In a stunning and welcome development on the eve of a scheduled court hearing on Monday, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring announced today that “a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) has been agreed upon by Amherst County Attorney Ellen Bowyer, Saving Sweet Briar, Sweet Briar College and the Office of the Attorney General outlining a plan to keep Sweet Briar open.” According to the Attorney General’s office some key terms of the agreement are:
1. Saving Sweet Briar would commit to deliver $12 million in donations for the ongoing operation of the College for the 2015-2016 year. The first $2.5 million would be delivered by July 2, 2015.
2. The Attorney General would consent to the release of restrictions on $16 million from the College’s endowment for the ongoing operation of the College.
3, Saving Sweet Briar and the Bowyer Plaintiffs believe that these funds would be sufficient to operate the College for the 2015-16 academic year.
Change in Leadership
4. Upon court approval of the Settlement Agreement, at least 13 members of the Board of Directors of the College would resign, and at least 18 new members would be elected to the College’s Board of Directors. These new directors would be elected by the current Board from a list of candidates nominated by the plaintiffs in the litigation involving the College pending before the Circuit Court for Amherst County. The new directors would constitute a majority and control the Board.
5. Seven business days after court approval of the Settlement Agreement, the current President of the College will resign, and it is anticipated that the new Board would appoint a new president and other officers for the College. It is anticipated that the new Board will appoint Phillip Stone, who has agreed to serve as the new president.
6. Seven business days after court approval of the Settlement Agreement, it is further anticipated that the new Board would act to continue academic operations of the College beyond August 25, 2015.
7. Saving Sweet Briar and the Bowyer Plaintiffs represent that they believe that the College has a sustainable future and that, other than by release of restrictions on the College’s existing endowment (except as set forth herein), funds will be available to operate and transform the College to reach that sustainable future.
The agreement was a victory for alumnae, faculty and others. According to a report published less than an hour ago on Inside Higher Ed,
As soon as word of the deal started to spread, alumnae who have fought against long odds started to celebrate. “Never doubt that a small group of women can change the world. We saved Sweet Briar!,” said one of the first comments on Twitter.
“Today’s settlement is an answer to the prayers of many and a powerful validation of the value of fighting for what you believe in,” said Sarah Clement, chair of Saving Sweet Briar.
It was not, however, entirely clear what the deal would mean for Sweet Briar faculty. According to the Attorney General’s announcement “Faculty and staff of the College will be eligible to receive certain negotiated severance benefits and may be offered employment by the College following the aforementioned change in leadership.” On April 24, some 50 Sweet Briar faculty members filed suit in court asking for a declaration of right to continued employment, $42 million in compensatory damages
for the tenured faculty plaintiffs, $2 million in compensatory damages for the non-tenured faculty plaintiffs, reinstatement of the plaintiffs employment, and temporary and permanent injunctions halting any actions toward closing the college. Although the settlement agreement “provides for dismissal of litigation against the college,” it was not obvious (at least to this blogger) whether that applied as well to the faculty suit.
Although some faculty members have already found other work and are leaving the area, others are committed to working to revive the college (see http://www.newsadvance.com/news/local/sweet-briar-faculty-make-plans-to-stay-or-to-go/article_80d88ae0-16f2-11e5-a62e-cbef4b96de99.html). However, as AAUP Associate General Secretary Jordan E. Kurland wrote to now-outgoing SBC President James Jones last week, “The SBC-adopted 1940 Statement of Principles calls for all faculty members dismissed prior to the expiration of their appointment, excepting only cases involving moral turpitude, to “receive their salaries for at least a year from the date of notification.” That same minimal year of salary is required in subsequent AAUP documents on layoffs resulting from financial exigency or discontinuance of program. Kurland’s letter urged “in strongest terms that, without prejudice to any further arrangements, salaries for all full-time faculty members [with over two years of service] will be paid through March 2016.”
The AAUP will continue to insist on this minimal level of fairness and to do what we can to support SBC faculty efforts to gain appropriate compensation and, where they so desire, retain their positions. But in the meantime we congratulate the Sweet Briar alumnae, faculty, students and others in the community on their victory today.