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Shared Governance: Roses Emerge from the Briars – Stakeholder Engagement after the Attempted Closure and Resurrection of Sweet Briar College

shared governance

This spring my Nonprofit Management course assigned a research project on critical trends facing the nonprofit sector.  There is nothing more critical than governance.  The success of Sweet Briar College surviving a closure attempt by its former board provides ample inspiration for research on governance.

As an elected member of the University of Maryland Senate, I have a new appreciation for shared governance.  I chair the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee for the University Senate.  As a staff member, I have never been engaged in shared governance until now.  It is quite amazing sitting alongside students (undergraduate, graduate and post-gradate); faculty (tenured and professional track); staff (hourly, professsional and managerial); and ex-officio members from key departments.  This spring, we worked on four new policies for the University including a policy on Nondiscrimination, Sexual Harassment, and Disability.  Our original policy will have to wait until next semester for action, but it is very important (a policy on students who change their name or gender and need consistency with University databases).  Shared governance works extremely well at the University of Maryland and I can see how it would benefit any institution.

I chose to focus my research paper on shared governance as it is a topic very near and dear to many stakeholders of Sweet Briar College.  The attempted closure of Sweet Briar College resulted in multiple law suits seeking to stop the closure.  The mediation brokered by the Virginia Attorney General allowed each party to the suit to appoint three members of the new Sweet Briar College board.  Students, alumnae, faculty and the Commonwealth of Virginia suit (funded by alumnae) were able to appoint new members.  This new board ushers in a new era of governance at Sweet Briar College more inclusive than past boards. The new board of Sweet Briar has expressed a commitment to engaging stakeholders.

This annotated bibliography and research paper focuses on best practices for shared governance examining the key stakeholders responsible for the saving of Sweet Briar College:  Students, faculty, staff, community, and the founder.

My abstract follows:

Higher education is in crisis. In March, 2015, the President and Board of Sweet Briar College, whose symbol is a rose, attempted to close the 100-year-old institution in rural Virginia.  Stakeholders revolted, filed suits and ultimately control of the College was handed to a new board.  The circumstances faced by Sweet Briar are not unique and point to trends in higher education. The suits filed and the saving of Sweet Briar provide examples of engaged stakeholders fighting for their rights.  This paper examines each stakeholder’s role in the attempted closure and examples from other institutions practicing shared governance.  Shared governance can be a path through crisis. References provide trend data on higher education and examples of shared governance at other institutions.  Sources also provide glimpses into the trends of higher education faced by governing boards and stakeholders, including where there are breakdowns in communication and governance. Reference sources highlight stakeholder groups including student, faculty, staff (administrators and support), alumni and the wider community.  Sweet Briar College must reinvent itself and its governance.  Lessons learned from other institutions can be considered for the future. The collective voices represented in shared governance yields more roses than briars.

Annotated Bibliography:   Saving the Rose – Stakeholder Engagement at Sweet briar College

Research Paper:  Roses Emerge from the Briars — Stakeholder Engagement after the Attempted Closure and Resurrection of Sweet Briar College

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Lessons learned from a phoenix and a vixen: Examining the attempted closure of Wilson College and Sweet Briar College

Fox in flames (credit: Fur Nation)

I am currently in graduate school pursuing a Masters in Business with Nonprofit Management concentration.  This semester, I am taking Organizational Theory and Nonprofit Management.  Each course required me to prepare an annotated bibliography and an individual paper.  With my instructor’s permission, I chose Sweet Briar College, my alma mater, as my focus (normally, you cannot pursue the same research subject in different courses).

My first assignment came in the Organizational Theory course.  We were to take a case study covered in an academic journal and use it as a basis for our individual paper.   This seemed daunting at first.  However, as I began my research, I found many case studies with similarities to Sweet Briar College.  The attempted closure of Wilson College has startling similarities to the attempted closure of Sweet Briar College.  The annotated bibliography provides a “deep dive” in issues facing higher education and the lessons available to learn from Wilson College.  You may find a link below.

Annotated Bibliography:  Phoenix rose emerges from the briar fire (annotated bibliography comparing Wilson College’s attempted closure to Sweet Briar College).

Research Paper:  Lessons learned from a phoenix and a vixen.

fox and flames

As the paper came together, the title changed and some sources fell away in favor of others.  The lessons learned from the attempted closure of Wilson College are relevant for many colleges.  The abstract follows:

Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, whose mascot is the phoenix, survived a closure attempt in the 1980s. Sweet Briar College, in Amherst, Virginia, whose mascot is a vixen (fox), faced attempted closure in 2015 and was saved by its stakeholders six months later. This paper explores case studies and articles reporting on Wilson College and Sweet Briar College.  Other articles elaborate on trends faced by the Colleges and the broader sector of higher education.  Reviewing these colleges provides valuable lessons on challenges facing higher education, particularly for private, single-sex institutions.  The case for this research is Wilson College with comparisons to Sweet Briar College. Both colleges are small women’s colleges with enrollment under 1,000.

Keywords: Sweet Briar College, Wilson College, stakeholders, shared governance, students, faculty, staff, exempt staff, non-exempt staff, alumni, alumnae, minority, president, board.





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