Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Independent Women of Sweet Briar

The New York Times: The Independent Women of Sweet Briar

I'm sure that my friends are wondering why I keep posting about #‎savesweetbriar‬ all over my Facebook and Twitter timelines. This New York Times article explains why.

Sweet Briar College was the only school I wanted to attend. I never imagined myself at a women's college (no boys???), yet the moment my mother and I drove up the long, winding driveway to campus, I felt like I had come home. (Sorry for ever doubting you, mom!)

Sweet Briar is where I learned that it was safe to raise my hand and state my opinion. Sweet Briar is where I ate lunch with my professors and attended informal gatherings at their homes. Sweet Briar is where I partook in extracurricular activities that had nothing to do with my major; all activities were open to all students.

At Sweet Briar, I was not an anonymous student lost in a sea of unfamiliar faces.

Saving Sweet Briar is the least I can do for an institution that gave me the foundation to become a smarter, more adventurous, more independent woman.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Thank You for the Form Letter, Mark Herring

An open letter to Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring and Brittany Anderson, Director of Legislative and Constituent Affairs:

I have been affected by the actions of the Board of Directors (“Board”) of Sweet Briar College (“SBC” or “College”), a nonprofit institution subject to oversight by the Commonwealth of Virginia. I am concerned that your deference to the Board in the decision to close the College without a proper investigation is incorrect and should not stand. I respectfully request that you conduct a full and thorough investigation into the actions of the Board and administration of the College before working with those parties any further. 

In addition, I would like to take this time to address some of the points in your response via my own form letter, though you will find that mine has been personalized.


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.”

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Business of Mismanagement: a Hypothetical Examination

Let's play pretend.


You attended a prestigious university where you received a Bachelor of Science in engineering.

You used your knowledge and business acumen to climb the corporate ladder.

You proved to be a smart businessman, eventually becoming a Vice President, then Senior Vice President.

After 20 years, you earned the top job.  Congratulations on your Presidency!


You sell your company for hundreds of millions of dollars.  Woo hoo!

Having successfully navigated the intricate dealings of an acquisition, you remain on board with the new company, a feat that many do not accomplish.

You continue to lead the company, again becoming President.

Your company is worth $1 billion dollars.  You are a leader in your industry.  Hot damn!


You are a philanthropist.  You believe in giving back.  You join the Board of Directors of a small non-profit organization.

You notice that the money spent is greater than the money received; it continues year over year. Heck, that's not sustainable.

You are a shrewd businessman who doubled the value of his company, yet you do nothing to reverse this trajectory.

You're the leader of the pack board.  It's your time to shine: you know how to build businesses and reap a profit!  Alas, you refuse.

You alienate your fellow board members.  30% of them resign.


Bad decisions, year over year over year.  You, a leader in business, sit idly by.

Or worse.


You do not discuss financial constraints.  You do not listen to others' viewpoints.  You do not follow industry best practices.  You do not hold accountable the individual(s) responsible for the paucity of resources.  You do not ensure that each Line of Business is headed by the right person with the right qualifications.

You spend money on consultants who do not report their findings.  You encourage poor decisions by your Finance Team: decisions that cost the organization a significant percentage of its dwindling revenue.  You ignore market research.  You do not improve marketing campaigns.  You do not change your product.


You announce the dissolution of the non-profit organization.

You say that it's the fault of the customer base.

Nothing to be done.  You've tried everything.  It's over.  Too bad.


You are a brilliant businessman who grew a for-profit company into an industry leader.

And then proceeded to destroy a leading non-profit organization.

Were you careless?  Incompetent?  Indifferent?  Ill-disposed?

You were not--you are not--a man of vision, intellect, or sensibility.

You are the villain in this farce you call leadership.

You are the antihero.

An enfant terrible.

A libertine.

A wretch.

You are Paul G. Rice.

Monday, April 20, 2015

A War on Women's Education

I've spent many hours looking for the reason behind the Sweet Briar College Board of Directors’ decision to close the school. We all know that there is an undisclosed, underhanded reason for the closure--that this had little to do with admissions, annual fund donations, or being "30 minutes from Starbucks." What's the endgame? Is there a conspiracy? Who's going to profit from it?

I've come to the conclusion that it doesn't matter.

What matters is this: the key players--SBC interim president James "Jimmy" Jones, board chair Paul G. Rice, VP of Finance Scott Shank, and Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring--are powerful men who believe that their wants and desires trump those of thousands of women.

Thousands of faculty, staff, students, parents, alumnae, and others have asked for clarity and more information. Yet Jones refuses to make public the data, reports, and meeting minutes that drove the Board to this decision. Why? "Because we do not have to" and "we have no duty to disclose this information."

Let me repeat:

The not-even-voted-in-by-the-Board male interim president of Sweet Briar College--a women's college--declared to over 14,000 students and alumnae that he does not need to provide any details.

"Because we do not have to" and "we have no duty to disclose this information."

Indiana Fletcher Williams, whose estate became Sweet Briar College, was a visionary: in a time when higher education was still mostly reserved for men, she saw to it that her legacy--in her late daughter's memory--would forever educate young women: women who would become leaders in the college, in the community, and in their chosen careers; women who would support their sisters; women who would "work for the good and work for the right."

A handful of men in closed meetings making decisions about women's lives, with no input of those whose lives are affected.

Sound familiar?

These men held secret meetings with the Attorney General, who himself is actively working against the Save Sweet Briar movement. Instead of determining how to strengthen an institution that educates and empowers his female constituents, Mr. Herring filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of those fighting to close the college. (Bedford County Circuit Court Judge James Updike, who heard the first round of the court case, did not agree with the Attorney General.)

Jimmy Jones, Paul Rice, Scott Shank, and Attorney General Mark Herring are engaging in a war on women's education. They have forgotten, however, that Sweet Briar develops and promotes female leaders. They have forgotten that women are through with letting others dictate their lives. They have forgotten that the value of women’s education lies in the hearts of men and women worldwide.

We do not forget. We do not give up. We are just beginning to fight.

Join us in our fight to end the war on women’s education: go to to read our legal complaint & supporting documents and pledge your support.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Mark Herring and Equal Pay Day

Yes! Let me fix the last line for you, though: We can and must do better, and we can start by strengthening women's education and not closing Sweet Briar College.

“The Attorney General is concerned that the disruption and conflict engendered by challenges raised against the decision of the Sweet Briar Board of Directors to close Sweet Briar are counterproductive to protecting the interests of the public, the students, alumnae, faculty, administrators and staff of Sweet Briar, and other interested parties.”

Who are these "other interested parties," Mr. Attorney General?

I can guarantee that you are NOT protecting the interests of the public (did you read the Amherst County Mayor's letter?), the students (have you seen the banners?), alumnae (lawsuit), faculty (lawsuit), and staff (lawsuit). I do believe that leaves administrators and others.

On the one hand, you have 14,000+ women--and the parents, faculty, staff, and community who have worked to grow and nurture said women--working to #savesweetbriar.

On the other hand, you have 23 board members--with two men at the helm--and an unknown number of unknown stakeholders who are fighting their hardest to close the school for unknown reasons.

And you're working to protect the interests of whom, exactly?

Friday, April 10, 2015

An Open Letter to Mark Herring

Mr. Herring,

I am a constituent and a voter; a Democrat who helped to fund your campaign for AG; an alumna of Sweet Briar College.

I am extremely disappointed that you filed an amicus brief in support of the closure of Sweet Briar College. Please help me understand why you made this decision.

There are thousands of stakeholders--a large percentage of whom are your constituents--working non-stop to ‪#‎savesweetbriar‬. There are less than two dozen people fighting to close the college. Why? Mr. Jones and Mr. Rice have shown no transparency--which you claim to be one of your tenets--in this process.

"Attorney General Herring believes that transparency and accountability are keys to good governance. The people of Virginia have the right to know how their money is being spent and how this office is working on their behalf." The same holds true for the not-actually-voted-in president and Board of Directors of Sweet Briar.

It is the responsibility of the Board to protect the College, not destroy it. If they have given up on her, let them resign.

Make the right choice, Mr. Attorney General: enforce transparency; read the findings of the forensic accountant and the analysis of the Sax study; and redeem yourself in the eyes of those who funded and campaigned for you.

A Vixen Says Moo