A group of alumnae has retained a Richmond-based legal team and is forming a not-for-profit corporation in an effort to block the closure of Sweet Briar College.
The alumnae group announced Friday that Saving Sweet Briar Inc., a Virginia not-for-profit, will work with Troutman Sanders LLP to mount a legal challenge against the decision to shut down the college at the end of this academic year.
A website set up to support the effort, savingsweetbriar.com, reports that it has received more than $1.55 million in pledges to keep the college open.
Sweet Briar President James F. Jones Jr. has said that the college would need an additional $10 million to $12 million a year to remain open.
“In hiring Troutman Sanders, we have taken an important step in a multipronged effort to stop the closure of Sweet Briar College,” Tracy Stuart, a 1993 graduate of Sweet Briar, said in a statement.
“In the coming days, my fellow alumnae and I will continue to talk with other alumnae, students and faculty to discuss the options we have to save Sweet Briar and protect an institution that has served thousands of women over the course of its 114-year history.”
The college’s board of directors voted unanimously Feb. 28 to close the school at the end of the summer session on Aug. 25. Stunned students, faculty and alumnae were told of the decision Tuesday.
The private, rural college near Lynchburg will hold its last commencement May 16 and cease operations Aug. 25 at the end of the summer session after more than a century of educating women.
Students began spring break Friday and will return March 15 to college fairs intended to match them with transfer opportunities.
In addition, Kettering University in Flint, Mich., is working with engineering students.
A spokesman for Saving Sweet Briar Inc. declined to discuss the legal strategy for its efforts to make those transfers unnecessary.
But challenges to keep a private enterprise from closing would face obstacles, Charles L. Cabell, an attorney who is head of the education group at the Williams Mullen law firm, said by email before the group’s announcement.
Generally, it is difficult to obtain an injunction prohibiting a business or private institution from closing, and “you rarely see orders stopping a private business from complete closure on anything more than a short-term basis,” he said.
“Such an injunction would be difficult to enforce for a variety of legal and simply practical reasons. You cannot through an injunction force any individual to continue working at the school, for instance, and it would be difficult to recruit new deans, faculty, etc., to work on what would likely be a short-term basis,” he said.