Here's the law an imploding Virginia college allegedly broke

Sweet Briar College CampusCourtesy of Aaron MahlerThe Sweet Briar College campus.

Sweet Briar College alumnae have hired a major law firm to demand the resignation of board members who voted to close the imploding women’s college in rural Virginia after this semester.

The letter filed by law firm Troutman Sanders accuses Sweet Briar College’s president and board of trustees of violating Virginia’s charitable solicitation laws, which specify that funds solicited for a particular purpose must be used for that purpose.

The 114-year-old college actively sought donations even while it was making secret plans to close, according to that letter.

Here’s the relevant portion of Virginia’s state laws regarding charitable solicitations that’s referenced in the Saving Sweet Briar Letter: “No person shall use or permit the use of the funds raised by a charitable solicitation for any purpose other than the solicited purpose or, with respect to funds raised by general appeals, the general purposes of the charitable or civic organisation on whose behalf the solicitation was made.”

In Sweet Briar College’s case, the “general purpose” of the school seems clear. Founder Indiana Fletcher Williams specified in her will that she wanted her land to be used for the education of young women.

“Thus, any use of any funds solicited for the College’s general purpose — operating an educational institution — to carry out activities to close the College would violate Virginia’s charitable solicitation statute,” the letter stated.

The letter also references a letter to college leadership from the Amherst County Attorney, Ellen Bowyer, detailing potential violations with Virginia’s charitable solicitation laws. The alleged violations referenced in Bowyer’s letter include:

(i) finalising a memorial scholarship on behalf of an alumna in the name of her deceased son in January, 2015, and refusing to return the funds for the scholarship after announcing the closure of the College; (ii) conducting fundraising in the spring of 2015, including the annual giving campaign, so that the College could continue its mission of “helping young women to realise their dreams,” while simultaneously planning to close the College’s doors; and (iii) sending representatives to meet with donors to solicit donations to continue carrying out the College’s work in February of 2015, while, at the same time, developing plans to close the College.

Since Sweet Briar College announced earlier this month that it was close its doors following the current semester, alumae have rallied to try and save it — raising over $US3 million so far. Meanwhile, 15 other colleges have agreed to allow Sweet Briar students to transfer through an expedited process.

We reached out to Sweet Briar to give it a chance to comment on the letter, and we’ll update this post if we hear back.

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