Sweet Briar officials call faculty lawsuit 'an effort to secure a financial windfall'

'Neither court rulings nor political pressure' can fix the financial situation

Sweet Briar College officials say professors suing the institution to stop it from closing are looking for personal financial gain, Susan Svrluga reports for the Washington Post's "Grade Point" blog.

On Friday more than 50 faculty members filed a lawsuit alleging the closure is a breach of contract, disputing administrators' claim that it faced insurmountable financial challenges, and seeking more than $40 million in damages if the school does shutter.

Background

Sweet Briar 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 county attorney, an alumna, and now faculty have all filed lawsuits seeking an injunction to stop the closure.

The decision to close may have seemed sudden to students and alumnae, but it actually had been planned for months.

Michael Shepard, an attorney representing the faculty, alleges that administrators refuse to provide faculty with the information it used to decide to close the college. The lawsuit points out that in the last five years, the school's endowment grew from $85 million to $95 million—and net assets increased from $126 million to $135 million.

Sweet Briar's response

The college reacted to the lawsuit in an emailed statement on Monday. The damages sought by faculty are larger than the college's available unrestricted funds, the statement points out, and suggests that certain faculty members are more interested in maximizing their individual personal financial interest than... that Sweet Briar preserves sufficient resources to provide severance payments to all eligible faculty and staff."

Awarding the damages would "guarantee the College's inability to complete an orderly wind down of operations" as "neither court rulings nor political pressure can improve Sweet Briar's financial condition," the statement read.

"The intent of the lawsuit appears to be an effort to secure a financial windfall" it says (Svrluga, "Grade Point," Washington Post, 4/27).

The takeaway: Sweet Briar College officials call the latest lawsuit against it an " effort to secure a financial windfall."


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