Behind the Scenes of Saving Sweet Briar — an inspiring example of passion, purpose and progress.

Never ever depend on Governments or institutions to solve any major problems.  All solutions come from the passion of individuals.

Never ever depend on Governments or institutions to solve any major problems. All solutions come from the passion of individuals. – Margaret Mead

While there are many issues to examine with respect to the President, Board and operations of Sweet Briar College, it seems fitting to focus for a moment on the efforts to SAVE the College.  I feel I can take a little break from my ranting against the horrible leadership, governance and lack of proper administration for a bit. The legal team inspires confidence and there national experts rolling up their sleeves and taking aim at those issues.  Most recently it is the Amherst County Board of Supervisors.  I thought today I would share a glimpse at the amazing work being done to #saveSweetBriar.

Yesterday I attended a farewell gathering of a colleague at the University of Maryland and was asked by many in the room about Sweet Briar.  I found myself describing my efforts and those of my fellow alumnae and felt my spirits rising with each retelling.  It is a story built on determination.  It is a saga filled with drama and intrigue.  It is a case study in alumni activism that will likely become an inspiration for our sister Colleges and other small liberal arts Colleges around the country.  I can also confidently say we have worthwhile lessons to share with colleagues around the WORLD.  I met a visitor from the University of Manchester in England who asked me to share some of the key lessons learned.  The Saving Sweet Briar efforts are the very example of what Margaret Mead famously wrote.  Wait for it… (this isn’t the quote you are thinking I am going to use),

“Never ever depend on governments or institutions to solve any major problems.  All social change comes from the passion of individuals.” — Margaret Mead.

I have served on many boards from schools to arts organizations to sports teams.  Alongside many passionate parents (and some alumni), I have added my weight to a collective effort to move something forward.  Never in my 30 years of volunteerism or professional experience have I seen the likes of the mobilized alumnae of Saving Sweet Briar.  Allow me to pull back the curtain and share a few examples….

Saving Sweet Briar, Inc.  Within days of the announcement of the Sweet Briar College President and Board’s decision to close, a group of courageous women banded together to formally fight the closure.  First, they opened up their pocketbook to pay for necessary legal counsel in Troutman and Sanders.  Second, they established a Board.  Third, they applied for 501C3 status for Saving Sweet Briar, Inc.  They had a vision and mission statement, a segment of which is here:

Saving Sweet Briar, Inc. was established to block the closure of Sweet Briar College and provide accurate information to students, faculty, and alumnae about the true financial condition of Sweet Briar College and the viable alternatives to closure. The organization is also dedicated to raising the necessary funds to fight the closure and help erase the school’s financial shortfall. Saving Sweet Briar, Inc. is also committed to identifying highly talented individuals who can serve on the Sweet Briar College Board of Directors to help lead an immediate turnaround for the institution while developing a longer term strategy with input from key stakeholders. Success in achieving our mission will ensure that future generations of women can proudly call themselves Sweet Briar alumnae.

In their own words, they all wish to be “out of a job” and see themselves as temporary stewards.  An example of the kind of top-notch experts they have hired to provide advice and guidance for the future include a forensic accountant, R. Stephen Spitzer,  and a college turnaround expert with solid examples of other institutions.   The Board vets candidates for a new Board; they have a list of interested College Presidents with proven turnaround experience; experts on a number of fields are being vetted to provide real advice for the future.

The call to action is clear:

Spread the word

Share your Sweet Briar Story with your friends on social media using the hashtags #savesweetbriar and #thinkisforgirls

Volunteer

Do you have particular talents that would help us with our mission to save our school? Contact us.

Raise Money

We need money to support our school! Given the state of financial aid and higher ed, Sweet Briar needs to grow its endowment to stay viable. Crowdfunding information to follow.

Help Keep Our School Alive

There are over 500 women on campus who need our support. Help us help them keep our school alive.

In the meantime, the thousands of alumnae have managed to create an organizational structure rivaling some of the largest Universities (I speak with experience working for a B1G school, University of Maryland and serve on the University Senate).  There are literally HUNDREDS of Committees of EXPERTS in their professional areas reporting up through Chairs who compile the information into master documents.  The first of these documents, a Strategic Plan, was delivered to the Saving Sweet Briar board in time for the first injunction hearing.   There are PhD experts, attorneys, professional fundraisers, accountants, social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, medical doctors, coaches, scientists, elected officials, C-suite executives of every type providing advice that the College — any College or nonprofit — would pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to secure (I say this with experience having watched schools hire consultants for narrowly focused work and deliverables).  Sweet Briar College itself by the Board’s own admission paid over $1 MILLION for a report that was never concluded and the Board members were not able to keep after reading it and voting to close the College.

quote-margaret-mead-if-we-are-to-achieve-a-richer-5707

Committee Structure.  This is a case for the power of social media if there ever were one.  Facebook, in particular, has provided the platform for alumnae to organize their efforts.  Early in the process, pages were created for experts to share suggestions in different areas in the “Saving SBC Professional Roundtable” (a closed group so not hyperlinked here).  Categories include every aspect of operations:

Academic Affairs, Admissions, Development/Fundraising, Diversity, Career Counseling, College Placement, Grounds & Facilities, Information Technology, Land (Creative Use of/Maintaining), Legal, Student Affairs, Social Life.

Each group has professionals who have spent their careers in these areas with best practices to share. The alumnae’s willingness to help is not just lip service.  Examples of alumnae offers and efforts to assist include:

Deferred maintenance problems?  Check.  Habitat for Humanity-like plans for improvement including painting, plastering and even building repair by licensed contractors paid for by alumnae or their own companies.  These are documented offers to help as they cannot execute these plans without coordination from the facility leadership.

Admissions/Recruitment problems?  Check.  Alumnae from around the Country have offered to reinvigorate a dormant network of volunteers to attend College Fairs, visit area feeder schools (and aspirant feeder schools), house admissions staff traveling, personally write interested students and their families.  In addition,  the Alumnae Angel Network are alumnae who sponsor students needing support transferring to another College.  Even if this might mean losing a student needed for the future, the movement is supporting the current students in tangible ways.

Fundraising problems?  Check.   As of this writing, over $1 million in cash is in the Saving Sweet Briar accounts.  Over $10 million in pledges over five years are being held in trust by Saving Sweet Briar for the College once the closure decision is reversed and there is a Board and Administration committed to the future.  A Major Donor Task Force (of which I am a part) has weekly conference calls to coordinate outreach to past donors to the College and those who care and aren’t even affiliated.  A Regional Task Force from each state writing to their residents, particularly those not on social media.  Liaisons to classes (a traditional way to communicate with alumnae) share information on a weekly and even daily basis with links to give, participate and support.  All of this has been accomplished without the tools fundraisers usually have (I know because I am one).  For example, a donor database has been faithfully RECREATED through years of magazines publishing giving information and even programs from past campaign celebrations kept as keepsakes — now data for a defacto giving database.   It is INCREDIBLE to watch and witness.  This is worthy of its own blog post, stay tuned.

Communications Strategy?  Check.  The initial news stories reported the Board’s decision to close.  The news of the alumnae outcry and mobilization was relegated to the comment section of most stories.  However, the tide has turned.  Now, major news outlets are reporting on the success of the alumnae efforts and on the amazing accomplishments of our alumnae, the morning of my writing the New York Times wrote about our alumnae and the efforts to save the College.  This type of media battle and reversal of message does not happen easily.  It has occurred through professionals and passionate individuals working with contacts to share opinion, provide worthwhile facts to report, verify stories and share perspective.  Interestingly, the headlines of some of the earlier stories have changed from “College imploding” to “Alumnae Fight Closure”.

Conspiracy Theories?  Check.  One of my favorite movements within the Saving Sweet Briar collective, is a group a la Erin Brokovich that dedicates itself to researching the “back story”.  The team (which includes some with investigative journalism experience) posts pieces of documents, theories, lists, etc. and a broad network do their further work and reports results.  Some of these get passed along – once vetted — for journalists or the Saving Sweet Briar Board.  Just when my own efforts to Save Sweet Briar might flag or my confidence wane or my enthusiasm might be dampened by some new comment by the “President”, someone from the group will post some new theory or angle that gets me MAD.  They have even inspired and commissioned political cartoons.  I have the one of the women turning over the rock next to my phone (for when I “dial for dollars”).

The efforts of the alumnae are truly inspiring.

Imagine – just imagine – if their efforts were harnessed BEFORE the College announced it must close.

Imagine if the Board took stock of this advice and reconsidered their decision?

Imagine if YOUR organization harnessed your stakeholders?

Sweet Briar is receiving DAILY national attention.  Sweet Briar students, faculty, staff, alumni and community are rallying to share their expertise.  The future IS bright and there is much to hope for with this kind of passion.

At this point, I cling to the other Margaret Mead quote – the one you know by heart – because I am seeing it validated on an hourly basis.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.  Indeed it is the only thing that ever has. -- Margaret Mead

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has. — Margaret Mead

Our aim is not the world for now.  For now it is a small piece of the planet located in Southern Virginia, Sweet Briar.

Stacey Sickels Locke, CFRE, 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), is affiliated (through the University of Maryland) with the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and holds a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) certification from CFRE International.

Stacey Sickels Locke, CFRE
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Where is a General (Attorney General in this case) when you need them?

There are a few more men joining the President on top of the "no stone left unturned"....
There are a few more men joining the President on top of the “no stone left unturned”….

As many know by now, I am passionately fighting the closure of my beloved College, Sweet Briar, by the President and the Board.  I have written about my thoughts on the lack of governance.  This post will focus on the curious and shocking lack of leadership by the Virginia attorney general, Mark Herring (you can find his contact form here), contrasted to the swift action of the County Attorney, Ellen Bowyer.  I also share another example of leadership by the New York attorney general intervening in the Cooper Union College.

In the early days of the Sweet Briar College closure announcement, the Virginia attorney general remained strangely silent on the matter of the announced closure.  The President and Board referenced meetings with Mark Herring, Virginia’s attorney general, to “unwind” College operations and unrestricted the endowment for the purpose of closing.  This stunned me.  There was no leadership by the Virginia Attorney General with respect to an investigation into the closure — which would seem a logical first step (well before any closure announcement, but certainly upon learning of one).

State attorneys general oversee nonprofits both because they’re generally exempt from state taxes and because they represent the interests of donors who may lack the means to enforce the terms of their gifts or, once they’re dead, the capacity. (Since such institutions are also exempt from federal taxes, the Internal Revenue Service is charged with ensuring that organizations adhere to their tax-exempt purposes.)  Credit:  Michael Appleton for The New York Times

The County Attorney of Amherst, Ellen Bowyer, has boldly taken action on behalf of donors and to request an injunction.  Her suit charges that:

Closure would violate the terms of the will under which the school was founded and that charitable funds have been misused in violation of state law. (Susan Sverlunga, Washington Post).

Mark Herring, by contrast, evidently is HELPING the leadership of Sweet Briar College to release restrictions on donor’s contributions given over the years.  As a fundraiser, I find this terribly concerning.  I’ve written about the topic of protecting donor intent here.

Virginia Senators have written to the attorney general to express concern and to ask that he take action to protect the rights of donors and the substantial campus.

On Wednesday, Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, asked Herring to issue a legal opinion on what must be done with money and other gifts that have been given to the college, including its substantial campus. He also asked Herring to clarify the obligations of Sweet Briar’s board of directors.

“It seems to me if their duty is to try to fulfill the mission of the school, they ought to be making some effort to keep it open or at least look at the option of keeping it open,” Petersen said. (Alicia Petraska, Lynchburg News and Advance)

Cooper Union College in New York is under scrutiny by the New York attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman.  It provides a contrast in leadership and action:

In what should be a ringing alarm for nonprofit boards across the country long accustomed to minimal scrutiny or accountability, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman of New York has signaled that the laissez-faire approach to nonprofit governance is over. (James Stewart, New York Times)

By contrast, Mark Herring of Virginia sees his role as meeting with College officials to violate donor intent.  How can he think he is doing his job?  One would think he would have more Virginia citizens wanting him to advocate for the College and to examine any possible mismanagement of funds.  The Washington Post reported,

Herring essentially argues that in such a situation, with a charitable institution (the college, a nonprofit established in a bequest from an estate) disbanding, the state attorney general has been granted authority by the General Assembly to determine what is necessary to protect the public interest. (Susan Sverluga, Washington Post).

Back in New York, Eric Schneiderman boldly stepped in BEFORE Cooper Union College faced financial ruin.   The New York Times reported:

Apart from the impact on Cooper Union itself, what’s striking about Mr. Schneiderman’s investigation is that his office is intervening before its financial problems ruin the school. Cooper Union’s endowment stood at $735 million at the end of its most recent fiscal year and, despite its financial woes, it is in no imminent danger of failing.

“It’s easy to forget, but New York’s charities, collectively, are a big and important part of our state’s economy, and I consider it my responsibility to promote and protect the nonprofit sector,” Mr. Schneiderman told me this week. “In part, we do that by aggressively investigating and prosecuting fraud. But we work just as hard to prevent mismanagement before it starts and, whenever possible, get troubled charities back on track.”

It would be appropriate for the Virginia Attorney General to aggressively review the President and Board of Sweet Briar College.  He might consider how the President was elected; whether the Board truly took all measures possible before resorting to closure; whether the financial records accurately state the condition of the College.  He might consult neutral experts such as the accounting firm which audited the Colleges’ financial statements most recently or the accrediting body of the College which granted accreditation for another 10 years in 2011.

By contrast, in New York, their attorney general takes action before “disaster strikes”:

The Cooper Union investigation fits into the New York attorney general’s office’s broader strategy to get ahead of potential crises by “stress testing” nonprofits that show signs of potential trouble, such as large operating deficits and excessive spending rates on endowments, said James Sheehan, the chief of the office’s charities bureau. “Once an organization is in trouble, donors don’t want to give money and people don’t want to join the board,” he said. “We want people to anticipate these issues before they become disasters.”

Such disasters have befallen the New York City Opera and Long Island College Hospital, two major New York institutions that collapsed in financial disarray in recent years, and the Crystal Cathedral in California, which filed for bankruptcy protection in 2010 after accusations that its board had imprudently borrowed against the endowment.

Unfortunately, Virginia did not have any “stress testing”.  Perhaps it was a matter of staffing or a view of role.  However, wouldn’t it be safe to request that the Virginia attorney general take efforts to investigate these types of important matters?  Minimally, might he not stand in the way of his own County Attorney who filed suit against the wrongful closure?

The President and Board of Sweet Briar College are now being held accountable by the people they did not inform or allow to help:  students, parents, faculty, staff, alumnae and the wider community — the majority citizens of Virginia.  Might he not consider the thousands of people begging for at least a proper process within the legal system?

Whatever the outcome at Cooper Union, Mr. Schneiderman deserves credit for putting nonprofit boards on notice that they’ll be held accountable, said Jack B. Siegel, author of a widely used guide for nonprofit directors, whose subtitle is “Avoiding Trouble While Doing Good.” “More states should emulate New York,” Mr. Siegel said.

This is no small matter, given that nonprofits accounted for 9.2 percent of all wages and salaries in the United States and 5.3 percent of gross domestic product in 2010, according to the National Center for Charitable Statistics. Given the many illustrious universities, hospitals, museums, orchestras, theaters and other arts organizations, nonprofits play an outsize role in the nation’s culture. But they have traditionally received little scrutiny until a scandal erupts or they’re on the brink of collapse.

Indeed, more states should emulate New York.  Virginia should take a lead and PROTECT Sweet Briar College, its employees, its students and its donors from the reckless leadership of the current President and Board.  Sweet Briar College employs hundreds of faculty and staff.  Hundreds of students call it home.  Millions in the endowment needs to be protected — not raided.  Finally, the donor’s will should be honored.  The one person in the state who should be advocating for the will of the founder has turned his back.  This is very sad.

Thankfully, we have a leader in Ellen Bowyer who took swift action.

“Time is of the essence,” the suit, filed on behalf of the Commonwealth of Virginia by the county attorney, Ellen Bowyer claims, as college officials appear to be rapidly moving to sell assets, destroy documents and “obliterate contractual relationships governing tenancies and endowments.” (Susan Sverluga, Washington Post)

Meanwhile, Saving Sweet Briar, Inc., along with thousands of alumnae, hundreds of students and parents, community members, the citizens of Virginia and people across the country are doing all they can — primarily through donations and grassroots efforts to raise awareness.   Please share your comments below and, should you be moved to give, make a commitment here.

To share your comments with Mark Herring, Virginia Attorney General, you can use this contact form.

In response to the President's comment that he "left no stone unturned", this image shows the will of the students, faculty, staff, alumnae and CITIZENS of Virginia crying out for leadership.
In response to the President’s comment that he “left no stone unturned”, this image shows the will of the students, faculty, staff, alumnae and CITIZENS of Virginia crying out for leadership.

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), is affiliated (through the University of Maryland) with the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and holds a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) certification from CFRE International.

Stacey Sickels Locke, CFRE
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Sweet Briar College – “Consider Yourself Home” (and an answer to why I am fighting to save her)

"Consider Yourself Home" - this sums up what Sweet Briar means to me (one of the banners lining the driveway to campus)
“Consider Yourself Home” – this sums up what Sweet Briar means to me (one of the banners lining the driveway to campus)

I feel the need to provide some background about my relationship with Sweet Briar College.  Every alumna has a reason why they are devastated at the prospect of her (yes, we often refer to her as “she” or “her”) closing.  Many who know me don’t understand the personal and professional energy I am spending in support of the movement to stop the closure.  Here is what I have to say on that….

Summary

A school psychologist (also an alumna) asked a question on Facebook about how she could inspire her K-12 students to feel as passionate about something as she is seeing the thousands of women rallying to save Sweet Briar.  My response to her distilled my own thinking:

To me it is the sense of belonging through the different ways people connect – cohort groups – a fundamental human need, as you know, is a sense of belonging – home – shelter being the most basic. This is a place we learned and LIVED. It was and is HOME for us. It was home at a time when we were growing into women from girls. The experience of College alone pushed us more than we had ever been pushed. Then, there are the friendships that endure and those hearts are intertwined across the country and continents. then there is the fact that some came with broken hearts and broken lives and they were repaired a bit at Sweet Briar by loving faculty, staff, the Chaplain and others. For me, I had four high schools before coming to Sweet Briar. It was home to me and was the longest place I had lived up to that point in my life. I always knew I could go back and I cannot imagine a world without Sweet Briar in it.

Prior to Sweet Briar College

Prior to Sweet Briar College, I had four high schools.  Yes, four.  I did not attend these high schools in a tidy order either.  My father’s job and career progression (which I feel the need to insert I admire and do not regret) moved us in the middle of each year of high school.

When I applied to Sweet Briar, I lived in Severna Park, Maryland.  Prior to that, I lived in Roanoke, Virginia; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Kansas City, Kansas and St. Louis, Missouri.  Those are the places I remember.  There were a few more moves before that.

You might think would leave to academic disaster, but it didn’t.  I was able to pursue a college-level track of courses, including some APs and honors courses, but I did find a shocking disconnect across our country between curriculum even for courses leading to national tests, but that is a topic for another blog post.

You might think I would become a complete loner or perhaps have social challenges.  True, moving and being a “new girl” is absolutely something I wouldn’t wish on anyone, but the lessons I learned I wouldn’t trade for anything.  The friends I made are life long friends in each place.  The values I learned in sticking up for those who didn’t have a voice stick with me to this day.  But that is another topic for another post.

When I considered Colleges, the one thing I wanted was a place that felt like home.  I had not thought about a woman’s college, a rural college or even a small or large college.  I just wanted a place where I could put down roots and focus for an extended period of time on my academics, my interests and my social life (which had also taken quite a hit).

Choosing Sweet Briar

I chose Sweet Briar because the admissions representatives wrote real letters, postcards and got to know me as a person.  I chose Sweet Briar because the admissions materials showed a beautiful place with happy, smiling faces.  I chose Sweet Briar because the academics and the professors were solid and award winning.  Once I came up the long driveway and came on campus, I chose it because it felt like home.

View of campus from Monument Hill
View of campus from Monument Hill

The Campus

Sweet Briar is situated on 3,000 hilly acres.  A former plantation ( a fact that wasn’t widely explored when I attended, but I am pleased to see is now embraced and used as social justice and history education now), the College buildings were designed by famous architect, Ralph Adams Cram.  A boxwood garden, estimated to be over 200 years old, surrounds an elegant “farm house”.  I didn’t appreciate all of this at the time, but the buildings did make one feel a sense of permance, grace and protection.

“The Quad” unfolds from the Chapel.  The Chapel became an important place to me, a place where I embraced my Episcopal roots, was confirmed, sat on the Committee to recruit the next Chaplain, The Rev. Susan Lehman (who would become a lifelong mentor), and where I often went just to think, cry and do homework.  There are many nooks on campus that students can make their own.

“Faculty row” and housing for faculty and staff served as a neighborhood of nearby adults, professors, mentors, friends and great prospects for house-sitting and baby sitting.  My favorite was the Chaplain’s house.  Susan Lehman would let me sleep over when I was feeling particularly in need of some parental attention.  Her husband, John was a writer and I remember his entire office being covered with plot lines for various novels.  Everyone’s favorite part of the Chaplain’s house was the basement — because she had boxes of broken china (which she would buy at thrift sales) that you could smash if you felt like it.  It’s tremendously satisfying, I recommend it over any type of therapy.

The Boathouse is perhaps the most charming of places on campus. The timber structure has a balcony overlooking the lake and, inside, a large great room with soaring ceiling and a large hearth.  On the lower level the slips are covered and, when the sun is shining, the water reflects on the ceiling.  There is a slight echoing sound created from the water lapping the dock which sounds slightly like being in a cave.

One of my regrets is that I never hiked to the “cabin”.  There was a fully stocked cabin up in the woods where you could spend a weekend.

Technology from 1988 - we had only three Macintosh computers which had to be signed out in hour blocks.
Technology from 1988 – we had only three Macintosh computers which had to be signed out in hour blocks.

Attending Sweet Briar

While beautiful – incredibly beautiful – what most made Sweet Briar feel like home were the faculty and staff.  I chose to major in English and Psychology, the closest combination of subjects I thought I could use in sales or marketing, my father’s profession.  I did not have ideas of what I would do when I entered, but Sweet Briar pointed in the direction that would be my career.

All of my courses were amazing.  Any one of them I would go back and retake for pure enjoyment, even the tough ones.  Micro-economics was taught by a dynamic Chris Pikrallidas (who I am delighted to learn is a superstar at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia). Chris insisted that we learn applicable skills and begin to think about how business would be relevant to us whether we majored in it or not.  I seriously considered it.

My love of reading gravitated me towards English, but I would soon learn the rigors of a Sweet Briar education.  Ralph Aiken divided up my Freshman English class into groups of two.  We picked one day a week when we would meet.  He with a pipe settled into a wing-backed chair, me nearly trembling with anxiety over the possible lack of preparation.  He had learned this method at Oxford and thought it was “worthy of repeating”.  Karl Tamburr brought a humor into the classroom.  He read with great passion and pushed his students to write — a LOT.  Ross Dabney’s reading aloud was the purest form of entertainment and learning.  There were classes where the end of class would arrive and none of us even budged urging him to go just a bit further.  Susan Beers, my psychology professor, would laugh when I arrived (late) after one of those classes, “Dabney was reading aloud again, wasn’t he?”

I double majored in English and Psychology (a fact which I marvel at now did not cost any extra as we paid a fixed amount, not by the credit hour).  I still draw upon concepts I learned during this time and refer to the textbooks.

Class of 1988 at Step Singing our senior year.
Class of 1988 at Step Singing our senior year.

Community

Sweet Briar does not have sororities, but it has many ways to find connection.  In my Freshman year, I was voted by my class as a “Q.V.”, a group of classmates who do nice things for their class during their Junior year.  It is an honor I am grateful for to this day both for the connection to fellow Q.V.s as well as for the ideas of leaving secret surprises for people.  I still do things like this for my family and colleagues.  The group met in secret – which made for some very scary nights – and we made secret “drops” in the middle of the night – some of my life’s most terrifying memories.  Because, as it so happens, there is an opposing tap Club, the “Bum Chums”, whose role it is to find Q.V.s   On the final night before step singing, my friend Minta and I stayed at the President’s House.  We were discovered at about 1am and learned later that the back porch, a bright green, had been freshly painted.  Green paint was tracked through the living room up to the bedroom where we slept.

I served on the Student Government Association.  This was where I found my voice, particularly to my elders, men and those in authority.  I think this is one of the lingering lessons of a women’s education.  I also learned to practice this voice while also being polite, a delicate balance.  Many of my male and female mentors at Sweet Briar not only helped me in this regard, they helped me find the words that could fit in my mouth by talking through issues, helping me see multiple perspectives and finding a way to express my own.

Working at Sweet Briar

My career in development began at Sweet Briar.  Martha Clement, an icon of the College, recruited me to be a phonathon caller over breakfast after morning prayer one morning.  She said, “Tonight we are giving away records.  You aren’t afraid to talk to people – you should try it.”  My roommate, Leslie Corrado, had a turntable.  I was determined to come home with a record (Leslie was so generous with sharing things with me).  I took a stack of cards and climbed the stairs to the attic of the Development Office.  The phones were separated by compartments.  I made my first call to California and discovered the nuances of time zones – I had reached a family over dinner.  I later used those time zones to my advantage sorting my cards in order of time zone and calling until well into the night.   I made the top of the leaderboard that night and brought home the AC/DC record (which neither Leslie nor I liked).   I was hooked.  Within a few weeks, I would be given the most challenging cases and I took cards home to call  mid-day for people we never reached in the evenings.  By my senior year, I had a part-time job in the Development Office.  To this day, I ALWAYS am nice to phonathon callers….

At my 5th Reunion, I was recruited to work at Sweet Briar.  After Sweet Briar, I got a position as an event planner at Courtesy Associates in Washington, DC.  I lived with my friend from College, Christina Savage when I wasn’t commuting to and from Annapolis.

Sweet Briar promised to teach me development and that they did.  My boss, Denise McDonald, was an amazing mentor offering me manuals from her past work and coaching me through calls, editing letters and allowing me to shadow her with donor calls and group meetings.  Mitch Moore, Vice President of Development, was also quick to share advice and suggestions.  I was terribly green and made many mis-steps.  They were very patient and attentive.  To this day, I am not sure I have ever been as good a boss as they were to me.  Louise Zingaro, then Director of the Alumnae Association, provided invaluable introductions and encouragement along the way.  Employing Denise McDonald’s Regional Campaign model, $13 million was raised from regional campaigns in New York, NY; Washington, DC; Atlanta, GA; Charlotte, NC; San Francisco, CA; Boston, MA; Philadelphia, PA; Richmond, VA; and Lynchburg, VA.  To this day, I wish we had not started in Lynchburg because it was not my best work and these were Denise’s neighbors….  Many scholarships, endowed professorships, program support and building gifts were made during this time.  I remember so many of those people.

I lived in the “Music Box” apartments.  Working at the College was so different from being a student.  In some ways better, in some ways worse.  The best part was getting to know the faculty and staff as people.  The worst was not being on campus very much (I traveled extensively) and “giving up my rights as an alumna”.  I learned after attending my first SGA meeting as an employee and speaking out, that “voice” I had so boldly learned at Sweet Briar as a student, wasn’t able to speak freely as an employee.  It is one of the reasons I understand the staff member’s silence now as the College seeks to close.

 I learned after attending my first SGA meeting as an employee and speaking out, that “voice” I had so boldly learned at Sweet Briar as a student, wasn’t able to speak freely as an employee.  It is one of the reasons I understand the staff member’s silence now as the College seeks to close.

25th Reunion party at the boathouse.
25th Reunion party at the boathouse.

Reunions

I have attended every reunion at Sweet Briar both on and off campus.  I include off-campus because some reunions have been at weddings, sad occasions and getting together informally.  The friendships and bonds from Sweet Briar are like invisible threads from person to person creating a strong fabric of ties across the country and continents.

What I most love about Reunions is oneness.  Even from my class’s fifth reunion, the friendship groups that naturally clustered together by dorm or major or sport smoothly flowed into one group.  By our tenth reunion, I couldn’t even remember who was friends with who — we were all one group.  Over those years, I have served in various capacities as class president, class secretary and class agent (fundraiser).  The need to serve Sweet Briar has never stopped.

Time together at parties and presentations is wonderful, but I think what many people enjoy is exploring campus.  Long strolls to the boat house or around the dairy route allow a taking in of campus as a whole.  I like to explore the buildings where I took classes and the library where I studied.  This is when Sweet Briar becomes mine again.

A visit to monument hill where Daisy is buried next to her parents is an important stop for me.   Sweet Briar was born of a tragedy – the death of a daughter – and it has become a living memorial.  I think Daisy’s mother, Indiana Fletcher Williams, would be very pleased to know how Daisy is honored.  Every year the students process to her monument and lay daisies in memory.  Today as I write, the President and Board of Sweet Briar are taking steps to close.  Indiana’s will is being violated.  The “perpetual memorial” to Daisy – which exists through the students studying at Sweet Briar – is threatened.

THIS is why I must save Sweet Briar.  THIS is why I care so much.  I cannot imagine a life without her….

A stone laying atop Indiana Fletcher Williams grave, "Believe" sits next to Daisy's resting place.
A stone laying atop Indiana Fletcher Williams grave, “Believe” sits next to Daisy’s resting place.

 

My husband, Lyn, and me at my 25th Reunion.  He is fighting to save Sweet Briar too!
My husband, Lyn, and me at my 25th Reunion. He is fighting to save Sweet Briar too!

 

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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Governance – Best & Worst Practices (with Sweet Briar College as a case study)

The President and Board of Sweet Briar College announced on March 3, 2015 its intention to close.  Since that time, the actions and culture of this Board have revealed themselves shedding troubling light into the dark shadows of the Board’s governance (or lack thereof).  It is important for all who care about their schools, colleges, universities and nonprofits to understand how their Board operates and governs.

Types of Boards — Definitions

Governing Board.  A governing board leads the organization from the top.  They are responsible for articulating the organizational mission and executing plans as well as monitoring the effectiveness of programs.  The also have the authority to recruit, hire, evaluate and terminate the President or Executive Director of an organization. Finally, they serve as a fiduciary of the fiscal health of the organization.

Who serves on a governing board is determined by the type of board it is:

Shared Governance Institutions that have a shared governance model include the voices and leadership of stakeholder groups on the Board.  A leader from each constituency group has a “seat” on the Board and participates in decision making.  In a College or University, this means that the head of the official student, faculty, staff, parent and other key groups would sit on the board.  In addition, “at large” members may be recruited from those groups or the wider community.

Self Replicating A self replicating Board replenishes itself by a nominating group within the Board.  Usually, this is a Nominating Committee.  If there is an Executive Committee, that group sometimes has a role in nominating.  Ideally, the entire board is canvassed for suggestions for new members.  Board members meet with potential candidates and their names are put forward for nominating committee review.  The up-side of this model is that the Board has a pipeline of candidates.  The down-side is that the board can become insular as people tend to reach out to people they know and who share a similar point of view.  Diversity of all types becomes threatened in this model (not to mention solid decision making)

Advisory Boards.  Advisory Boards provide industry expertise to academic programs.  In many institutions, they review curriculum to make sure that what is being taught is in line with what job requirements are after graduation for jobs hiring in the field. John McElroy, PhD, CFLE and Linda Dove, MS, ZA, Western Michigan University in an excellent paper on Advisory Boards describe them as follows, 

“..Their main function is to offer support to institution administrators and faculty….comprised of accomplished experts offering innovative advice and dynamic perspectives….can provide strategic direction, guide quality improvement, and assess program effectiveness.”

Sweet Briar College Board of Directors 

In the case of Sweet Briar College, they have a self replicating Board which does not consist of constituency group leaders officially.  The majority of the Board are alumnae.  As the Board does not share its Minutes or documents, the only glimpses we get into their operations are their own statements as well as statements by former members.  The President’s own words describe the decision-making process as a small group of people:

“The board, some key alumnae and I have worked diligently to find a solution to the challenges Sweet Briar faces….”

One member of the Board, Richard E. Leslie, who felt pressure to resign because his ideas and opinions seems to run counter to the “Executive Leadership” gives us a frightening glimpse into the current culture of the Board.  He contrasts the current operating of the Board to his past experience prior to Rice, the current board chair:

During my early years of my seven year tenure the board had vital and rigorous discussions on most issues before reaching consensus.

Fiscal restraint and enrollment increase ideas were monitored and discussed at every meeting.  Times have changed.  Now I must add my name to the list of directors departing before the end of their terms.

Most disturbing is that he states that differences of opinion were not tolerated by the Executive Leadership of the Board.

Each time I tried to argue for fiscal prudence, I was denigrated or ignored.

This is not a sign of healthy board deliberations.  Mr. Leslie was trying to raise some warning calls.  This also gives some idea as to the remaining members of the Board.  If they saw board members who disagreed or raised a contrary opinion being forced to resign and leaving before their terms – and a lack of tolerance for any opinions differing from the Executive Committee – those who chose to remain were likely silent if they held any concerns.

In the past year, Committees met less and less…. We discuss less and less and the presentation of the budget is a foregone conclusion.  Is this good governance?

No, Mr. Leslie, you are exactly right, this is NOT good governance and it is appalling to hear that this is how the current board operates.  Your comments are echoed by others who have left the board, some of whom who have stepped forward to create Saving Sweet Briar.

The most troubling of his comments is important to emphasize:

Why do we even need Committees?  Why do we even need a Board? All decisions are not even made by the Executive Committee but rather a small sub-group of the Executive Committee and passed along to the board for rubber stamp approval.  … the interim President selection was passed along to the Board and it wasn’t even felt necessary to take a vote!

My distrust for Mr. James Jones aside, the Board not having a proper vetting and vote for his appointment as President casts serious doubt as to this Board’s ability to govern.  Furthermore, it gives credence to the call for Mr. Jones to resign or be removed if he was not ever properly voted upon by the Board.

A lingering question I would have related to the changes Mr. Leslie cites are whether the by-laws were amended to change the decision making to a small group.  I cannot imagine a full Board voting to allow a small group to make decisions for them, but let transparency provide the answers in this case.  My understanding is that  there were two votes evidently to change the number of board members required for a quorum:  Once before the February vote from 24 to 23 and then again down to 20 after the announcement.

No outside directors have been appointed to the Board since you (Rice, the current Board Chair) and I (Richard Leslie) were appointed to the Board seven years ago.  All new members have been alums. This is not healthy and fosters a very insular focus that does not encourage the diversity of views necessary for any institution to thrive.

Indeed, the lack of diversity not only in type of stakeholder on the board and the lack of diversity in the alumnae appointed to the Board is cause for concern.  Combined with the fact that the full Board may not have had access to important information or deliberations by the smaller group within the Executive Committee casts doubt upon this particular Board being capable of proper governance.  I would add the lack of representation by stakeholders is also of serious concern including the voices of faculty, staff and the wider community.

There is no plan or even discussion of a plan for Presidential accountability. In my view one of the reasons for the many sad failures in admissions, retention and fiscal restraint is the absence of any performance goals for the President.

This is a shocking.  One of the important fiscal roles a Board plays is the hiring, goal-setting,  evaluation and removal of a President or Executive Director of a nonprofit.  They are the only entity that holds a President accountable.  If this is true, combined with not having a fair vote for the President’s appointment, this would be further grounds for a lack of confidence in and removal of the current President.

I was the lone vote for voting against $1M of our endowment money being spent for yet another strategic plan…. As a member of the “working group” I have repeatedly asked for and not received any information about the actual survey protocols. I have received no information about who at the College is in charge of this massive effort. … Really!!? An outside consultant supervising the work of an outside consultant she hired?

Hats off to Mr. Leslie for being willing to be a lone vote on a Board that seems to take a “rubber stamp” approach to its decision making.  He raises incredibly important points.  Whenever an outside consultant is hired, there should be strong controls put in place for deliverables.  Surveys are only as good as the questions asked and results are only as good as sound methodologies of analysis.  If the protocols were not reviewed by the very working group charged with reviewing and implementing the results, any conclusions those surveys suggest would be in question.  We know now what some of their recommendations were and there are thousands of alumnae who join Mr. Leslie in his concern.

Request for Board Transparency (and best practices)

In the interest of transparency, I would like to see the Sweet Briar Board of directors provide the following (which incidentally is normally available to constituents of non-profits, schools, colleges and universities either upon request or even more readily such as via a website):

  1. Copies of its by-laws.
  2. Copies of its Minutes.
  3. The Committees of the Board and the staff members who staffed those Committees.
  4. Committee Minutes and Reports.  I would like to see reports provided to the Committees of the Board would also like to know whether staff members were included in those Committees whose work focused on important areas such as Admissions, Development and Finances.
  5. Documentation of historic by-law amendments over the past five years if the Committee structure were changed and proof (through Minutes) of a vote taken to approve those changes.  The rationale for having to change the numbers on the board twice in a year.
  6. Documentation of the vote of the Board to approve the hiring of the President and the change from Interim to full President.
  7. An accounting for fees paid to outside consultants and a release of those reports — particularly since endowment funds were used to pay for the study.
  8. How members of the board are found, vetted and nominated and the role of staff when extending invitations (reference Teresa Pike Tomlinson being asked about serving on the Board by a staff member).
  9. How the Alumnae Board and the Board of Directors sees its role (if the by-laws are not clear on this)
  10. How other entities of Sweet Briar with their own Boards relate to the Board of Directors
  11. Are there Advisory Boards for any of the academic areas for Sweet Briar?

Resources:

Legal documents including Mr. Richard Leslie’s letter quoted herin

Association of Governing Boards:  Consequential Boards

Saving Sweet Briar

Personal Feedback & Observation

As an employee of Sweet Briar College in the 1990s, I participated in the Development Committee of the Board and was invited to attend Board Meetings.  Granted, I sat on the side of the room, but I was present for board deliberations, votes and reports from all Committees, not just Development.   While there were some deliberations that occurred in closed session, my recollection was that it was only pertaining to the evaluation of the President.   I do not recall a board member ever leaving before their term was out.  The fact that the current board has had several members leave before their terms expired is not a good sign.  Mr. Leslie gives us a clue as to why he resigned – he felt he was forced out.  We do not know about the other members, but one could reasonably guess that they had concerns.  Having to amend the by-laws for the number of members twice in a year is also troubling.

At the University of Maryland, I have been elected to sit on the University Senate.  A shared governance model is a strong model for higher education and one that I think a future Sweet Briar should employ.  By having shared governance, all key stakeholders can deliberate their unique issues and present a unified voice to a larger Board or Trustees.

One of the most powerful lessons I have learned in managing boards came when I served as Executive Director for the Foundation for Anne Arundel Community College, voted the top Community College in the country and with an enrollment of over 50,000 students.  The Board Chair, F. Carter Heim, abolished the Executive Committee of the Board as one of his first actions when he took office.  As a staff member, I liked the Executive Committee, it allowed me to write reports and handle business within a small group.  However, I quickly saw the merits of Mr. Heim’s philosophy.  Board participation in meeting attendance, committee attendance and giving increased dramatically.  Mr. Heim’s philosophy was that there should not be anything outside the purvue of the entire Board.

Finally, I would suggest that a strong network of Advisory Boards be employed in each major on campus for Sweet Briar to maintain its connection to graduate-level education progression and hiring opportunities.

Sweet Briar College offers some important lessons for nonprofits, schools, colleges and those who love those institutions.  I will continue to share those I find most pertinent.  Please comment below if there are issues you would like to see discussed.

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.

Stacey Sickels Locke, CFRE

 

 

 

 

 

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