After nearly closing, Virginia's Sweet Briar names new president

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 02, 2015 7:15 PM

By Gary Robertson

RICHMOND, Va. (Reuters) - Sweet Briar College named a new president on Thursday in what supporters hope will be a new beginning for the private Virginia women's college that was on the verge of closing.

The 114-year-old college near Lynchburg was pulled from the brink of closing by a court settlement last week that provided for new leadership and an infusion of money.

As called for in the settlement, Sweet Briar's board of directors resigned and a new board stepped in on Thursday, naming attorney Phillip Stone as its new president.

Stone is a former president of Bridgewater College, a small coeducational school in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley.

This week Saving Sweet Briar Inc., a group of alumnae and supporters, delivered $5 million in donations to the school as part of the settlement mediated by state Attorney General Mark Herring.

The group is required to deliver a total of $12 million by early September.

The donations enable supporters to petition the attorney general's office for release of $16 million from the college's endowment to support operations in the coming academic year.

In March, Sweet Briar announced it was closing due to "insurmountable financial challenges," citing dwindling enrollment and a drop in the appeal of women's colleges among other factors.

According to the Women's College Coalition, there were only 47 women's colleges in 2014 in the United States and Canada, sharply down from 230 in 1960.

This past spring Sweet Briar's enrollment, once more than 700, was 532 students.

"We saw over the past four months the tremendously fierce commitment Sweet Briar alumnae have to their beloved Alma Mater," Stone said in a statement.

"We are open for business," he said.

Located on a sprawling 3,200-acre campus about 150 miles southwest of Washington, Sweet Briar is known nationally for its equestrian teams.

The announcement that the college would close on Aug. 25 triggered a national fundraising effort by alumnae and others.

(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Sandra Maler)