The Sweet Briar College community is coming together to protest the college’s closure and raise funds to potentially keep it alive. According to Sweet Briar College officials, past surveys of alumnae indicated it wouldn’t be possible to raise the required $10-$12 million annually required to keep the college in operation.
However, passionate alumnae have taken a stand to save their alma mater by forming Save Sweet Briar, an organization started to raise needed funds and fight the school’s closure. The group has hired a legal team, Troutman Sanders LLP, and formed a board of directors.
Though aware of the financial difficulties Sweet Briar College and similar institutions have faced in recent years, many felt blindsided by the news that the college would be closing its doors this summer. The group’s online hub, SavingSweetBriar.com, has so far raised $2.2 million in pledged donations. Their posted goal is $20 million.
However, neither Sweet Briar College nor its alumnae association are affiliated with the Save Sweet Briar campaign. On its website, the college urges current students to pursue transfer opportunities instead of counting on the fundraising effort.
“They should not be opposing our efforts; they should be encouraging our efforts,” said Karen McGoldrick, class of 1979, who studied English and creative writing and was actively involved in Sweet Briar’s equestrian program during her undergraduate career. “They gave us very little notice to try to turn the school around. I feel that any alum that helps clean out the college of its greatest resource, which is its people and its students, is participating in its demise. We need to stand firm right now and look for solutions instead of assisting those whose job it is to dismantle her.”
Reid Weisbord, Vice Dean and Professor of Law at Rutgers University, recently reviewed Sweet Briar founder Indiana Fletcher Williams’ last will and testament and determined that the college’s land cannot be sold or divided. The fate of Sweet Briar’s 3,250 acres and its equestrian center still hangs in the balance.
Sweet Briar College has been known for its equestrian program and successful IHSA and ANRC teams. The riding program announced on its Facebook page last week that its horses will be offered for sale at the end of the spring semester. The original donors of each horse will be given first right of refusal before the horses are listed at market value to the public. The news was met with mixed messages of hope that the riding program won’t ultimately disband, offers to purchase horses and more questions.
“Why would you be asked to buy your horse back? Because let me tell you, one of the things that bothers me: Where is that money going? If the school is being dismantled, and it’s a matter of paying off your debts first, it just seems to me that the whole thing is a gross miscarriage of justice and a betrayal,” said McGoldrick. “There’s a level of cruelty to it that is just stunning. If you’re going to close down, do it in a way that shows you’re grateful to those that contributed and you just want to repay their kindness and their generosity in kind. But the whole thing is just unbelievably mishandled in every detail.
“It’s a very close-knit community where no one can get lost because they won’t let you get lost. You are nurtured there; it’s a special place,” concluded McGoldrick, a dressage trainer and novelist. “We have a short amount of time to do a great deal of work.”