Virginia court delays plan to close all-women's Sweet Briar College

Reuters News
Posted: Jun 09, 2015 4:47 PM

By John Clarke

(Reuters) - Students at Virginia's all-women Sweet Briar College got a little breathing room on Tuesday when the state's Supreme Court temporarily blocked a plan to shutter the school, saying that a plan by administrators to close may violate trust law.

The decision overturned a previous ruling that had prevented a temporary injunction, according to court documents.The ruling orders the case to be returned to circuit court where a judge will decide whether a temporary injunction will be issued to thwart efforts to close the 114-year-old college, located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in southwest Virginia.

Ellen Bowyer, an attorney for Amherst County, Virginia, said administrators and opponents of the closure, including many alumnae, are involved in closed-door negotiations."The controversy of the college's scheduled closing is far from over," she wrote in the court document.

Sweet Briar Institute, which runs the college, argues the school closing did not require court approval because it operates as a corporation. Opponents say the school is controlled by a trust, which would make its closing subject to court approval.

School officials in March said they would close the 3,250-acre campus on Aug. 25, to ensure an orderly shutdown after students either completed the year's courses or graduated.Officials blamed the closure on dwindling enrollment, the declining appeal of single-sex institutions and an inadequate endowment.There were some 47 all-women's colleges operating in the United States and Canada in 2013, down from 230 in 1960, according to the Women's College Coalition.Some 532 students were enrolled at Sweet Briar in the last academic year, down from a high of 647 in 2008, according to college officials.

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Opponents of the college's closure say college President James Jones Jr. and the governing board may have overstated financial concerns as a reason for shuttering the school.

(Reporting by John Clarke in Washington; Editing by Scott Malone and Eric Walsh)