New president takes charge at Sweet Briar College in Virginia, rescued from brink of closure

A new president and governing board took command of Sweet Briar College on Thursday under a mediated settlement that rescued the 114-year-old women's college from the brink of closure.

Phillip C. Stone was named president by a new board of directors, which convened its first meeting by conference call linking members from around the country, the nonprofit Saving Sweet Briar Inc. said in a statement.

The change of guard was put into motion June 20 after now former college leaders, alumnae and others agreed to a settlement that would keep the school running with millions in donations and a loosening of restrictions on its endowment. A judge approved the settlement two days later.

In May, Sweet Briar's then president and governing board had said the school would close in late August, unable to overcome financial challenges they called insurmountable. But determined former students would have none of that. They questioned the dire financial picture the leaders painted, launched a fund-raising campaign and were party to one of several lawsuits challenging the decision.

The change of leadership Thursday was met with the sounding of college bells across the historic, 3,250-acre campus in the foothills of Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains, Saving Sweet Briar said.

Stone, an attorney and former president of Bridgewater College, paid homage to the alumnae and their "tremendously fierce commitment" to Sweet Briar.

In a posting on the college's website, Stone declared, "We are open for business, not only for the coming school year but for the next 114 years and beyond."

Sweet Briar's enrollment was around 530 women in the spring and perhaps as little as half of that number could return in the upcoming academic year. It's also unclear how many faculty members have remained on campus or taken jobs elsewhere.

In his statement, Stone said he had asked all faculty members employed by Sweet Briar as of June 30 to stay on. He also said he had told members of the college staff that he had hoped to rehire them.

As for students, he said, "I will honor the most recent financial aid provided by Sweet Briar College to current students who return to Sweet Briar." He also promised accepted freshmen he would work swiftly to ensure their place on campus.

Part of the agreement called for Saving Sweet Briar to deliver $2.5 million to the school. The group doubled that sum this week and delivered it early.

The group said it's "well on our way" to the next installment of $6 million by Aug. 2.