Comment of the Day: “Comment of the Day: ‘Why The Sweet Briar College Fight Matters'”

Sweet BriarThe Sweet Briar closing, which was first raised as an ethics issue in the post, “The Sweet Briar Betrayal, has attracted many new readers and commenters to Ethics Alarms from the all-women Virginia college’s alumnae and supporters. Things are starting to move fast in the situation, with an investigation looming and questions being asked by the state legislature. Enlightening us further on this troubling story is faculty member Marcia Thom Kaley; here is her Comment of the Day on the post Comment of the Day: “Why The Sweet Briar College Fight Matters”:

I can assure you that your comments, concerns and, yes, demands are absolutely in the forefront of everyone’s minds as we begin a new week. The faculty (of which I am a member) are beginning to ask the same questions each of you asked. We have been reeling from the implications of severance/no severance – simply in a state of shock which has evaporated into a sense of betrayal and anger. I am mostly concerned for our senior faculty who have, literally, spent most of their academic lives at home on the campus. I am equally – deeply -concerned for the students who are attempting to find other homes – if even temporary ones – in which to continue their educations. The callous actions of our Board simply cannot be condoned nor tolerated.

I have always heard that when an institution begins to bring in the consultants, things are already out of hand. Indeed, to my memory, we brought in two separate groups of consultants at, I am sure, enormous (yet undisclosed) expense. Apparently, some time ago the brilliant findings of one of these groups was to merge Sweet Briar and Hollins. Now, I recently received my Master’s Degree from Hollins – but what crazy person thought this solution was a good plan? The cry of “what the hell is going on” is resounding across the campus and, indeed, across many, many public corridors. All I can tell you, is that we will not be dismissed nor ignored. We simply owe it to the strong, empowered women who are fighting for us to join them in their stance to protect the legacy of Indiana Fletcher Williams. I hope to meet you both. I hope to laugh and cry with my students who are truly in the middle of the most remarkable “experiential learning experience” of their lives as we celebrate success. I hope to, truly, be remembered as one of the people who was never afraid to stand up and fight with women who believe that there is much, much more at stake here than faculty jobs or severance pay. This is about honor, integrity and responsibility. This is about what “Sweet Briar Women” ARE all about….

I would also like to point out that time and time again, “consultants” have been the folks who seemed to have been running the college (literally running it into the ground) or, better yet, not caring enough to run it AT ALL! Apparently, they advised against organizing another capital campaign for the college in very recent years, claiming there were just not enough donor dollars available. Very interesting considering the two previous campaigns – 1996 and 2006 – netted $38.5 million and $110 million, respectively. There has definitely been a lack of leadership among those who, supposedly, were charged to “lead”. Very unfortunately, so much of the truth has been kept from the faculty, alumnae and students that we, simply, do not know what to believe. I for one, however, am sticking to what I DO know – someone who fires you and closes the place you work – probably does NOT have your best interest at heart! If we can stay out of the sketchy financials (which can be confusing), we can easily understand that we have been under-represented, over trusting and treated as though we were insignificant players. It is a mistake to ever treat anyone this way – much less a group of strong women who are keenly aware that Sweet Briar College exists solely because a mother was grieving the premature death of her only child. That, my friends, is an unspoken bond among women – you simply shouldn’t mess with….

12 thoughts on “Comment of the Day: “Comment of the Day: ‘Why The Sweet Briar College Fight Matters'”

  1. Marcia: Thank you for your courage. I have written several times on this issue, and my comments (aside from the leadership training provided by women’s colleges) has been: (1) Who is going to profit from the closing of Sweet Briar? (2) What is the real estate worth, and who is going to buy it at a reduced cost? (3) What consulting firm (hah, hah, and I once worked for an ethical one) advised a moronic or tired board to accede to SB’s closing? (4) Something here does NOT pass the “smell test.”

    I worked for a major university for years (run by the Jesuits) and if any Board had made this unilateral decision all hell (no pun intended) would have broken loose.

    It seems to me that the cash in hand would allow SB to continue to function for two years, enable lawyer/alumni to fight this, fund investigators to get to the (however awful) bottom of this, fire the board and conduct a capital campaign to raise both ongoing and endowment funds, and keep Sweet Briar the exemplary institution it has been for more than a century. I attended a co-ed college, but later consulted to a female -only high school. It was a Catholic school, but the board made it clear to me that its overarching objective was not a religious/denominational one, but LEADERSHIP TRAINING FOR YOUNG WOMEN. Sweet Briar is the next step for high schools of this sort. The “case” for Sweet Briar can be easily made for a variety of non-alumni donors; I would be willing to draft one, pro bono, if need be, You might need an outsider for this, but I’m sure you can find one.

    Do not, do not, let Sweet Briar go the way of Radcliffe, Vassar, It’s all money and ill-conceived political correctness. FIGHT THIS. YOU CAN WIN.

  2. Professor Kaley,

    As an alumna of Hollins, class of 1982, who over the last 35+ years has served on Boards, in community groups, worked as a development executive in a national religious denomination’s headquarters, served the trusts and estates clients of my NYC law practice, literally fought “City Hall” here in NY on more than one issue, as well as created the T7 group to fight Temple University’s Board of Trustee’s action of December 2013 to eliminate 7 DI Varsity sports teams in the dead of night in an action frighteningly similar to what SBC is presently experiencing, I concur with your results of the “smell test.” This action does not pass muster.

    I have been in communication with one or two SBC Alumnae over the last two weeks, sharing viewpoints and strategies I learned and/or created in these past ventures. I encourage you to pool your professorial perspective and energy with these fighting alumnae. I wish you all the highest success.

    Thank you for having the courage to go public with your opinions. You are continuing to teach in this moment. Many are watching. This is a time when character will be tested and displayed. I am proud to know that the professors of Women’s Colleges will take qction outside of thye classroom and speak up for the right thing.


  3. I completely agree with you regarding the “smell test” and encourage you to FIGHT THIS! I am an alumna of R-MWC, and I know a little bit about how shocking change can be in a private, Board-controlled liberal arts women’s college. However, at least my college voted for a change that would allow it to continue to exist, albeit with a slightly different mission. I can’t imagine how the SBC faculty, students and alumnae must feel. Sweet Briar is a very special place and should not close. Best of luck!!!

  4. Dear Professor Thom-Kaley:
    I have a daughter who is currently a junior at Sweet Briar. She is devastated as you all must be. She is making plans…planning for the worst, yet hoping for the best. Know that the fight is a worthy one. You have all our support, both financially, emotionally, and spiritually.

  5. Follow the M O N E Y… Who wants the property? Or is this a plot to sell the campus to another college or university? I’d stay away from using the will as our courts have allowed wills to be broken.

    • Sometimes wills have to be broken. They are honored as much as is naturally and logically possible.

      But if I will all my land to an organization that eventually goes belly under and no longer exists and there is no successor organization to pick up the will, then Nature doesn’t care what happens to the property identified in the Will…and neither does anyone else.

      • Additionally, it places awkward constraints on receivers of property in a will, if reception of property is contingent upon certain conduct by the receiver for an open-ended period of time.

        I can understand for a time wishing your property be used for certain purposes, but eventually, your post-death demands may become an incredible burden on the people entrusted with those demands. There is an ethically-derivable line somewhere that says, “Ok, the will does have to be honored anymore”

  6. Follow the politics!! Notice how the reporting and editorializing is conforming to the political profiles of the media where it is generated, Notice the near complete silence of any state wide officials. An earlier Jim Jones had required all followers to drink the Kool Ade. This Jimmie Jones want sweet Briar College dead and gone.

  7. You would think graduates of such an esteemed college would understand the economic realities beyond some sentimental memories. But all this energy and none of it is directed at the real source of the problem: employers and their attitudes toward liberal arts education. You see, employers have diminished the value of education well below its worth and have almost completely removed educational variables (how far did you go in school? Where? What was your GPA? Thesis?) from the hiring process. Now it’s all how many years have you worked with x, y, and z software at b level and “do you have any certifications?” This can be tied to two things: (1) the Software Revolution, which gave already pragmatic employers a means to re-define and measure a person’s employability / worth to an organization and (2) the job market, which is not really recovering and has employers struggling to sort anywhere between 300 and 1,800 applications for every opening. If the powerpuff girls of Sweet Briar want to direct their idealism and family money anywhere, it should be at these real sources. Education should matter. The world’s strategic thinkers, innovators, and detectives will come from the ranks of higher education.

    • I agree with all of this, Ben, every bit of it, except the beginning. It’s possible that Sweet Briar can’t be saved, but an ethical broad has to try more than this, and is ethically obligated to be inclusive and transparent.

      • Jack, I’m pretty sure that ethical broads prefer to be called “ethical dames” these days. Get with the times!


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