Just add students: Sweet Briar rescue plan wins judge's OK

AP News
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Posted: Jun 22, 2015 3:31 PM

BEDFORD, Va. (AP) — With a rescue plan receiving a judge's blessing Monday, Sweet Briar College is now reaching out to two key groups: students and faculty.

Circuit Court Judge James Updike has approved a mediated plan to reverse a decision to close the 114-year-old women's college. The decision was met with cheers and a standing ovation, according to media reports.

Saving Sweet Briar Inc., the nonprofit alumnae group that spearheaded the women's school salvation, immediately appealed to prospective students. They urged students who had transferred and incoming first-year students who turned elsewhere to consider Sweet Briar again.

The group is also asking faculty members who had taken jobs elsewhere to re-assess their decisions.

About 530 students were on the campus in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains this past spring, when Sweet Briar's leadership said overwhelming financial challenges would shutter the school in August.

It's not clear how many students have transferred since then, but some schools that accepted Sweet Briar transfers agreed to free them if Sweet Briar somehow resumes classes for the 2015-16 school year. Faculty numbers also were not available.

Despite the uncertainty, alumnae who will underwrite the first year of the college's resurrection celebrated the weekend settlement.

"The Sweet Briar community awoke today with smiles on our faces and gratitude in our hearts for what has been accomplished in saving our alma mater," Sarah Clement, chairwoman of Saving Sweet Briar, said in a statement.

The months-long campaign to keep open the 3,250-acre campus prompted several lawsuits and a frantic campaign to raise money to sustain the school, at least in the short term. Updike's approval of the rescue plan dismisses the pending litigation.

Attorney General Mark Herring announced the mediated settlement late Saturday.

It calls for Saving Sweet Briar to provide $12 million, with $2.5 million due by July 2; a change in leadership; and the easing of restrictions on $16 million from the college's endowment.

Sweet Briar's incoming president called the efforts to pull the college from the brink "heroic" and predicted a long future for the school.

"I want to make it clear that my commitment is not merely to keep the college open for the coming school year but to help it embark on a path for its next 100 years," Phillip C. Stone, the former president of Bridgewater College, said in a statement.