Category Archives: Stakeholders

Saving Sweet Briar: The Bells are Ringing for me and my Gals!

It could have been “For Whom the Bell Tolls”, but instead it is “The Bells are Ringing!”

bells Dean martin

My dear readers have followed the story of my college, Sweet Briar, over the past six months.  On March 3, 2015, those who loved Sweet Briar received a terrible shock.  The President and Board had voted to close.  Shortly thereafter, Saving Sweet Briar, Inc., a nonprofit organization, mobilized to raise funds and launch a legal battle. Thousands rallied around them supporting additional legal suits, fundraisers, events and more — in support of a single goal to keep the College alive and honor the will of the founder.  As you are aware by now, the efforts were successful.  After a collective gasp and sharp inhale over many months, a slow exhale begins.

On September 2, 2015, Saving Sweet Briar will deliver the final payment as a part of the settlement agreement — on time and with extra.   The website says,

“September 2 is a day to celebrate . . . together! At 12 Noon EST, ring a bell if you have one, and let’s show the world our colors—a sea of pink and green! And please share our story of tenacity and determination. WE, the alumnae of Sweet Briar College, have preserved this unique institution of higher education to empower future generations of young women—just as it empowered us.”

In tribute to all who have worked so hard for this effort, I offer a literary tolling of bells with scenes of the Sweet Briar Bell Tower:

Cupola of the Bell Tower, Briar Patch post card.
Cupola of the Bell Tower, Briar Patch post card.

Daisy in whose memory the College was established as a “perpetual memorial”.

bells 5

Indiana Fletcher Williams, Daisy’s mother, whose will established Sweet Briar College.

bells 2

The Presidents of Sweet Briar College (with one exception whose name will not grace these pages).  Some of these Presidents I only knew as the names of some of our dormitories or academic buildings, but I had the pleasure of knowing personally all of the Presidents Since Nenah Fry.:

Philip Stone, 2015-

Jo Ellen Parker, 2009-2014

Elisabeth Showalter Muhlenfeld, President emerita, 1996-2009

Barbara A. Hill, 1990-1996

Menahy Elinor Fry,  1983-1990

Harold B. Whiteman, Jr., 1971-1983

Anne Gary Pannell, 1950-1971

Martha B. Lucas, 1946-1950

Meta Glass, 1925-1946

Emilie Watts McVea, 1916-1925

Mary K. Benedict, 1906-1916

bells

The Board of Directors of Sweet Briar College

A special bell rings for Teresa Tomlinson `87, Esquire, Chair of the Board and one of the most compelling graduation speakers of 2015. I had the pleasure of knowing Teresa as a student at Sweet Briar.  I looked up to her as leader of the student government then, and I salute her now!

A "No Confidence" banner hung off the Sweet Briar bell tower - a symbolic heart of campus.
A “No Confidence” banner hung off the Sweet Briar bell tower – a symbolic heart of campus.

Saving Sweet Briar if it were not for the brave women of Saving Sweet Briar – and their families – we would not have had the structure to raise funds and reach the successful settlement.  These women funded and launched the fight and pointed the way forward. Their torch lit the way.

Jo Ann Soderquist Kramer (Sweet Briar College, AB 1964; University of Virginia, MS Aerospace Engineering 1967)

Sarah Clement, Chair of the Saving Sweet Briar, Inc. Board (Sweet Briar College, AB 1975; University of Virginia School of Law, JD 1984)

Sally Mott Freeman (Sweet Briar College, AB 1976)

Christine Boulware, Secretary of the Saving Sweet Briar, Inc. Board (Sweet Briar College, AB 1977)

Tracy Stuart (Sweet Briar College, AB 1993).  Tracy provided the funds to launch the initial legal suit and is putting her love for the College to work as a coach.

Ellen O. Pitera (Sweet Briar College, AB 1993; University of Virginia, MA Teaching 1999)

Brooke Linville (Sweet Briar College, 2000-2002, George Washington University BA 2004).  Brooke created the Saving Sweet Briar website and fueled the social media campaign with creative messages and images.

bells clouds

Legal

Legal minds provided the way forward to saving Sweet Briar College.  Special bells must ring for:

Ellen Bowyer, County Attorney for Amherst County, Virginia

Elliott J. Schuchardt, Esquire

Troutman Sanders, LLP

White & Case, LLP

Media

This graceful image of the bell tower taken by Aaron Mahler, graced the majority of the news articles in 2015.
This graceful image of the bell tower taken by Aaron Mahler, graced the majority of the news articles in 2015.

Without media attention, the stories raising up the efforts to save Sweet Briar would have been been eclipsed by the constant “implosion” stories.  Still, all of the reporters who covered the stories and their news outlets deserve a special tolling of the bells.

Social Media

Without social media, this special college would likely not have been saved.  Through Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, Reddit, Instagram, Pinterest, Youtube and beyond, the stories, photos, people and passion of Sweet Briar made its way to the hearts and minds of thousands. Within these platforms, the social networks, conversations and fabric held people together, rallied generosity, raised important issues, researched important issues and held leaders accountable.   My “friends” on Facebook doubled after March 3, 2015.  My last count of the groups I have been invited to join numbers over 20.

Sweet Briar 2.0 - the collective strategic ideas for the future.
Sweet Briar 2.0 – the collective strategic ideas for the future.

Sweet Briar 2.0 gathered together the many strategic ideas for the future of the College.  Hundreds contributed initially through email chains, spreadsheets, Facebook groups and subject matter discussions resulting in a living and breathing website.

One of the brilliant memes created during the social media campaign to save Sweet Briar College.
One of the brilliant memes created during the social media campaign to save Sweet Briar College.

The Major Gift Task Force brought together volunteers with fundraising experience (or willingness) to reach out to past major donors of the College and beyond.  On the front for saving Sweet Briar, these were the soldiers with whom I spent the majority of my time.  Each week we had conference calls under the leadership of Mary Pope Hutson, now a board member.  Without official donor lists, we called from spreadsheets, email suggestions and memory. The donors who responded not only were generous, they were very, very patient.

In the shadow of the bell tower, faculty helped students returning to Sweet Briar.
In the shadow of the bell tower, faculty helped students returning to Sweet Briar.

Faculty and Staff of Sweet Briar are the heart of the College.  Without superior academics, there would be no College.  When you ask any student what the College means to her (or him), you will hear stories about faculty.  For me, my English and Psychology professors continue to influence me today such as Susan Beers.  I miss those who are no longer alive:  Professors Ralph Aiken, Karl Tamburr, Ross Dabney, and David Johnson.

The Chapel steeple rises above the Bell Tower.
The Chapel steeple rises above the Bell Tower.

Prayer, the Chapel, the Chaplain and the Chaplain’s House

As a student at Sweet Briar College, I served on the search committee for the new chaplain.  My classmate, Kelly Meredith Iacobelli, and a representative group of faculty and staff poured through resumes from around the country.  The Reverend Susan Lehman and her husband, John Dalzell, came to Sweet Briar and moved into the Chaplain’s House (now Hubbard House lovingly restored by the Hubbard family).   At the Chapel I was confirmed, gave my first sermon and laid a strong spiritual foundation.   At the Chaplain’s house, I discussed issues of the day over memorable meals and found solace in the home-like atmosphere.   Susan and all of the spiritual leaders of Sweet Briar who came before and after her all deserve the ringing of bells.  The prayer of Emily Watts McVea from 1928 inspired me to write this post at reunion, 2015.

The hitching post painted the colors of 1988, gold and purple, with the bell tower in the background.
The hitching post painted the colors of 1988, gold and purple, with the bell tower in the background.

“My” Classes and “My” Places

Every person who feels close to an institution owes that bond to the people who share it with them.  I am blessed with deep connections through my time as a student, as an employee and as a volunteer over the years.  As beautiful as a campus may be, acres and buildings cannot love us back.  People can.  My classmates of 1988 were there to greet me at Orientation  and they are treasured friends today.  The classes around me are also very special:  1985, 1986, 1987, 1989, 1990, 1991.  It is one’s classmates who primarily weave together the fabric of memory and community.  Since I worked at the College, I also got to know well the students of 1993, 1994, 1995, and 1996.  Having served as Regional Campaign Director, I made friends around the country with alumnae of all ages in Atlanta, Boston, New York, Baltimore, San Francisco, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Houston and Washington, DC.  I rarely travel around the U.S. (or the world) without reaching out to fellow alumnae.  This past summer, I enjoyed spending time with alumnae in Paris and London.

Alumnae gather after the successful settlement was announced. (Photo: WSET)
Alumnae gather after the successful settlement was announced. (Photo: WSET)

The Alumnae of Sweet Briar College deserve the constant tolling of bells given their loyalty and friendship over the years and especially over the past six months.  The events around the country, fundraisers and work days at the College are truly inspiring.  I’ve written about the incredible efforts by alumnae engagement in this post.

Reflections of the bell tower.
Reflections of the bell tower.

My Sweet Briar Mentors

As I reflect on my career, it is my Sweet Briar mentors who come to mind as shaping the person and colleague I have come to be.   As a Freshman, Martha Clement, hired me to be a phonathon caller.  Two days a week I took my stack of cards and called alumnae to encourage them to give.  Week after week, year after year, this experience shaped me into the fundraiser I am today.  Martha believed in me and encouraged me on.  Sometimes, she would ask me to come back in the afternoons between official calling nights to make calls to some of her “special people” (ironically, some of those same people are the people I called to save Sweet Briar).   Martha would be so proud that her daughter was one of the leaders of Saving Sweet Briar.

At my fifth year reunion, Denise McDonald (now the Vice President for Development at Lynchburg College) and Mitch Moore (now the Vice President of Development for Shenandoah College) encouraged me to come and work for Sweet Briar and the $35 million campaign.  The Regional Campaigns Denise taught me to run provided the basis for the next 10 years of my career.  Nancy Baldwin read every letter I wrote, critiqued my phone calls and edited my proposals.  I am a better writer because of her.  Louise Zingaro provided invaluable advice, introductions and friendship.  Bradley Hale, Chair of the Atlanta Campaign and Vice Chair of the Board at the time, provided my introduction to the National Cathedral and my career beyond Sweet Briar.  Martha Holland, Tracy Savage, Claire Dennison Griffith, Missy Witherow, Michaela English, Allie Stemmons Simon are alumnae who helped guide and shape my work over the years.

Credit: Art DewPrincessReturns on Deviant Art
Credit: Heather Anne Spear

Students

Without students and the families who support them, there would be no College to continue.  The students are the living embodiment of all that Sweet Briar represents.  Without students to absorb the wisdom of faculty, there would be no degrees.  Without students needing sustenance, there would be no dining services.  Without students pursuing their dreams, there would be no Admissions Office.  Without students, the dorms would be empty.  Without students, donors would find no reason to give. Our bells chime the loudest for the students and their families who were willing to return and to choose Sweet Briar College.

If my words could be bells, they would ring for hours (if not days).  I do hope to be a bell for Sweet Briar College ringing into the future.

SAVED! This photo was taken of me from a crowd that assembled during "the last" Reunion for a rousing cheer for the future.
SAVED! This photo was taken of me from a crowd that assembled during “the last” Reunion for a rousing cheer for the future.

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. 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 raises funds for Saving Sweet Briar, a charitable organization committed to the future of the College  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.

 

Follow us....facebooktwitterpinterestlinkedinyoutubeinstagramby feather
Share this....facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinby featherThanks for sharing!

Would You Like to Save a College, Be a Hero? An Open Letter to Philanthropists Everywhere…

"O.K., I know its a long shot, but if we can convert just one lion..." by KANIN
“O.K., I know its a long shot, but if we can convert just one lion…” by KANIN

As a fundraiser working on fundraising campaigns, there are always suggestions that perhaps some very generous person might step in to “save” the Campaign.  My response usually goes like this:

While that is a really great suggestion, research shows that the way we will meet our goal is to first look at ourselves and ask if we have given our very BEST gift.  Then, we turn to those closest to us and ask if we have thoughtfully met with those individuals and encouraged them to make their very BEST gift.  Beyond that, we divide up names of those previously generous and reach out to them to ask them to consider additional generosity.  Then, and only then, would I suggest looking outside of our Community to someone previously unaffiliated. Because usually someone unaffiliated with our cause is not likely to respond.

Even when I give this response, there is always someone who says, “What about Warren Buffet?  Perhaps HE would be willing to contribute.” or “(Insert Wealthy Person’s Name), surely would want to be involved???”  Usually this stems from the person feeling so passionate about their fundraising effort that they cannot imagine EVERYONE wouldn’t want to give.

Forget what I usually say.  It is time to throw caution to the wind…

THROW CAUTION TO THE WIND!
THROW CAUTION TO THE WIND!

In the case of saving Sweet Briar College; however, it is time for bold and courageous action.  It is time to reach out beyond our community.  The issues at stake here are relevant to anyone who cares about  nonprofits; who loves a place that might face closure; who feels a sense of duty to give back; who puts trust in a governing board and feels betrayed by them; who counts on their charitable gifts to be used as intended; whose children start in Freshman year and expect to graduate as a Senior; who applied to and was accepted to a College only to learn from social media that your application is now worthless; who believe a will should be held in trust…

Forget what I said.  It’s time to point over the fence, declare we will hit a home run and make some bold calls.

1960: Mickey Mantle hit a home run over the right field roof.  Babe Ruth is famous for pointing before hitting a homer.
1960: Mickey Mantle hit a home run over the right field roof. Babe Ruth is famous for pointing before hitting a homer.

In the effort to keep Sweet Briar College open, I am throwing caution to the wind.  I am open to any and all suggestions.  I am telling people to look at themselves, each other and their community.  I am pointing over the fence, over the right field roof and WAY outside of our community.

This past week I was called about a potential donor who it has been noted has considered (and retracted) nine-figure philanthropic suggestions — $100 million to be exact.  When it was first explained to me, it came across that this donor actually might be interested in contributing to Sweet Briar.  I WAS SO EXCITED!  Turns out, this lead came from a consultant of a friend of a Sweet Briar alumna — and the consultant had heard there was a donor in Richmond we might look up.

That old mantra in my head nearly kicked into gear.  Not this time.  Instead, I put some of my fellow alumnae to work on finding contact information and perhaps shared contacts.  Then I decided I would write an open letter to him.  Because – really – this letter could go to anyone.

"The Long Shot" - Greenberg
“The Long Shot” – Greenberg

Dear Supremely Philanthropic Person,

Have you ever wanted to be a hero?  I can tell you how.

Would you like to make an impact on the world?  I can tell you how.

How would you like to save a College?

I know this may sound crazy.  I know I should have taken you to at least 10 lunches before having this conversation.  I know I should be making this appeal with the President of the College sitting next to me on a chair in your office.  I know this should have come from someone you know well.  I know all of this because I have worked at Sweet Briar where I was well trained in how fundraising “should” be done, but we have realized that we must break from what we know — and who we know — hence this letter.

I imagine you have heard through your local, regional and national media of the efforts to keep Sweet Briar College from closing.  Founded by a generous woman, Indiana Fletcher Williams, in memory of her daughter, Sweet Briar has served as a woman’s College for over a century.  Its fate is now uncertain based on the decision in March by a small group, the current Board.

Since that time, thousands including students, parents, faculty, staff, alumnae and the community have rallied for a different future.  For the future to unfold, it will take a tremendous act of generosity and vision.  We hope you might consider this act. YOU will be part of history — and beloved by thousands.

I am sure you have many questions.  Allow me to hit the most important:  Who, What, When, Where, Why and How.

WHO are you saving?  

STUDENTS - the reason Sweet Briar exists and the primary reason it should be saved!
STUDENTS – the reason Sweet Briar exists and the primary reason it should be saved!

WHAT are you saving?

3,000 acres, historic buildings, renovated state-of-the-art facilities.
3,000 acres, historic buildings, renovated state-of-the-art facilities.

WHEN?

WHERE?

  • Sweet Briar College sits next to Amherst, Virginia.  It is an hour south of Charlottesville and a half hour from Lynchburg.
  • The historic architecture designed by Ralph Adams Cram sits on the National Register of Historic Places.
  • The alumnae of the College live all across the globe providing a strong network of philanthropy, admissions recruitment, volunteerism and community.  You will never be a stranger in the home of a Sweet Briar woman.
  • They serve Starbucks on campus, so you don’t have to worry about proximity to a good cup of Joe (in case you, like the Board, were worried about that).

WHY?

  • The why is the WHO (see above), but it is also….
  • Woman’s education produces leaders, particularly in fields with shortages of women and diversity.  The world, corporate America, the nation’s classrooms, the world’s boardrooms needs MORE women’s college graduates, not fewer.
  • Diversity. Sweet Briar recently (and many feel finally) became more diverse in all ways and including race, ethnicity, socio economic levels.   Research shows the benefits of a diverse student body for the entire community.  The current board cites this change as one of the reasons it must close and that this trend is not sustainable.  Diversity is one of the saving graces and strengths of Sweet Briar today.  These students deserve this education and the world needs these students.  Philanthropy is one of the ways diversity can be maintained.
  • Faculty – Sweet Briar College faculty are exceptional.  Unlike larger Universities, they are also approachable.  Classes are not led by teaching assistants.  From the moment students arrive on campus, they are surrounded by an exceptional faculty whose accomplishments are summarized here.  It took years and a century of establishing a strong reputation to attract, hire and retain these amazing leaders — we must not lose them!
  • Sweet Briar College is regularly listed as one of the BEST Colleges in the country for:
    • Student Engagement
    • Quality of Education
    • Liberal Arts Education
    • Alumnae Network
    • Beautiful Campus

HOW?  For the future to unfold, it will also take change.

  • Change. Change which all associated with the College (who wish for it to continue) are committed to embrace.  This change is in the form of solid plans, talented administrators, dedicated board members and loyal students, parents, faculty, staff, alumnae and the wider community.
  • Plans.  There is a strategic plan thoughtfully crafted by experts in their field.  This plan addresses all aspects of College operations from admissions to development to land use to facility management.
  • New Leadership. Several potential Presidents with proven turnaround track records have been vetted and willing to lead. A slate of board members both nominated and recruited for their dedication and professional expertise stands ready to serve.
  • Retaining Talent. Sweet Briar has amazing faculty who are willing to stay.  Talented administrators including some loyal and currently serving and others identified for their proven expertise can step in to manage.
  • Legal.  Saving Sweet Briar secured Troutman Saunders to assist with the legal work.  To date they have secured a 60 day injunction.  Another attorney, Elliott Schugardt, secured a six month injunction.
  • Dedicated Alumnae. I, along with thousands of others, are willing to do all in our power for the future.  We do not ask you to consider a gift before giving ourselves.
  • Charitable Status!  Saving Sweet Briar has been granted its 501(C)3 status.

Generous donor, would you consider making Sweet Briar College one of your philanthropic priorities this year?  Would you help save this College?

Thank you so much for your thoughtful consideration and for all you are doing for the causes important to you.

PLEASE consider this request.  PLEASE save Sweet Briar College!

Very sincerely (and with strong desperation),

Stacey Sickels Locke, Class of 1988

I, Stacey Sickels Locke, CFRE, am a proud graduate of Sweet Briar College, Class of 1988.  I served as an employee of the College in the early 1990s working on the $25 million Campaign.  During that time, I solicited many leadership gifts which make up the current endowment and I feel 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, I have spent my career building support for higher education and the nonprofit community as a staff member and consultant for boards.  As a volunteer, I have served Sweet Briar since graduation as a fundraiser, admissions ambassador and now advocate for the #saveSweetBriar movement.  I am a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), am affiliated (through the University of Maryland) with the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and hold a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) certification from CFRE International.

Stacey Sickels Locke, CFRE

 

 

 

Follow us....facebooktwitterpinterestlinkedinyoutubeinstagramby feather
Share this....facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinby featherThanks for sharing!

In Front of the Camera saving Sweet Briar: Footage from the Cutting Room Floor….

Jeff Goldberg of WJLA ABC7 (DC) interviews Christine Bump and Stacey Sickels Locke
Jeff Goldberg of WJLA ABC7 (DC) interviews Christine Bump and Stacey Sickels Locke

Normally I use my blog, social media or just about any conversation I am in lately to share about Sweet Briar College and the amazing fight to save it. Tonight I am supposed to be on television.  More precisely, on the news.  WJLA 7 in the DC Metro area will air Part II on Sweet Briar and the efforts to save the College.  You can see Part I here.

Link to WJLA ABC7 which will also stream live:  http://www.wjla.com/video/2015/05/closing-of-sweet-briar-college.html

My fellow interviewee, Christine Bump, invited me to participate.  Christine is amazing.   The effort to save Sweet Briar is blessed to have people like Christine.  In Christine we have legal expertise, passion for Sweet Briar and a gifted writer.  Most of the communication distributed to thousands of alumnae began from her pen.

These types of interviews and opportunities do not come about by accident.  A team of dedicated volunteers working to save Sweet Briar reaches out constantly to news media to share the “savers” side of the story.  In the early days of the announcement, the “closers” story seemed to prevail.  Thankfully, the tide is turning.  In this story the reported WANTED to hear about the efforts.  We hope we did them justice.

The “interview” was actually a conversation with the reporter, Jeff Goldberg.   There is nothing like a television camera trained in one’s direction to clarify one’s thoughts (or leave a gaping hole where thoughts once were :)!!)  It was so much better to do the interviews together.   Jeff told us that the story would be three minutes — a very generous and lengthy story in news land — so that meant much would be clipped.

I thought I would share today some of the things that may make it into the story and some that are likely on the cutting room floor.  I’ve also added some information learned since the interviews.  I’ll share them in the form of the questions Jeff asked:

What do you think is going on here?

Christine pointed out this could be a “land grab“.  James Jones, “President” of Sweet Briar College, is recorded as saying in a faculty meeting that he had received “Many proposals” for the College.  The question is whether there are ties to board members from the entities expressing interest.  There is evidence that Sweet Briar approached Hollins University two years ago regarding possible closure.  Everett Stern, private investigator, who hosted a press conference at Sweet Briar recently, found evidence of fraud and possible land interests.

View of campus from Monument Hill.  Sweet Briar has over 3,000 acres.  Are there plans for the land already?
View of campus from Monument Hill. Sweet Briar has over 3,000 acres. Are there plans for the land already?

Financial benefit.   The stated plan is to provide severance packages to employees.  As much as I respect the faculty and staff at Sweet Briar, I would rather have them keep their jobs than to use endowment funds to pay severance packages.  Usually employees of Colleges receive a small percentage of their salary each year towards their retirement.  Those with the largest salaries would gain the most from the severance payment plan.  Furthermore, using the endowment to close the College is against every law designed to protect donor gift intent.

Board Governance.   There is a total lack of communication measured by the shock from students, parents, faculty, staff, community members and elected officials.  The Board refuses to share its documents leading to its decision to close.  The President has conflicted himself numerous times.  Statements made about the financial need continue to change.  I have worked for a school facing possible closure and they were honest with alumnae asking the questions, “What would you do if the school were in peril?” And, “What would a world be like without the school?”  There are ways to ask these tough questions and Sweet Briar did not.  It is misleading to pursue alternatives like a merger with another College when simultaneously recruiting students and accepting donations.  Based on documents now public, it would seem that the functioning of this Board is cause for concern.

Misuse of charitable funds.  Funds given by generous donors over the years should not be used to close the College.  I worked for the College in the 1990s during their Great Expectations Campaign and raised $13 million of a $25 million effort.  I still remember those donors and I feel strongly about fighting for their interests – some of whom are no longer with us.

Lack of Leadership.  There is a profound lack of leadership on display since the President and Board announced its intention to close.   The early statements about why the College had to close were embarrassing and should be a lesson to any leader how NOT to speak about higher education, women or diversity in 2015.  The students whose lives were disrupted and especially those who felt blamed (particularly first generation college students and those receiving Pell awards), deserve far better treatment.  Faculty feel their contract with the College was violated.

Why are you working to Save the College?

I shared that Sweet Briar is a home to me.  It was the place I came after four high schools and 14 moves.  I got an excellent education and still have many ties to the College.  I also worked in Development and started my career there.  

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

I am also working to Save the College because the world needs Sweet Briar and its graduates!  Companies need female leaders.  Tech companies with whom I work are desperate for diversity.  Women’s Colleges have a track record for producing women leaders.

It is amazing to see the outcry and volunteerism from students, parents, faculty, staff, alumnae and the community.  I believe we are seeing one of the most effective stakeholder revolts the nonprofit world has ever seen.  Supporting this effort will find those who have worked so hard on the right side of history!

Beyond the Sweet Briar community, there are lessons here for all schools, colleges and nonprofits — lessons that need to be brought to light.  We count on Boards to protect the interests of the organizations we love and support.  There is a collapse here in Board governance.   As donors to charities, we count that our gifts are used as we intend — people should know they have a Donor Bill of Rights.  If the Attorney General allows the College to unravel the endowment, this should cause concern to donors everywhere!  There are other States where their Attorney General’s have protected  donors and intervened when poor governance might be at play. As a mother with a College Freshman, I would feel very misled if my son had been recruited to a College that had an uncertain financial future and an intention to close.  The transfer process has not gone well for students and has left families reeling.

Donor Bill of Rights - all donors have these rights and institutions have a duty to uphold them.
Donor Bill of Rights – all donors have these rights and institutions have a duty to uphold them.

Christine shared that Sweet Briar College, like all women’s colleges, should be an option for the next generation of young women.  It is a niche school, and it is not ideal for everyone, but that does not mean it does not have an important place in the educational landscape.  Its small size, the attention paid by and dedication of all of the professors, and the immense opportunities it provides allow young women to push themselves to the fullest, find their true voice, and forge their own path in the world.  Sweet Briar gave Christine the courage to step out from behind what everyone expected of her and define who she was supposed to be.  Without Sweet Briar, she says she would have continued being who everyone thought she was. The next generation of women deserve that opportunity.  Sweet Briar is the most important place in the world to Christine and she holds a place in her heart behind only my husband and my parents.

What does the future hold?

We are seeing one of the greatest stakeholder movements I believe the nonprofit world has seen.  Sweet Briar can return stronger.  Alumnae are ready for change — even if that change means going co-ed (and I hope people can hold open a piece of their heart for the possibility that my sons could attend one day).  My father was part of the Citadel during its media flurry over its first female applicant.  The media exposure and the increased enrollment leaves it stronger today than it ever was.  I think we could thrive and have lines of students down the driveway.

Christine ended our interview with this poignant message:

We believe that saving the College will be one of its biggest strengths.  Many institutions tout the strength of their alumnae network; what young woman wouldn’t want to attend a college with such a strong network of alumnae that they were actually able to challenge and overtake the status quo and save the school?  Once we do that, however, Sweet Briar has to remain relevant.  Alumnae are working on multiple committees to design what we are calling Sweet Briar 2.0.  We are restructuring the College’s governing documents so that the Board no longer has ultimate authority.  We are making curriculum changes to attract more students and integrate Sweet Briar’s biggest resource — its land — into the curriculum.  There are many ideas being considered and foundations being laid so that we never face another crisis like this again.

Christine is right, who WOULDN’T want to be part of the amazing network that is the family of Sweet Briar College?

Thank you WJLA ABC7 for helping us tell our story….  To thank ABC7 you can tweet “@ABC7News”.  T

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
Follow us....facebooktwitterpinterestlinkedinyoutubeinstagramby feather
Share this....facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinby featherThanks for sharing!

To the Alumnnae Board of Sweet Briar College: Hello? Is anybody home?! (Open Letter & 10 Suggestions for the Alumnae Board)

silence

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
I have not received any response to my letter and I suspect I will not.
There is a post on social media of an Alumnae Association Facebook group (below).  Their letter is here, but I would assert is NOT the kind of action we need.  Shedding tears, listing and digesting news is not enough when you are a leadership group representing stakeholders.  Planning a Reunion is certainly admirable, but now is a time for ADVOCACY.

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.

Actually, we do NOT agree on much.  The fact that the Alumnae Board says they learned only an hour prior to the Board of Director’s decision means that the members of the Alumnae Board who serve on the Board of Directors must not have thought the Alumnae Board should have a voice or a role.   We do not all agree that the role of the Alumnae Board is to support current students, provide for faculty and staff and to preserve Sweet Briar’s legacy.    The role of an Alumnae Board should be bolder than all of that and focused on alumnae needs.
Here are a few suggestions for the Alumnae Board. PLEASE, be a leader and not a passive audience of the attempted dissolution of our College.  Consider the fact that if the #saveSweetBriar movement is successful, there may still be a College and alumnae to serve.  Which side of history would the alumnae board like to sit?
1.  Acknowledge there is a difference in opinion and strategy between the alumnae behind the #saveSweetBriar movement and the alumnae on the Board of Directors who supported the closure.   Even if you cannot condemn the decision (which I personally would appreciate), acknowledging the large number and passion of the women would be appreciated.  Recognize the amazing dedication of the alumnae being expressed.  Note the fundraising commitment.  Be part of this historic wave of alumnae connection and advocacy.
2.  Call publicly on the President to use more respectful language when speaking of the large movement of alumnae.  Using terms like “small” and “irrational” and “overwrought” is sexist and disrespectful.  “Well-intentioned” isn’t in the family of appropriate language either.   It would show leadership for alumnae, students and women everywhere to call out disrespectful language where it exists, even if that language is not intentionally sexist (many in the majority do not realize when they are being offensive).
3.  Acknowledge the pain expressed by current students and alumnae of color at the way the President has described the “changing demographics” of Sweet Briar  as negative.   Acknowledged that diversity is a strength of Sweet Briar and that some of his comments have been interpreted as racist by students, parents, alumnae and leaders in higher education outside of Sweet Briar.   It would show leadership for students, alumnae  and people  everywhere to call out disrespectful language where it exists, even if that language is not intentionally racist  (many in the majority do not realize when they are being offensive).
4.  Call on the President and Board to comply with the mandates by outside parties to preserve records and to respond swiftly to any possible legal action.
5.  Advocate for donor intent.  The majority of the contributions in the current endowment were made by alumnae.  Realize that the Alumnae Association has an important role to protect and defend the rights of alumnae donors.
6.  Call for better and more thorough research by independent parties rather than support the decisions of the Board of Directors which has relied on what may be questionable “research”.    Be public about what information the Alumnae Board has – or has not received – with respect to the Board of Director’s decision.  If a lack of information does not allow you to support their decision or make an official comment, state that.
7.  Exercise indepence.  Request a briefing by the Forensic Accountant when those financial findings become available.  Request a briefing by Professor Dan Gottlieb who has dug into the “data” submitted by the Board and raises grave and essential questions.   If the Alumnae Board has questions regarding the financial statements and conclusions used by the Board of Directors to close Sweet Briar, say it and request additional review.  Take back the Alumnae Board’s financial holdings within Sweet Briar and reestablish your financial independence.
8.  Recommit yourself to your charter and mission.  Re assert your independence of the College.   I would remind the Alumnae Board that you should represent the wishes and voice of the alumnae, not employees or any other stakeholders of the College, even if that is difficult given that the Alumnae Board is staffed by College employees.   You may have an independent role to play in the future, even if that future is only to gather alumnae.
9.  Review the mission of Sweet Briar College.  Consider the role alumnae leadership should play.  Articulate that role.   I would urge advocacy.  Current students and parents have a short-term need for their daughters to finish their education.   Faculty and staff are incredibly dedicated, but they also have a financial relationship as employees of the College. Alumnae have an important role to care about the long-term of an institution – they receive no “benefit” from their affiliation.  Alumnae have a critical role in saving the College now.
10.  Allow individual members of the Alumnae Board to speak.  Do not allow silence to be your message.  If you cannot speak as a unified Board, allow people to resign and speak individually.  Alternatively, issue a statement that you cannot agree and that there is a difference of opinion.  If necessary, disband yourself and acknowledge who IS speaking on behalf of alumnae (I would assert that the only alumnae leadership right now is Saving Sweet Briar and those stepping forward through social media).
Alumnae Board, your alumnae NEED you, your leadership and your independence right now.  Why the silence?  Let’s hope this quote is true for you:
“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.

Stacey Sickels Locke, CFRE
Follow us....facebooktwitterpinterestlinkedinyoutubeinstagramby feather
Share this....facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinby featherThanks for sharing!

How NOT to speak about higher education — or women — or diversity — in 2015….

James Jones
James Jones — the Commonwealth of Virginia requests his removal in its injunction.

“Argue for your limitations, and surely they’re yours.” — Richard Bach

The announced closure of Sweet Briar College provides much fodder for every stage of grief.  The current President and leadership’s statements continue to horrify many alumnae and the public at large.  Each time the President takes the microphone or speaks to press, the quotes get worse.  The President of the Board, the President, the President’s wife and other leaders: How is it possible in 2015 that people could speak this way?

Here is how NOT to speak about higher education — or women — or diversity — in 2015

 “Sweet Briar’s rich-girl days were long gone.”
— Sweet Briar President and Chair of the Board, Paul Rice

Rich girl days?  Really?  While every School and College may have a percentage of students whose parents are able to pay for tuition without any loans or grants being taken and provide for many of the extras, Sweet Briar has never been a majority “rich girl school”.  Even back to the founding days of the College there were scholarships for financial need and students were able to work in all types of jobs to provide for their education and expenses.

Jones told The New York Times that for students who entered Sweet Briar in fall 2014, 37% are first-generation college students, 32% are minorities, and 43% received Pell grants — federal financial aid grants for low-income undergraduates.

To use this statement as a reason for the College closing is one of the most egregious Jones has made and has generated widespread ire.  To have this statement made as a negative is extremely unfortunate. Some have picked up on this statement and repeated it in front of current students and their families both on campus and around the country — as if this is a negative.  Colleges and Universities across the country are THANKFULLY becoming more diverse in many ways — racially, socio-economically.  Mr. Jones’ wife describes it this way in a public Class of 1969 webpage:

Then you thought about the cost of four years of college today. That cost is far beyond what an average American middle class family can afford without great sacrifice and careful financial planning. But, Sweet Briar had a world-class riding program, so surely there were girls from super wealthy families attending, weren’t there?

Evidently not, Mrs. Jones.  The majority of families in higher education today are described by the statistics your husband quoted and the average middle-class family.  Sweet Briar should embrace these students and their families.  A school of “girls from super wealthy families” is never a goal for even families who are blessed with extraordinary wealth.   Diversity is a blessing to all.

Mr. Jones’ comments not only appeared in print, but on a call with thousands of alumnae he was bold to say:

“I guarantee you that the students of today and the students applying are not of the same caliber as your generations.”

This phrase has been repeated by some in support of closure and is extremely disrespectful for current students and their families.

Frankly, students who are bringing in Pell Grant income may be, in fact, contributing significantly to the bottom line. I raised a question to the former President when I visited for my 25th Reunion and she said, “It is the traditionally full-pay families who are sometimes paying the least – because they know they can negotiate. ”

Every school has a range of socio-economic diversity.  To blame the closing of the school on a change in the percentages is irresponsible and offensive.

Sweet Briar is no longer the “horsy school on the hill,” current professor.

Horsy school on the hill?  Good grief.  One of Sweet Briar’s STRENGTHS which continues (based on this year’s award winning season) is its equestrian program. While a small percentage of Sweet Briar students ride horses and an even smaller percentage of students bring horses with them, to describe the College this way indicates a complete lack of awareness of the award-winning program as well as the successful athletes, including Lendon Gray, a three-time Olympian.  Our award-winning sports teams and incredible coaches are one of the hallmarks of Sweet Briar — and frankly any College or University.  Riding is something that gives us a niche and a good reputation.

Sweet Briar determined in 2011 that the alumnae’s changing demographics made it impossible to effectively conduct a large-scale fundraiser, Sweet Briar’s vice president for finance Scott Shank told The News & Advance.

2011 is a full enrollment cycle away from 2015 where we are now.  It is very unfortunate that the College did not conduct a professional feasibility study of its alumnae testing REAL issues and themes.  The last feasibility study of 200 alumnae was conducted by staff members (I have spoken to many alumnae who gave when I worked at the College and who participated in this study – they cited no confidentiality as staff were the interviewers; no theme of any concerns; no details about giving levels). This was a huge missed opportunity.  Alumnae assert that the College did not come to them and the fundraising ability they have shown — in incredibly creative ways — is inspiring (to this fundraiser in particular).

To say that the “changing demographics” made it impossible to conduct a large-scale fundraiser is completely offensive.  This was my reaction initially and then I heard from the editor of the leading industry publication in my field (when she read about Jones’ and Shank’s statements)

I didn’t attend Sweet Briar, but I have to say that as a person of color (and donor to causes I care about) this bit attributed to the institution raised my ire.

By the way — news flash — one of the most generous groups of alumni are those who received scholarships and support themselves because they feel a duty to give back.  Some of the world’s leading philanthropists did not come from wealth — someone helped them.  Chances are, your “changing demographics” may actually be the source of great support in the future.

In response to why the College couldn’t adapt or change….

Here’s more from Jones’ conversation with IHE earlier this month on Sweet Briar becoming co-ed:

Jones said that, at Sweet Briar, going coeducational did not seem like a simple solution. He said that such a move would have required lots of money for scholarships and facilities, and he wasn’t subtle about the purpose of the spending. “We would need scholarships to basically buy males,” he said.

Buying males?  Are you kidding me?  I have two sons, one college age.  He is not “for sale”.  He chose to attend a small, liberal arts College in the Midwest.  As a parent, I would have loved to have him consider Sweet Briar (albeit with a different male-counterpart name).  I imagine there would have been many more interested and they would not have to be “bought”.  Even if it is true that merit or scholarship support might be necessary in a greater percentage initially, to frame it as “buying males” is just disgusting.

The Chair of the Board, Paul Rice stated (when dismissing the possibility of going co-ed)….

Rice elaborated on the projected increased spending in The New York Times.

“You don’t just take ‘ladies’ off of every other bathroom door and put ‘men’ up,” Rice said. “You have to add programs and facilities, athletics. All of these things take significant investment and time.”

This is the Chair of our Board folks.  Obviously, a co-ed environment requires some adaptations.  There are men and women’s bathrooms in every facility on campus as it is.  How do you think we get through Reunions?  We have men and women in dorms, attending events and classes all across campus. It would not be terribly difficult to allocate a dorm for male students.   We have sons of current faculty and staff who attend Sweet Briar. With the new athletic facility, a key asset was available.  Furthermore, the College has capacity for far more students than it current enrolls, so even a small percentage of men initially could no doubt have been accommodated.  To hear this decision dismissed so callously down to labels on bathrooms doors is embarrassing and does not instill confidence in the decision making or deliberations  of the Board.

"Leave it to a man to destroy what a woman made" - banner hanging on the bell tower.
“Leave it to a man to destroy what a woman made” – banner hanging on the bell tower.

In the initial announcement about the closure of the College, the President seems to indicate that people just don’t chose a College like Sweet Briar anymore.  He wrote,

“While the College has long been part of my life, as my wife is a 1969 graduate…..The board, some key alumnae and I have worked diligently to find a solution to the challenges Sweet Briar faces. This work led us to the unfortunate conclusion that there are two key realities that we could not change: the declining number of students choosing to attend small, rural, private liberal arts colleges and even fewer young women willing to consider a single-sex education, and the increase in the tuition discount rate that we have to extend to enroll each new class is financially unsustainable.”

This statement is telling because it seems to be that there was just a small group of “key” alumni who convinced themselves there was no hope.  He then refers to them as “us”.  Clearly, he left out the voices of thousands of alumni and his own faculty and staff who had very brilliant ideas (and who debunk with facts and figures the statements of why they needed to close).

It seems President Jones, the Board Chair and others have forgotten that there are HUNDREDS of current students at Sweet Briar College who HAVE chosen to attend a small, rural, private liberal arts college.  There are also HUNDREDS of small, rural, private liberal arts colleges who are open and have smaller endowments than Sweet Briar.

Mrs. Jones, the President’s wife, uses some of the same language in the Class of 1969 webpage where she issues a public comment.

Why were the grounds not pristine as they had always been? You noticed the peeling paint, the shabby parlors, the rotting balcony about to fall off of Alumnae House, and that uneasiness grew…. Maybe you just wanted to let this new president know that it was not “the Sweet Briar way” to have the campus looking like this.

Shabby parlors?  “The Sweet Briar Way?” Actually, due to surging enrollment, many of the parlors had turned into dorms and office spaces.  That isn’t such a bad thing.  And, yes, deferred maintenance was a problem, but no one had thought to appeal to the alumna who have since offered to organize a Habitat-for-Humanity like work project along with funding to catch up.  Some people find older homes charming….

The President’s wife went on to say,

Even though you knew the demographics information: students in 2014 were turning away from single sex colleges, they were flocking to schools in urban and suburban areas that offered more vocational type curricula, they were more concerned about spending their education dollars to be trained for a job than looking for a broad liberal arts education.

Mrs. Jones, you forgot to add the important lack of a Starbucks that your husband was quoted as saying on the call with alumnae about the closure.  Seriously though, there ARE people who choose small Colleges and liberal arts education still thrives.

The announcement of Sweet Briar’s closure ends with a quote by another 1969 alumna, Elizabeth H.S. Wyatt ’69:

“If we make the decision to close now, we will have a better opportunity to conclude academic operations in an orderly, compassionate and ethical way that pays homage to those who are here today and to those who came before us.”

This sounds like someone with their hands folded in their lap, speaking to a child.  Perhaps it was expected that Sweet Briar alumnae would behave like “good girls” and just take this decision and go quietly onto other interests.  But, no, President Jones describes our reaction this way:

“emotional, overwrought, irrational”

Patronizing has never had a better example than this.  This is classic male behavior and language.  “Irrational” is such a convenient word for men, perpetuating their sense of superiority.  This is CLASSIC sexism used to describe essentially what is a different way of being.  One of the reasons we attend Sweet Briar is to learn such things (I was a Psychology major).  Men tend to think they are logical and not use feeling words; women aren’t afraid to express and use their emotion. Emotion is the antithesis of logic. When men perceive women as being too emotional (or a way you don’t want us to be), men say women are being irrational. Crazy. Wrong. Overwrought.  Minimizing somebody else’s feelings is trying to control them. If they no longer trust their own feelings and instincts, they come to rely on someone else to tell them how they’re supposed to feel.   I suspect this is how a percentage of our alumnae are feeling right now (I’ll refrain from using decade generalizations) because they have people around them telling them how to feel and pointing out those who resist in negative ways.  I hope they can free themselves of this path and find their voice.

The press release regarding the President and Board’s refusal to step down refined the term to describe the #SaveSweetBriar movement as:

“well intentioned”

The number of alumnae who turned out to welcome students back from their spring break — traveling far and wide — outnumbered the entire population of campus.  The funds raised in 10 days exceed the entire fundraising goal for the year.  The faculty unanimous voted in opposition to the Board and President.   Dismissing this energy and commitment shows how out of touch the President is with the stakeholders of the institution.

To CBS, Mr. Jones was asked by the interviewer, “Was there anything anyone could do?”  Mr. Jones replied,

“No, there was nothing anyONE could do.”

Mr. Jones doesn’t think there was or is anything anyone could do because he is surrounded by such a small group of pessimistic people.  In fact, once alumnae, faculty and parents learned of the President and Board’s decision, THOUSANDS have rallied and raised MILLIONS.  Clearly he does not see the future and sees nothing that could be done.  The logical thing for him to do is step down and allow those who see a future and have more creative ideas to lead.

These are just a few examples of how NOT to talk about women, diversity and education in 2015.  Certainly not as leaders of an institution with current students, parents, faculty, staff and thousands of alumnae hanging on your every word.

This alumna is embarrassed by your comments and have found myself apologizing to people well beyond the walls of Sweet Briar — including leaders in higher education and the national media.

Who speaks for me?  Saving Sweet Briar!

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.

Stacey Sickels Locke, CFRE
Stacey Sickels Locke, CFRE
James Jones
James Jones

Here is some suggested reading on this topic (and to avoid further embarrassment):

Business Insider:  Dan Gottleib’s Analysis on the College Closing

10 Words Every Girl Should Know

How Not to Sound Like a Sexist Jerk

How to Stop Sexist Remarks…One Conversation at a Time

Example of a Male Senator Using a Phrase Offensive to Female Senator

Follow us....facebooktwitterpinterestlinkedinyoutubeinstagramby feather
Share this....facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinby featherThanks for sharing!

Response to Jan Jones `69 (wife of the current President of Sweet Briar College)

To help my readers and friends understand my passion for Sweet Briar College and to lay a context for the advocacy I share, I offer these comments from the wife of the current President of the College and my response.  The following was posted by Jan Jones on a 1969 public website:

It would be hard for me to imagine an alumna of Sweet Briar College who is not heartbroken over the college’s closing. It is one thing to read about the loss of countless small, liberal arts, residential colleges across America either to closure or merger or absorption by a larger university. It is quite another when it is the school you love, the school that just a few years ago seemed to be thriving because you heard about new buildings and new programs. You heard that your school was one of only two women’s colleges with an ABET-accredited engineering department – WOW! Then you returned to campus for 2014 Reunion and started to feel uneasy. Why were the grounds not pristine as they had always been? You noticed the peeling paint, the shabby parlors, the rotting balcony about to fall off of Alumnae House, and that uneasiness grew.

On the 2014 Reunion schedule was a State of the College session with the President, Jo Ellen Parker, so you made a note to add that to your agenda. Maybe you just wanted to let this new president know that it was not “the Sweet Briar way” to have the campus looking like this. Maybe your uneasiness was growing and you wanted reassurance. You went to the session, listened to the report, looked at the graphs and charts that gave you the current statistics on applications, yields, number of students on financial aid, faculty/student ratios, deferred maintenance, and alumnae giving. It was all there. The President answered questions honestly without being hysterical or giving false hope. It was what it was, and you realized that this school, your school, was falling victim to all the trends that had resulted in the loss of so many other women’s colleges.

It was a victim of nearly fifty years of the co-education of the formerly all-male colleges and universities and the concurrent, drastic shift in the demographics. Even though you knew the demographics information: students in 2014 were turning away from single sex colleges, they were flocking to schools in urban and suburban areas that offered more vocational type curricula, they were more concerned about spending their education dollars to be trained for a job than looking for a broad liberal arts education. But, how could any woman go elsewhere after seeing the Sweet Briar campus and spending even a day in this caring community? And, hadn’t the school added business and engineering degrees? Then you thought about the cost of four years of college today. That cost is far beyond what an average American middle class family can afford without great sacrifice and careful financial planning. But, Sweet Briar had a world-class riding program, so surely there were girls from super wealthy families attending, weren’t there? Sadly the numbers and answers to these questions told a different story.

Virtually no student at Sweet Briar pays full tuition and fees, and this has been true for years. So, what direction could your beloved school take: Co-education? – too late if ever it might have been feasible; Merger? – there is no financially strong, geographically close institution;   perhaps Absorption by a large stable university? Surely the large universities, which always seem to be expanding, would love a small, beautiful campus with historic buildings, a riding center, lake, etc. But, no, even large universities have to carefully watch their own finances, and it would not be “strategic” to take on a school with over $53,000,000 in debt and deferred maintenance combined, especially at a time when state subsidies are being cut.

I interrupt this reading to draw attention to the paragraph below.  Jan Jones is the wife of the current President.  A President who stands to gain financially by the closing of the College through severance packages he plans to pay to faculty and staff out of the endowment, including restricted gifts.   One of the primary roles of the Board is fiduciary responsibility which includes “care, loyalty and obedience”.  A primary definition of loyalty is that a Board acts independently of its President.  It disturbs me that the President’s wife makes these statements – which clearly indicate inside knowledge – as well as the fact that a number of her classmates are on the current Board.

So, the Board of Directors who are charged with making all major policy decisions, by the dictates of the will of the founder of your college, is faced with the hardest decision a board ever has to make. Four of the members of that board are women who were students when you were a student; they are sisters and friends. I can only imagine the heartbreak that permeated every minute of every day during their deliberations. But, they are smart, and they are strong, and they are making a decision about Sweet Briar College, the school they love. All but three on the Board are Sweet Briar Women, so the path they choose is the most heroic, honorable path available. Knowing that they have worked to increase enrollment for over a decade and that they had explored possible fund-raising ideas from every angle, they choose not to continue the downhill death spiral until every dime is spent, and the school is left with no way to help ease her students and employees into their futures. Instead, They vote to close while there is time to help students find another school and while there are still funds to pay severances to faculty and staff. The board heroically, in your opinion, chooses a closure path that honors the core values of the college: Honor and Dignity.

By now you know this is not theoretical, this is our Sweet Briar College story. If you have email, are on Facebook and/or have attended one of the recent regional alumnae gatherings, you know there is a movement afoot called #savesweetbriar. It is a small movement making a great deal of noise about nothing more than trying to block this closure. The group has no “vision statement,” and there is no consensus about how to change Sweet Briar College so that it will be a financially viable institution in today’s world. Their words and actions have become very ugly, spiteful, and irrational. They are ready to “fight” and haven’t yet realized that the Directors and current Administration are NOT the enemies. The “enemies” are intractable historical forces in American higher education that have now been working against schools like our beloved Sweet Briar for a half of a century.

From all of your comments I think the ladies of the class of 1969 “get it” and, along with many others, are willing to stand up in support of the college’s decision. We could not be more proud of Elizabeth Wyatt and Sue Scanlan who were faced with actually making this indescribably difficult decision! For these reasons I am immensely proud and thankful to be a member of this class!

Martha Brewer and I were recently reminded of the dramatic changes our class set into motion on the campus between 1965 and 1969, changes mainly in dress codes and social rules. We succeeded in removing the social rules from the Honor System and eventually removing them altogether. An alumna told us that our class was “legendary” in starting the movement that brought Sweet Briar College into the real world. She said that the classes of 1970, 1971 and 1972 had just followed our lead and built on our work and that all the following classes looked up to us for that.

I can only hope that the current women who have become stuck in the denial phase of grief and are spreading such venom across social media will quickly come to realize that the class of 1969 is again leading the way. We are grieving too, but we are looking to the future. We know that our friendships will endure, that we will still support each other through tragedies and celebrations, and that we will gather in small and large groups whenever possible. We will tell the story of a caring, nurturing community in a stunningly beautiful rural setting in central Virginia and how generations of women received an excellent education preparing them to be “productive members of society.”   Then, when the second volume of The Sweet Briar Story is written, it will be recorded that the school closed as it had lived: with Honor and Dignity.

I would like to share with you the wise words of a very young alumna, Carol Ferguson, class of 2012. She is a Sweet Briar daughter and a third or fourth generation legacy:

“Grieving, but giving thanks for the family that brought me there and the family I found there. We thought we only had to bear the rose, but it turns out we are charged with bearing the seeds as well. Let us plant them wherever we are, so that the whole world might become a little more supportive, a little more unified, a little more intelligent, a little more curious, a little more confident, a little more bold, a little more fabulous—in short let us plant a bit of Sweet Briar in everything we do!!”

And, while we are following Carol’s advice, might there be a way for us to continue to honor Indiana Fletcher Williams’s vision of educating women? Perhaps a Sweet Briar Foundation set up to provide scholarships for women? Be bold and be creative- We are the class of 1969, and I for one am ready to plan our 50th reunion!!

Jan Sheets Jones ‘69

My response:

Dear Jan,

I have read your post with interest. I hope you will give me the courtesy of reading mine. A diversity of opinion and perspectives is critical at this time.

It is nice that your Class of 1969 has its own website. It is also nice that you have some of your classmates who are expressing support for you and for your husband. I am sure this is difficult for your family.

Initially when I heard of this news, I bought the talking points you are repeating here. The whole “close with dignity” rhetoric sounded so Sweet Briar and seemed the “right” thing to do. As someone who has spent my entire career since Sweet Briar supporting education and fundraising, I felt the cause to reverse a decision was utterly hopeless. However, I believe we are seeing one of the most amazing rallying of an alumnae/stakeholder body that higher education and even the nonprofit community has ever seen. I predict case studies written about this “movement” to #saveSweetBriar with other Colleges clamoring to start being more honest and employing many of the strategies being employed by our alumnae (CASE, for whom I just wrote an article in their recent issue, has already asked me to write an article about this). I am still not hopeful about the success of the efforts because of the lack of information and suddenness of the announcement; however, I would never forgive myself if I didn’t do everything I could not only to #saveSweetBriar but to support the people who are willing to work for it. I think it would be kind if you and your husband could at least acknowledge the good work being done and see that the movement to #saveSweetBriar has a motive that is just as pure as yours and certainly has a larger number of people supporting it.

I must share with you that I find your comments about the #saveSweetBriar movement inaccurate and out of touch. You have a right, of course, to post whatever you want on your Class website, but you must have known your letter would be shared more broadly. I imagine that being surrounded by a small group of people who agree with you would make you feel safe to describe the movement as you have. But your comments make you seem completely out of touch. One of the challenges of Boards is that they make decisions in a vacuum and are sometimes out of touch with the stakeholders they purportedly serve. “Group think” occurs on juries, on Boards and in small groups. Given the shock expressed by students, faculty, administrators and alumnae (who admittedly are the least impacted stakeholders), I think the Board has both explaining and listening to do right now, including reconsidering their decision. Based on the shock – and the outpouring of support — there is clearly a lack of confidence in leadership at all levels felt by large numbers of students, faculty, alumnae, the wider community and higher education.

The number of women on campus just this past Sunday outnumbers most Reunions turnouts. The numbers tuning into the discussions and efforts to #saveSweetBriar are six times the size of the student body. The funds committed through the efforts surpass most annual fundraising goals. The faculty who oppose the Board’s actions are the majority of the faculty. Do you dismiss their voice and movement as well? Doesn’t your husband still serve as their President? I suggest you listen to them.

As you, your husband, the Board and perhaps key administrators have now begun to realize, the key issue most people have with the Board’s decision is a lack of information. This is still the key issue. You did not give key stakeholders – students, parents, faculty and alumnae any ability to “move the needle” to avoid this decision. Yet, you had avenues to do so.

As a professional fundraiser, I know the general feeling is that whispering of possible closure could mean contributions would stop. Obviously, we can now see that this isn’t the reaction alumnae (and perhaps parents) would have had. I also have first-hand experience with a school facing possible closure (a girls boarding school). They elected to be honest in their feasibility study (small group of donors surveyed about fundraising trends, priorities and messages). Their alumnae rallied and major changes were made — and funded — and the school survives today. Girls boarding schools are even LESS popular than women’s colleges, as I am sure you know, but they still survive. You all must live with yourselves for not having trusted your most generous donors selected for that study. I understand not telling the broader set of alumnae, but not confiding in the 200 Sweet Briar selected for a confidential study is tragic.

I am not unfamiliar with the challenges in higher education and women’s education. I got my start in development at Sweet Briar under the leadership of Martha Clement. I was hired at my fifth reunion to work for the College. Since then, I have raised millions of dollars for education — including education for women. I just raised the largest gift in the history of the University of Maryland, $31M. Suffice it to say, I sure wish I had the opportunity to rally for Sweet Briar before the public announcement for closure was made.

It is not as you, your husband and some others would describe it – women’s education is not dead or dying. In fact, there are families who choose single sex education for their children (I did for my two sons) in elementary, middle, high school, summer camps and college). There are urban school districts creating single-sex educational environments supported by the Department of Education backed by solid research. My own University of Maryland has created women-only programs, classes and spaces. It is also not true that all or even a majority of families choose urban career training schools. My son is attending a small liberal arts College in Illinois far from any major city (he could have gone to the University of Maryland for FREE). It is ridicules and embarrassing to say that someone wouldn’t choose a College for lack of a Starbucks or proximity to a city. For one, Starbucks is served on the Sweet Briar campus. For another, many people LIKE being in beautiful, yet remote locations. My two sons attend a summer camp in Northern Michigan and we must drive almost an hour from the nearest town to reach it.

I and many others believe the problem with enrollment was a lack of marketing and admissions work, particularly not engaging alumnae admissions ambassadors. I used to regularly staff career fairs in my area and I think the last time I was asked to do so was about 10 years ago. Don’t get me wrong, I know it is hard to do this work and I have respect for the team of admissions representatives. I am simply saying that, again, reaching out to alumnae seems to have stopped and could have been helpful.

I and many others believe the problem with fundraising was a focus on a small number (which I realize staff shortages dictate) combined with a lack of true information with your most loyal alumnae. I tried to join the development office this past year at Sweet Briar and was shocked to learn that the salary being offered for the position – a relatively senior one – was actually less than I made at the College in 1993. I couldn’t afford to take it. I imagine this is also part of the challenge.

In conclusion, I encourage you to step outside of your Class of 1969. Widen your perspective. Include the voices of those who see things differently in your thinking. I read your letter. I hope you have read mine.

Respectfully,

Stacey Sickels Locke, Class of 1988

Follow us....facebooktwitterpinterestlinkedinyoutubeinstagramby feather
Share this....facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinby featherThanks for sharing!