Virginia's highest court will start deciding the fate of an imploding college

Sweet Briar College Campus StudentAP Photo/Steve HelberA Sweet Briar College student walks past a building at the school in Sweet Briar, Va. on May 13, 2015.

The Virginia Supreme Court will hear arguments Thursday about the fate of Sweet Briar College, a 114-year-old women’s college that has been locked in a battle over its life for months, the Associated Press reports.

Thursday’s hearing will set the stage for an eventual ruling by the justices over whether Sweet Briar will be temporarily blocked from closing, despite a March decision from the college’s leadership to shut its doors following the spring 2015 semester. The state Supreme Court will consider an appeal of a Circuit Court’s April ruling to grant a 60-day injunction forbidding Sweet Briar from using money raised for operating expenses to close the school.

This lawsuit — from Amherst County Attorney Ellen Bowyer — is one of several attempts by students, alumnae, and faculty to keep Sweet Briar open.

At the core of this case is whether the college is a corporation or a trust, a distinction that would impact the Board of Trustees’ ability to close down the school. Bowyer has maintained Sweet Briar is a trust — based on the will of its founder — while the college argues that it is a corporation and thus has the power to close without a court order.

While the state Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Thursday, a decision in the Sweet Briar case may not come until a month or more later, according to the Associated Press.

In their initial March statement announcing the college’s closure, Sweet Briar administrators cited several trends that informed the decision, including the declining number of female students interested in all-women colleges and the dwindling number of students overall interested in small, rural liberal arts colleges. At the time of the announcement, Sweet Briar had an endowment of approximately $US85 million, although much of that was tied up in restricted funds.

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