How closure was communicated
Students and staff were called into a town hall meeting, completely unaware of the life-changing news about the closure. There were no reports shared, no warning of dire financial circumstances, no rumors of layoffs preceding the meeting. Several students assumed that the town hall meeting was about more routine issues on campus. When the closure was announced, it must have felt like the drop of a bomb.
Why I feel personal empathy
When I read about how the closure was announced at Sweet Briar, I felt sick. I work in higher ed at an institution that enjoys an excellent reputation and does well in national rankings. In 2008, during the economic downturn, the President held a town hall meeting. I attended and tried hard not to appear anxious. My heart was pounding as the President got up to speak. Universities -- prestigious ones like Princeton -- were laying off staff at alarming rates. Our President systematically went through a Powerpoint presentation with charts and numbers -- there was open-ness about our financial status and where we were vulnerable. Strategic cuts were announced, but staff were spared. The theme was, "We're okay for now, and here is why." Our leadership was honest, open, and reassuring, and she took questions afterward.
Looking back I am ever more appreciative of where I work and we operate.
What a contrast with what Sweet Briar students, staff, and alumni experience! They were shut out of the discussions, and informing them was an afterthought. Even if the financial situation is truly without hope (and I think that there IS hope), the handling of the closure was callous, and the Board has been largely absent ever since. The SBC community is living in a bad case study that will be a subject of analysis for years to come.
More questions than answers
I don't have a financial mind, and I can't speak knowledgeably about SBC's finances. That said, there are many unanswered questions about how the SBC Board arrived at the conclusion that SBC's financial situation was beyond hope. And the lack of transparency is suspicious. Educational consultant Jack Marshall states:
"When there's life in something that's worth saving, then you go to the mat to save it; you don't just capitulate. I found the decision troubling. It shows a lack of character to me. It shows a tired board."More discussion of financials and controversy...
- Questions for the leaders of Sweet Briar College (Lynchburg News and Advance)
- More scrutiny of the decision to close Sweet Briar (Inside Higher Ed)
- In the matter of Sweet Briar College
- Virginia lawmaker questions legality of Sweet Briar closure (WJBC7)
- Was Sweet Briar's Board rash or reasonable? (WVTF)
- Should Sweet Briar College really be closing? (Kalix Communications, a marketing blog)
- Nonprofit Governance and the Closure of Sweet Briar College (Stites on Estates)
- Sweet Briar alums hire Richmond-based law team in effort to stop closure
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