Thursday, April 23, 2015

An Open Letter to the Sweet Briar College Class of 1969

This message was originally posted by Molly Phemister in the comments section of the SBC Class of 1969 blog.  I am reposting it here with Molly's permission.

The original post pointed readers to an article written in the Chronicle of Higher EducationHow Sweet Briar’s Board Decided to Close the College.


Dear 1969 alumnae,

Unfortunately, the Chronicle piece is not well done. It is purple journalism at its best, and reveals a number of unsavory details about our Board’s leadership (who I believe have steered our sisters on the Board into a blind alley and now won’t let them back up). Why hold the meeting in DC, which cost more and separated the Board members from making this decision on the campus that they love? Why would the consultant not let them keep the research results? Usually, those results are points of pride. If one slide is so deeply convincing, why not show it to everybody else so that we understand their decision? Why, if the decision was likely in November and getting very very clear in January, did they continue to both seek out and accept donations from alumnae? If this is only done under duress, and the resulting vigor from the alumnae was unexpected, why is is also unwelcome? We have $1 million dollars in hand, $5 million pledged for this year, $10 million pledged over the next 5 years… How could this be unwelcome news?

1969, the most recent 30 years of Sweet Briar alum are desperate. We love Sweet Briar. Yes, many of us are willing to put a great deal of money on the line. Many many more of us are willing to come paint the buildings, mulch the flower beds, chop onions in the dining hall, teach classes, repair electrical wiring, clean windows, recruit students, re-roof Addie’s house… Why is our love so spurned? Why is it not enough to turn this boat around? I know you adore this campus. I walked the Dairy Loop and almost couldn't breathe for the beauty of looking north past Paul Mountain and that grand old sycamore. I didn't understand before, but alumnae are like in-laws: we love the same alma mater. We love her. You love her, I love her, we don’t have to love each other exactly, but we do have to recognize this common love. We would all do anything for her.

I believe the reliance on the Sax research (showing a sharp skew due to sample bias of Black women from poor families entering women’s colleges at high rates) underpinned a number of decisions made over the past few years. It’s okay. We know better now. That data flaw was not seen by Sax (who is reputed to be a good researcher) but it was found by Dan Gottlieb, which says a lot about the tremendous faculty we continue to attract. We can remake these decisions, re-choose our destiny. You have a number of classmates on the Board and are in a unique position: according to Article 2, section 4 of the bylaws “Special meetings of the Board of Directors may be held at any time upon five days written notice at the call of … any three Directors. No special form of notice shall be necessary to hold a special meeting, but the notice shall state the purpose of the meeting.

You can do this. You can save us. You have the women on the Board who are able to say “let’s look again.” Nobody else has this capacity like you do. Please, look again, in love, with love, for love. Sweet Briar can rise again.

Class of '94

PS - yes, I know that $10 million is not enough to retire all bonds, but it is enough to retire the 2011 bond, which has the more pressing triggers attached, and it’s only been 6 weeks, and it’s happened without the full power of the college behind us. As SBC 2.0, instead of as Saving SBC, we could have $30 million by the end of the summer. I think Sarah Clements called it “cow money”, which I find quite humorous, but yes, we all have some variant on “cow money” that would shake loose if the college said “wait, we’re going to try again.”

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