Stories from Sweet Briar: The Closing of Sweet Briar College

On March 3, 2015, the academic world changed.

That day, the Board of Directors for Sweet Briar College announced that the college would be closed, citing “insurmountable financial challenges.” The announcement landed with a loud, painful thud on the Sweet Briar community, and the academic community writ large.

The closing of Sweet Briar, one of the few remaining women’s colleges in the United States, represents a startling inflection point in our community. We in CSW are probably more intimately aware than most the impact actions of the federal government are having on academic education and scientific research in this country.

Universities have been talking extensively for years on the costs of declining investment in academia. For better or worse, the closing of Sweet Briar seems to be an ugly confirmation of some of those claims. Moreover, the closure has raised a huge number of questions on what it takes to keep a research institution afloat in the modern era. While Sweet Briar may not be the first university to close its doors, it has become an extremely high-profile research institution to go through this, and its closure has rightly garnered a great deal of media coverage.

The closing of Sweet Briar has raised a whole host of legitimate logistical, technical, and philosophical questions. What does this mean for the academic enterprise? Are more colleges likely to follow? How can a college with a $94 million dollar endowment possibly be in financial jeopardy? Can lawsuits stop the closure? How much of a role did mismanagement or incompetence from the college’s senior leadership play? What does this mean for faculty, staff, and students?

All of these are important questions, the answers to which are still being determined. However, what we haven’t heard enough of, in this author’s opinion, is what the closing of Sweet Briar means for those going through it. For us in the academic community to fully analyze the implications of this closure, those perspectives are a critical piece to understand. Additionally, Sweet Briar, located in Southern Virginia, is a nearby neighbor to CSW, and what is happening to it should be important to us as their neighbors, both personally and professionally.

Today, we at The Capital Chemist will begin publishing “Stories from Sweet Briar,” a series of articles from the Sweet Briar community to address exactly this gap. Throughout the rest of the month, Sweet Briar faculty, students,  staff, and alumni have agreed to share their experiences with you, and we are honored to provide a forum to do just that.

The stories from Sweet Briar are important for our region and our community. I hope you will find them as moving, impactful, and important as we did.


Cover photo credit: Aerial photo of campus circa 2008, courtesy Sweet Briar College.

If you are a student, faculty, staff member, or alumni of Sweet Briar and are interested in writing about your experience, we would love to hear your stories as well. Email us at thecapitalchemist@gmail.com.

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