Sweet Briar College faculty and staff members filed a motion on Monday voicing support for a lawsuit that seeks to prevent the closure of the school.
The lawsuit, filed by the Amherst County Attorney last month, may stop the all-women's college from closing by alleging that the administration violated the will the school was founded under and used donations illegally.
Ellen Bowyer, on behalf of the Commonwealth of Virginia, is seeking an injunction to prevent the school from closing and to remove its Board of Trustees and president, replacing them with a fiduciary.
Sweet Briar officials announced in early March that it planned to close at the end of the current academic year. The announcement stirred up protests among faculty and alumnae, who quickly launched a crowdfunding campaign and moved to block the closure.
The decision to close may have seemed sudden to students and alumnae, but it was actually planned for months. According to the lawsuit, this means Sweet Briar officials may have violated Virginia state laws by soliciting charitable gifts even after they had—secretly—decided to close the college.
Eighty-four faculty and 65 staff members joined to file the friend-of-the-court motion. According to the brief, the group plans to file a discrete lawsuit alleging President James Jones was improperly elected—therefore making his decision to close the school illegitimate. The group also alleges that college officials did not provide proof of financial need and did not have a valid basis to end employment.
Faculty and staff say they may lose not only their jobs, but also their homes. Many own houses on campus and will be forced to sell them because they do not own the land.
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring on Thursday filed his own amicus brief saying that Bowyer and her office cannot bring a lawsuit in the name of the Commonwealth because they do not having the standing to do so. Herring and Bowyer previously met to discuss the case but did not come to an agreement on how to move forward.
Sweet Briar response
College officials say state law does not support the claims in the case.
"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," reads a Sweet Briar statement in response to the motion. "The College also intends to oppose the motion on the grounds it is procedurally improper," it continues (Svrluga, "Grade Point," Washington Post, 4/13; Jacobs, Business Insider, 4/10).
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