heads to the courtroom, a forensic accountant hired by the nonprofit Saving Sweet Briar has issued a report finding that as of August 2014, the school’s financial picture did not warrant the decision to close.

“An initial review of Sweet Briar College’s finances shows that the College was not in dire financial straits just eight months before the College’s Board and Interim President announced they were closing the College for financial reasons,” reads the report by R. Steven Spitzer, a Winchester-based CPA with the firm of Yount, Hyde & Barbour.

Among the information Spitzer presents: In a July 30, 2014 ranking of financial health by Forbes Magazine, Sweet Briar received an “A” and placed 88th out of 900 higher education institutions the magazine reviewed. Additionally, Spitzer cites Sweet Briar’s high scores on the Composite Financial Index (CFI), an index used by the Council of Independent Colleges to assess the health of educational institutions, and on a separate composite by the U.S. Department of Education, which gave Sweet Briar the highest score possible.

“Today’s independent report validates what we have said from the beginning,” said Sweet Briar alum and UVA Law grad Sarah Clement in a press release from Saving Sweet Briar.  “The numbers used by the administration to justify their decision to close Sweet Briar College simply do not add up. Today’s report also underscores the urgency of gaining access to additional information from the College so we can assess the school’s true present day financial standing.”

A hearing on an injunction to block the school from closing filed on March 30 by Amherst County Attorney Ellen Bowyer on behalf of the Commonwealth of Virginia is scheduled for a hearing on April 14 at 10am in Bedford County Circuit Court. A second injunction filed the same day by 2007 Sweet Briar grad Jessica Campbell demanding the school remain open and begin operating as a co-educational institution will have its first hearing in the Bedford Circuit Court on Friday, April 10 at 10:30am, according to Campbell’s Winchester-based attorney Elliot Schuchardt. He said the legal proceedings have been moved to Bedford because the Amherst court has recused itself.

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