Anyone part of a College, University or nonprofit would like to feel that their Board of Directors has the institution’s best interests at heart. It is hard to think this is true when a Board of Directors takes the shocking and extreme action of closing an institution. This is the case at Sweet Briar College.
When this happens, the natural thing to do is to turn to your constituency group leaders. In the case of students, to the Student Government. In the case of faculty, to the Faculty Senate. The faculty of Sweet Briar College voted unanimously to oppose the closing of Sweet Briar College. In my case, I turn to my Alumnae Board. In the case of Sweet Briar College, the Alumnae Board has issued no response. The President of the Alumnae Board, Sandra Taylor, is a member of the Board which voted to close the College and she sat on the call with alumnae shortly after the closure reiterating the President’s talking points.
I wrote the following letter to the Alumnae Board (via a staff member in the office who promised to forward it) and have, to date, not had a response. While I have addresses for individuals on the Board, I felt going through the office was the most respectful approach. I am posting it here in an effort to invite a response from any of them individually or collectively:
Thank you for taking your valuable time to speak to me about the status of the Alumnae Association and the Alumnae Board. As promised, I am summarizing the points (and questions) I’d like to make below:
- Alumnae Association independence. To what degree is the Alumnae Association independent of the College? I recall when I worked at the College in the 1990s, the dues were eliminated (in order to strengthen annual giving). At that time, some staff were paid for by the Alumnae Association themselves and not funded by the College. The VP at the time brought all the staff under the College.
- Ongoing funding for Alumnae Association. I would like to see a return of an independent Alumnae Association funded by dues and, should the efforts to save the College not succeed, have equal consideration for funding along with other staff-related positions.
- Staff & Board. I understand the STAFF are employees of the College, but the Alumnae Board are dedicated volunteers. Shouldn’t the Alumnae Board have some leadership and messaging regarding the closure? The absence of any statement is extremely disappointing. An Alumnae Association Board should – even if it does not agree with all stakeholders — listen and respond to the feelings of their stakeholders. I have heard that the Alumnae Association Board has been told they cannot speak due to the College’s legal counsel. Surely this cannot be true.
- President’s statements and Alumnae Board President’s Role. I would like to implore the Alumnae Board to speak out against the President’s comments that he has made verbally and in national media that strike many as sexist and racist (not just Sweet Briar alumnae either). Current students and their families are reeling by the negative comments he has made about current students and the “changing demographics”. I find myself continually apologizing for the President’s comments to my colleagues in higher education and national media — praying that there are people like the Alumnae Board who realize his comments are at a minimum insensitive and out of touch. I would rather have Sandra Taylor as spokesperson – or some other woman who is not likely to make such comments. For a review of the comments people have cited, you can read my blog at: http://beingunlocked.com/2015/03/how-not-to-speak-about-higher-education-or-women-or-diversity-in-2015/
- Alumnae Board’s role in stewardship. Given that the majority of the endowment has been donated by alumnae. I feel the Alumnae Board has an important role to play in advocating on behalf of donors — that donor’s donations are used as intended. I worked for the College and brought in some of the leadership gifts that make up the endowment. I feel a strong responsibility that those gifts I help broker not be used against the donor intent. I realize this may mean that the Alumnae Board would have to step away from the College’s position, but it I feel it has a duty to advocate for alumnae.I realize everyone is very busy, but I would appreciate very much the courtesy of a reply.Kind regards,Stacey Sickels Locke `88
As your Alumnae Board, we learned an hour before everyone else about the Board of Directors’ decision to close the College this summer. We have spent the past weeks digesting that news, talking with classmates, engaging board members and shedding more than a few tears. We have been impressed by the passion and energy that alumnae are bringing to this moment, whether they are backing the legal strategy behind the Save Sweet Briar movement or supporting the Board of Directors’ efforts to bring an orderly closure to the campus.
Through meetings, phone calls and emails, we sense that all alumnae agree on a few points: Everyone wants to support current students, provide for faculty and staff, and preserve Sweet Briar’s legacy. The Alumnae Board hopes to provide a space where the entire Sweet Briar community finds common ground and works collaboratively.
We are also working to evolve the Sweet Briar Alumnae Association into an independent entity that can serve everyone with an enduring commitment to the ideals of Sweet Briar and the vision of educating young women.
“Silence is the most powerful scream” — Anonymous
Stacey Sickels Locke is a proud graduate of Sweet Briar College, Class of 1988. She served as an employee of the College in the early 1990s working on the $25 million Campaign. During that time, she solicited many leadership gifts which make up the current endowment and she feels a sense of duty that those donations are not used for the closure of the College or for any other purposes than the donors intended. Since then, she has spent her career building support for higher education and the nonprofit community as a staff member and consultant for boards. As a volunteer, she has served Sweet Briar since graduation as a fundraiser, admissions ambassador and now advocate for the #saveSweetBriar movement. She is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and holds a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) certification from CFRE International.
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