Nearly two weeks after the leadership of Sweet Briar College announced the school’s closing, the faculty broke a rule in its bylaws to call a special meeting and pass a resolution opposing the shutdown of the women’s college and asking for a discussion with the school’s board.
About 65 members of the faculty passed a resolution Monday night in Heuer Auditorium at Sweet Briar’s Guion Science Center, said assistant professor Marcia Thom-Kaley, who attended the open meeting. Monday, the day classes resumed after spring break, was the first opportunity for the faculty to gather to discuss the closing.
“We the faculty of Sweet Briar College oppose the unilateral decision to close the College,” the resolution said. “We support our alumnae and students. We request an immediate meeting with the Board of Directors to discuss specific alternatives as we move forward.”
Thom-Kaley said she was not sure whether the resolution reached the board Monday night. She said the faculty has not been involved in any communications with the board, and that any informational sessions have been regarding “how best to close the school,” such as helping students transfer.
“We wanted to come out and make a statement in support of the students and alumni association and meet with the board because people across the nation are coming up with plans to save this remarkable institution,” Thom-Kaley said. “We want to know the board is aware of the options out there. We want to extend the olive branch and talk about how to keep the college open.”
According to the faculty personnel manual, faculty meetings are normally held throughout the academic year on the first Friday of each month. Any additional special meetings must be called by the chair of the Faculty Senate at the written request of any six voting members of the faculty. Such a meeting may be called for the purpose of discussion only or in order to conduct business. And a minimum notice of five business days must be given and must state whether the purpose of the meeting is discussion or business.
Thom-Kaley said faculty had been communicating during spring break, and Eric Casey, chairman of the Faculty Executive Committee, called the meeting.
Thom-Kaley, who has been vocal about the closing, said the campus environment has been emotional and stressful for faculty, staff and students. Faculty members are searching for jobs in academia, writing letters of recommendation for students trying to transfer to other schools and continuing to teach classes.
“The main thing on our minds is the protection of our students,” Thom-Kaley said. “We care about these women and their futures.”
This spring, about 110 faculty, 80 of whom work at Sweet Briar full time, are conducting classes at the school, which offers 46 majors, minors and certificate programs.
The student population has shrunk over the years from what was once about 700 students to roughly 530 this spring.
This week, nonprofit Save Sweet Briar Inc. plans to be in court seeking an injunction against the school’s closing. Meanwhile, current students will attend a college fair on the campus of their own college to learn about their transfer options.
Officials cited “insurmountable financial challenges” when they said the college, founded in 1901, would shut down permanently in August. The board voted on Feb. 28 to close the school.
For six of the past seven years, Sweet Briar’s operating expenses have exceeded operating revenues, and for at least the past three years, the college had been covering that loss by dipping into its endowment, which has dropped from $96.2 million in 2001 to $84 million today.
The (Lynchburg) News & Advance contributed
to this report.