Tag Archives: Saving Sweet Briar

Independence Day – Indie-Pendence Day: A Fresh Look at the Declaration of Independence and the Revolution of Sweet Briar College

blog declaration

Declaration of Independence

I have always been moved by Independence Day.  Through one of my ancestors, Susannah Lytle, I am a Daughter of the American Revolution.   It all seemed like very distant history to me for most of my life.  It is hard to imagine what our forefathers did for us as Americans or what life was like as colonists.

That is, until recently.  I have a new appreciation for what it is like to live through a revolution — the saving of Sweet Briar College.

One of the nicest traditions I have enjoyed over the years is reading the Declaration of Independence on July 4th.  Elsie Baxter Heckel started my family on this tradition before my sons, Kent and Leland, were born.  This was a family tradition of hers starting long before Elsie could remember.

Each summer on Independence Day after a day of sun and fun, the family gathered for this tradition.  Just before dinner, everyone would gather on the broad sun porch.  Every chair was filled, children sat on the floor.  The aroma of dinner, started much earlier in the day, filled the room.

The yellowed, well-worn pages of this version of the Declaration of Independence came from Elsie’s membership in the Daughter’s of the American Revolution.  It was about the size of a small paperback book.  If you don’t have a copy at your home, you can view the text from the National Archives.

Outside, motorboats buzzed by, children played in nearby yards and the sounds of summer filled the air.  Inside, we were brought back to the horrors the early revolutionaries endured at the hands of a tyrant King.  Every few paragraphs, the book would be handed to the next person.

Fireworks - always a fun Independence Day tradition.
Fireworks – always a fun Independence Day tradition.

Until I discovered this tradition, Independence Day was all about flags, fireworks and fun.  Reading the Declaration of Independence with all of its “facts held out to a candid world” brought special meaning to the waving flag and a newfound respect for country.

This year, the Declaration of Independence has fresh meaning for me as I have just gone through my own “revolution” in the saving of Sweet Briar College.   I have read the Will of Indiana Fletcher Williams and lived the revolution brought about by those who have fought to honor it.

Indiana Fletcher Williams established Sweet Briar College through her will.
Indiana Fletcher Williams established Sweet Briar College through her will.

As I read the words this year, it brought to mind the journey of thousands of students, parents, faculty, staff, alumnae and friends….

“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.” (Declaration of Independence)

Just as the inhabitants of these United States listed their grievances with the King of England, those who love Sweet Briar College have pursed legal action since March 3, 2015 to fight the attempted closure of the College they love.   The phrase, “When in the course of human events, it sometimes becomes necessary for one people to dissolve their political bands which have connected them with another…” has new meaning for me.  I don’t believe I have ever experienced anything as unifying as the movement of Saving Sweet Briar.   The causes which impelled those saving Sweet Briar were declared in legal briefs, on bedsheets, in blog posts and in the national media.

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

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” (Declaration of Indpendence)

Students React to Closure of Sweet Briar College

Students React to Closure of Sweet Briar College

As I read the words, “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the Right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government….”, I am so grateful to the early revolutionaries of the United States.  It also makes me think of the revolutionaries of the Saving Sweet Briar Board who boldly put forth their own funds, time and talent to fight a cause they felt was worth fighting.  I, and thousands along with me, will honor them as revolutionaries of our time.  Joining them are the legal teams  – and those who supported them — representing students, faculty, alumnae and the Commonwealth of Virginia.  Faculty and staff boldly spoke out.  Like the newspaper publishers of days gone by, writers of blogs and opinion pieces cried out against injustices and raised their truths.  All put forth a new vision and foundation for the future.

“Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.” (Declaration of Independence)

"Girls Quit, Women Fight" banner hung outside Benedict Hall at Sweet Briar College, the night of what the College declared "it's final reunion".
“Girls Quit, Women Fight” banner hung outside Benedict Hall at Sweet Briar College, the night of what the College declared “it’s final reunion”.

The lawsuits of the students, faculty, alumnae of Sweet Briar College and the Commonwealth of Virginia petitioned for injunctions to halt the closure of their beloved College.  They listed their own usurpations as our forefathers did.

“He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.”

Sweet Briar College Votes to Close College at the End of 2014-2015 Academic Year (Sweet Briar Website)


“He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.”

How Sweet Briar College’s Board Decided to Close (Chronicle of Higher Education)


“He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.”

Hundreds of Alumnae Welcome Back Students as Show of Support


“He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.”

Anger and Optimism Greet Sweet Briar College Plan for Closure (New York Times)


“He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.”

Alumnae Association Creates Independent Association from College

Faculty Votes Unanimous No Confidence (Washington Post)


“He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.”

Sweet Briar Board Was a Short Sighted Mess (Richard Leslie in Washington Post)


“He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.”

Transfer Process Takes Toll on Students (News Advance)


“He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.”

Virginia Attorney General:  County Attorney Lacks Standing in Case (News Advance)


“He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.”


“He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.”

Who Gets Sweet Briar’s Endowment? (Inside Higher Ed)


“He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.”

Sweet Briar Administrators Block T-Shirt Fundraiser


“He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.”

Sweet Briar College Can Be a Trust (Saving Sweet Briar.com)


“He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:”

“For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:”

Protests at Sweet Briar College
Protests at Sweet Briar College

Sweet Briar Students, Faculty Protest Closure Outside President’s House (Richmond Times Dispatch)


“For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:”


“For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:”

Sweet Briar College Abroad Programs to go to Hollins (Roanoke.com)


“For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:”


“For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:”

County Attorney Appeals Sweet Briar Case to Virginia Supreme Court (Washington Post)


“For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences”


For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:


For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:


For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.


He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.


He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.


He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.


He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.


He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.”

While we were not fighting for our farms, our passion certainly runs strong. New leadership takes hold at the end of this Independence Day weekend.   The new Board of Directors is comprised of leaders from many economic sectors united in a desire for Sweet Briar to exist in perpetuity.

“Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.”

In Perpetuity....
In Perpetuity….

“We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

New President Takes Charge Declaring He Will Work Towards Highest Enrollment Ever (Washington Post)

President Stone wrote, “At an appropriate time, I will be able to more fully and effectively acknowledge the heroic work of Saving Sweet Briar and other friends of the college in successfully achieving what appeared to the rest of the world at the beginning to be impossible. The Sweet Briar alumnae have just been extraordinary, further proof that this special college dare not close. With their time, energy, resources and “Vixen determination,” the alumnae have demonstrated what might be our operative slogan:

AT SWEET BRIAR COLLEGE, THE IMPOSSIBLE IS JUST ANOTHER PROBLEM TO SOLVE.”

New Leadership at Sweet Briar College (WNCN.com)

Students, faculty, staff and a new board return to Sweet Briar for a new academic year.  All of these women and men are revolutionaries!

July 2nd – the day Sweet Briar keys were turned over to those who worked to save it – will always be our Indie-pendence Day!

* * *

Additional Reading:

Victory for Saving Sweet Briar:  In Indiana Fletcher Williams We Trust

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.

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Sunshine Laws & the Case for Abolishing the Executive Committee….everywhere….

Sweet Briar College's Board is described by its own members as, "
Sweet Briar College’s Board is described by Richard Leslie, a former member as, “ham-handed, myopic and dictatorial”.

Sweet Briar College provides excellent lessons for schools and organizations about which I have written over the past few weeks.

This title, “Sunshine Laws & the Case for Abolishing the Executive Committee….everywhere….” lifts up the need for transparency as well as the downfalls of having an over-arching Executive Committee of a Board.  After all, who wishes for a small group of people to make decisions for them when they are fully capable of weighing the same evidence for themselves?  No one.  No one likes others to make decisions for them, particularly when the decision is terminal.

Mr. Richard Leslie’s opinion piece “Sweet Briar’s Leadership was a Short-sighted Mess” in the Washington Post regarding his experience on the Board sheds light about the Board’s governance practices that led to its controversial decision to close the College announced on March 3, 2015.  It is sickening to hear about the conduct of this board.  As more and more information unfolds in the legal discovery process and in the national media, it is obvious this board was incapable of solving tough challenges, practiced poor governance and made a faulty and hasty decision to close.  It is time for them to resign.  In the words of Dr. David W. Breneman, member of the Executive Committee, he admits their weakness,

We knew that we faced an existential challenge, but collectively we were unable to find an answer.

Vice Chair of the Board, Elizabeth Wyatt, describes it even more simply,

“We tried….”

Today I dive deeper into the issue of governance and examine the Executive Committee model both at Sweet Briar College and through my own experience.  I call for implementing Sunshine Laws and practices immediately and abolishing Executive Committees everywhere.  Why?  Because it makes for better boards.  I learned the hard way….

When I served as Executive Director for Anne Arundel Community College Foundation and Director of Institutional Advancement for the College, I inherited a board with a strong Executive Committee, Chairs of Committees and a robust list of 20+ board members.  I was cautioned by the outgoing Executive Director that not many of them showed up and that the majority of the work was done within the “EC” (Executive Committee).  This wasn’t cause for alarm for me, in fact, it was the norm from places I had been and boards on which I had served.  All of the training I received in leading boards led me down the path to this model.  I now realize the consequences of this model and know there is another way….

Enter the rising board chair.  Six months into my five year tenure at this organization, a new board chair rose to lead the board.  He was an accomplished accountant with a large firm in the area and a respected community leader.  When he rose to the position of Chair for the Board, the first thing he said to me was, “We are no longer having an Executive Committee.”  My first response was, “What???  How are we going to get our work done??”  As an Executive Director, I LIKED the idea that I could convene a few people on the phone or by email and resolve issues (which were later reported to the board  fait accompli).  He explained to me that, through his board experience, he didn’t appreciate serving on a board when it seemed that a smaller group actually made decisions and he simply was asked to rubber stamp them or not weigh in at all.  He said, “Eventually, people feel like their time is wasted and their voice on the board doesn’t matter.  Trust me on this, we will have a better board.”  He was right.

This new model for the private foundation was closer to the operations of the Board of Trustees at the same College .  As the College was State funded, they were required to operate under Sunshine Laws.  Those laws forbade Trustees to meet or make decisions outside of a public forum.  In light of Sweet Briar College’s current fate, this approach seems very refreshing and worthy of consideration for future leadership.

Sunshine Laws call for openness.  Whether mandated by law or best practice, these practices make for good decision making and leadership.
Sunshine Laws call for openness. Whether mandated by law or best practice, these practices make for good decision making and leadership.

DEFINITION of ‘Sunshine Laws’

Regulations requiring openness in government. Sunshine laws make meetings, records, votes, deliberations and other official actions available for public observation, participation and/or inspection. Sunshine laws also require government meetings to be held with sufficient advance notice and at times and places that are convenient and accessible to the public, with exceptions for emergency meetings.  (Credit:  http://www.investopedia.com/terms/s/sunshinelaws.asp#ixzz3cl9l2SXB )

If the Government can figure out to publish their meetings in advance and make their deliberations public, I certainly think a small nonprofit or College could do the same.

At Sweet Briar College, the Executive Committee had completely usurped the power of the board, Richard Leslie wrote in the Washington Post:

During the five-year term of the Presidency of Jo Ellen Parker, rather than none, all critical decisions were made by a small subset of the Executive Committee of which Ms. Dalton was a part.

The full board was occasionally asked to ratify decisions, which they dutifully did.

Upon the entrance of Jo Ellen Parker, all board members were specifically instructed not to contact a member of the Senior Staff without first obtaining permission of the relevant committee chair and the president. They even brought in a coach from the Association of Governing Boards (AGB), an organization solely funded by the presidential budgets of our nation’s colleges, to reinforce this stifling of involvement.
As I can personally attest, those who even accidentally violated this rule were reprimanded by the president.

By contrast, when I worked for Sweet Briar College in the 1990s, I found an engaged Board open to feedback from all fronts.  As a junior staff member, I was encouraged to attend meetings (albeit sitting in the back), interact with members of the Development Committee, continue to volunteer as an alumna, and interact with students regularly.  I attended meetings of the Development Committee and worked with several board members around the country for Regional Campaigns.  I stayed in these board member’s homes and we shared ideas throughout the day.  Imagine if that board member had not been able to speak to me at the time? Board members under the current administration were told not to talk to staff members and were reprimanded when they did.

In documents connected with the court cases (click here for a link to all legal proceedings), Mr. Leslie further wrote that even the decision to move the interim President to full President was made without input from the full board.

'Please shred all of the napkins we wrote anything on.'
‘Please shred all of the napkins we wrote anything on.’

Interim President James Jones in an official College “Q & A” said this about the Executive Committee when asked why the Board didn’t share its Minutes:

Q: Why not release the meeting minutes?

Jones: “Because we do not have to release the minutes and because an enormous amount of what went on was done in executive session where ther
e are no minutes.”

When I first heard this I was disgusted.  As more experts debunk figures used by the board and more information becomes public, it is disturbing to me to know that the full board was not included in “an enormous amount of what went on….”.

The American Association of University Professors remarked on the Sweet Briar Board’s unilateral action as follows,

On March 3, 2015, with no warning, the board determined the college’s fate without any faculty participation, in evident disregard of widely accepted AAUP-recommended governance standards, as set forth in the Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities, jointly formulated by AAUP, the American Council on Education, and the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges. The board acted in secrecy, even though for two years the college’s faculty had been developing alternative curricular and programmatic scenarios to assure Sweet Briar’s survival.

All stakeholders of Sweet Briar College were shocked by the Board’s lack of transparency and action:  students, parents, faculty, staff, alumnae/i, community members.

Back to my personal experience with my board chair and the transformation that unfolded.  Initially, the board didn’t know what to make of the notices that our meetings would be a bit longer and there would be a new approach.  While we still sent out Committee Reports from Committee Chairs in advance, those Committee Chairs were given more time at the meeting to update and to discuss.  When preparing for the meeting, the board chair and I would go through what decisions needed to be made and the flow was designed to provide information on those items and voting early in the meeting.  If we got into too much detail when preparing, he would stop us and often say, “The full board would appreciate hearing this.”

The meetings themselves transformed in small ways at first.  People who normally arrived late and left early stayed to the end.  Those who often were multi tasking with their blackberry in their lap were more engaged and participated in discussion.  If anyone had held back not contributing during the meeting, the Meeting Evaluator (more on that in a moment), would ask for their input during the roundtable evaluation of the meeting a the end (more on that as well).  By the third meeting, the tables were filled.  We had to change rooms.  By the last meeting of the year, there was a buzz in the room, constant dialogue, engaged members.  Oh, and not surprisingly, giving from board members increased as well as offers to engage between meetings.

The idea of having a Meeting Evaluator and a roundtable meeting evaluation come from the book, Death by Meeting, which I commend to everyone.   The meeting evaluator takes notes throughout the meeting regarding participation, length of discussion on items and gives feedback for improvement to the group.  During roundtable evaluation, there is a brief report-out sharing either a take-away from the meeting or something a member would like to see in the future.   Best of all, the five tips for better meetings is transformative if heeded. One of the five is worth lifting up in particular:

Provoke conflict. Are your people uncomfortable during meetings and tired at the end? If not, they’re probably not mixing it up enough and getting to the bottom of important issues. Conflict shouldn’t be personal, but it should be ideologically emotional. Seek out opposing views and ensure that they are completely aired.

Back to Sweet Briar College.  The Board of Directors of Sweet Briar College voted to close on March 3, 2015.   Imagine if this board actually operated with some form of Sunshine Laws or even basic transparency?   We would have:

  • Meetings locations and agendas published in advance.
  • Meeting minutes available for review.
  • Reports used for deliberation available for public review.
  • Stakeholders represented (students, faculty, parents, staff, alumnae/i, community members).
  • Opportunities for public comment.

Imagine if the Executive Committee either didn’t exist or did not make decisions in private?  I do wonder whether the full board might have reached a different conclusion if they had access to the same information.  Is this a board that can be trusted to issue a death sentence?  I think not.

The Sweet Briar College Board of Directors voted to close - a death sentence to the College and a violation of the will of the founder. Their deliberations are not unlike famous executions in history not based on proper facts or due process.
The Sweet Briar College Board of Directors voted to close – a death sentence to the College and a violation of the will of the founder. Their deliberations are not unlike famous executions in history not based on proper facts or due process.

Unfortunately, this board has issued a death sentence to Sweet Briar College.  Fortunately, the legal system has intervened including the Virginia Supreme Court.  

I assert that this board expresses the worst in governance practices.  This board has a small insular Executive Committee making decisions outside of the full board’s input.  The board took actions before announcing closure to violate donor’s gift intentions (meeting with the Attorney General to use donated funds for closure purpose)s.  The leadership provided erroneous data (now being revised with eight-figure errors).  The board members were given reports on which to base their decision without being able to review those reports in advance (they were collected after a cursory review period at one meeting and collected before a vote).  Board members were told they could not launch a fundraising campaign based on a survey not designed to provide the data for such a decision (an analysis of this study with input from the firm charged with conducting it is explored in this article).   This is pathetic governance and their decisions are simply not to be trusted.

"Collectively we were unable to find an answer" -- Dr. David W. Breneman, board member.
“Collectively we were unable to find an answer” — Dr. David W. Breneman, board member.

Saving Sweet Briar, Inc., a charitable organization committed to the future of Sweet Briar College, stands ready to provide new leadership and support.  To contribute, please visit Saving Sweet Briar.  To review the strategic direction for the future, please visit:  Sweet Briar 2.0.

Please also consider reading:  http://beingunlocked.com/2015/05/would-you-like-to-save-a-college-an-open-letter-to-philanthropists-everywhere/

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 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.

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“Pride, Pomp and Circumstance…of War”

Stacey Sickels Locke, Class of 1988, graduation day.
Stacey Sickels Locke, Class of 1988, graduation day.

All across America, it is graduation season.  “Pomp and Circumstance” by Elgar will be played endlessly as graduates float across the stage.  Usually, this is a time of celebration.  Not at Sweet Briar College.  Elgar’s March in D Major “Pomp and Circumstance” is based on the final line in a Stanza from Shakespeare.   That line has an eerie significance when one considers the current state of Sweet Briar College:

Farewell the neighing steed and the shrill trump,
The spirit-stirring drum, the ear-piercing fife,
The royal banner, and all quality,
Pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war!  

– Shakespeare “Othello”, Act 3 (from which Elgar took the title for the famous Graduation March)

On my graduation day in 1988, I arose early and took a walk.  My mother french braided my hair and tucked a sweet briar rose into the sides.  I wore a floral dress, pearls and a pair of heels with VERY pointed toes (very 1980s fashion).

Nenah Fry was President.  Karen Lawson, Class of 1974, was the Distinguished Alumna Awardee.   I knew the Board of Directors members personally, including Michela English who sat on the graduation platform.  I not only trusted them all, my first job came as a result of one board member.  My English professors, Ross Dabney, Ralph Aiken and Karl Tamburr hosted a reception Saturday afternoon.  The Rev. Susan Lehman had a party on Sunday for all who practically lived at her home as students.   My Psychology professors, Susan Beers and David Johnson, had a bar-b-que on Friday afternoon. Graduation was filled with hope for me, my classmates and the College.  Robert Barlow, Dean of Students, and his entire family were part of my family in the four years prior, that weekend and in the years since. The campus was at its peak with flowering trees blooming, carefully cut grass and celebrations planned throughout the weekend.  This was my Sweet Briar.  This was my graduation.

At Sweet Briar College, the Class of 2015 will awake on Saturday morning to a very different future.  The alumnae of Sweet Briar across the country and around the world will awake with a sense of gloom.   It is hard to imagine, but imagine this:

Imagine receiving word just two months ago as a student, faculty, staff, alumna or community member that this is to be “the last commencement”.  The President and Board have voted to close.

Banners protesting the closure and leadership hung from balconies, the bell tower and buildings.
Banners protesting the closure and leadership hung from balconies, the bell tower and buildings.

Imagine seeing bedsheets unfurled from balconies and the belltower with student protests.

Imagine the alumnae mobilizing to fight the closure, hiring legal counsel and filing an official suit against the President and Board Chair.

Imagine learning that the College plans to use donations to close the College.

Imagine being an alumna receiving a letter asking for permission to use your generous contribution (or that of your departed loved one) to close the College.

Imagine your faculty with a 100% vote of no confidence in the President and Board.  Imagine those same faculty receiving termination notices.

Imagine a court hearing in nearby Bedford granting a 60 day injunction forbiding the College from spending endowment to close.

Imagine another attorney offering pro bono representation for students, faculty and staff and being successful in gaining a six-month injunction against closure activities.

Imagine learning that the Virginia Attorney General, Mark Herring, actually sat down with the President and Board Chair to “wind down” the endowment.  To whom do you have to turn?

Imagine your shock learning that the former President and Vice President of Finance had met with Hollins University to discuss a merger several years earlier!  Imagine hearing the President had already received “offers” from interested parties in Sweet Briar.

Imagine the food in Prothro Commons (the dining hall) once so delicious becoming less and less and eventually inedible (to the point where the health department had to be called).

Imagine alumnae around the country hosting fundraisers and rallies against the closure and watching the commitments rise.

Imagine seeing your College in the local, regional and national news.  Articles about closure.  Stories about fraud.

Imagine leaders not affiliated with Sweet Briar alleging fraud and calling upon the FBI to investigate.

Imagine news trucks daily coming to campus exploring stories, allegations and asking for your opinion.

Imagine having to transfer to another College when you wished to stay.

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

Imagine you are a student awaking on the morning of your graduation…

…..Your graduation speaker is party to the suit against the College.

…..Your faculty has asked the President not to attend.

…..Your alumnae are fighting to keep the College alive.

You do not have to imagine.  This reality is unfolding at Sweet Briar College.

Graduation will be lovely.  Pomp and Circumstance will play.  Daisies will be exchanged for roses.  Diplomas will be accepted.  The College song will be sung.  Families will take photos.  Everyone will go home.

Yet, all of this takes place against this surreal scene.  One alumna, Robin Lindsay Frantz, posted this photo:

Robin Lindsay Frantz' creative statement on Commencement 2015
Robin Lindsay Frantz’ creative statement on Commencement 2015

Shakespeare’s original lines from which Elgar took his line for Pomp and Circumstance are fitting.  It is “Pomp, Circumstance and…War”.

My hope is that students years from now will look back on their pictures from the 2015 graduation and know that their education was used for something good.  I hope they look back and remember they were part of the future — and that they fought in this war to save the College.  It may be the most important fight of their education.

I know I will look back on 2015 with no regrets.  I have put my all into saving the College I love.  I do feel I have been at war over the past few months.  The sides have changed. The battles lines drawn.  The legal battles waged, won and lost.

It seems fitting to end with the actual words to Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance” which actually were not written by Elgar.  Arthur Benson wrote the words later.  His chorus is the section repeated over and over as graduates cross the stage, “Land of Hope and Glory, Mother of the Free, How shall we extol thee, Who are born of thee? Wider still and wider Shall thy bounds be set; God, who made thee mighty, Make thee mightier yet”

It sounds like a song written for Sweet Briar, Indiana Fletcher Williams and the mighty fight that is now waged:

Dear Land of Hope, thy hope is crowned.
God make thee mightier yet!
On Sov’ran brows, beloved, renowned,
Once more thy crown is set.
Thine equal laws, by Freedom gained,
Thine equal laws, by Freedom gained,
By Freedom gained, by Truth maintained,
Thine Empire shall be strong.

Land of Hope and Glory,
Mother of the Free,
How shall we extol thee,
Who are born of thee?
Wider still and wider
Shall thy bounds be set;
God, who made thee mighty,
Make thee mightier yet.

Thy fame is ancient as the days,
As Ocean large and wide:
A pride that dares, and heeds not praise,
A stern and silent pride:
Not that false joy that dreams content
With what our sires have won;
The blood a hero sire hath spent
Still nerves a hero son.

— Arthur Christopher Benson (1862-1925)

 

 

Stacey Sickels Locke receiving her diploma.  May, 1988
Stacey Sickels Locke receiving her diploma. May, 1988

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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“Cow Money Challenge”…Putting the FUN in FUNdraising while Saving Sweet Briar

Cow Money Challenge?  That's $1642.03 for a bred heifer in 2012.
Cow Money Challenge? That’s $1642.03 for a bred heifer in 2012.

This is a post about fundraising.  And a post about cows.  I never knew the two went together until the Saving Sweet Briar movement.

Allow me to explain.

In the hours after the announcement of closure by the President and Board of Sweet Briar College, students, faculty, staff, alumnae and the community were reeling.   A range of emotions greeted this news from shock to resignation to sadness to anger to passion to advocacy.  Those who saw a future got to work. One brave alumna, Sarah Clement, a former board member, sparked a movement to save the College.  Saving Sweet Briar  was born.

Sarah gathered together other committed alumnae and formed a Board.  I have written about their efforts in several others posts. This post is about fundraising.  And cows.  Because they go together in this case.

In the early days of Saving Sweet Briar – before a website home was established – Facebook and email provided the fertile soil for the germination and later growth of many powerful ideas.

Fundraising in all forms began.  Direct contributions as of this writing surpass $1 million with multi-year commitments over $11 million.

At first these efforts were like the “Wild West” and not tied together; however, leaders emerged and lassoed the organized women and friends of Sweet Briar into groups — some classic to successful fundraising and some not.

Major Gifts Committee

I sit on the Major Donor Task Force, a group of professional fundraisers and volunteers with experience.   Beth Ann Trappold Newton recruited me. This is the logical place for me to volunteer since I got my fundraising start at Sweet Briar as a student in 1984 and later after my reunion in 1993 (and Beth Ann helped me get my first job after leaving campus – in fact I took the job she left to have her first baby).  Having helped raise $13M of the $25M campaign at the time, I cannot sit back and watch the President and Board try to spend down endowment given by people I remember and some I still know!  The Major Donor Task Force  reaches out personally to those who have been very generous to Sweet Briar over the years.  We are organized into regional groups and are led by a volunteer, Mary Pope Hutson, and now pro-bono fundraising consulting through Alexander Haas.  Through weekly conference calls and many emails inbetween, we coordinate our efforts.  The response is inspiring.

Class Representatives, Regional Representatives, State Representatives

I had the pleasure of meeting with Evangeline Taylor, a dedicated Sweet Briar alumna, who provides encouragement and support to hundreds of volunteers.

Class representatives provide regular updates to class leaders which they in turn send to their class.

State representatives have reached out personally by phone, email and personal letters to those in their state.

Some, like my classmate, Katie Keogh Widener, do both!

Challenges

Back to the Cow Challenge…..  It began in the Bedford County Courthouse.  Those of us who could not be in Bedford followed a series of journalists.  Hawes Spencer captured not only the flow of testimony, but his acerbic humor gave those of us working to save Sweet Briar some of the best laughter we had enjoyed in many weeks.

Up until this moment, I didn’t know what “cow money” was.

So what is “cow money” and what is a “Cow Money Challenge”?  I asked and got this answer:  Susan Finn Adams wrote to me, “Sarah ‘ s uncle was a cattle farmer. He left the farm to her family, they later sold it and split the proceeds. Proceeds = “Cow money”.  “Cow Money” is the most precious money you have.  You don’t spend it unless you REALLY need it.

How do you turn “cow money” into gold?  Make it into a challenge of course!  I told you this blog post was inspired by Cows:

Cow Money Challenge:  Sarah reached into her "cow money", now reach into YOURS!
Cow Money Challenge: Sarah reached into her “cow money”, now reach into YOURS!

Brooke Linville created the “Cow Challenge” with the following post:

Our fearless woman Sarah P. Clement told the court that had she known the condition of the college, she would have reached into her COW MONEY to help. So how much is cow money, we wondered…

As it turns out it is $1642.03 for a bred heifer in 2012. I am sure some of our awesome rancher vixens can help us out if this number is wrong. Anyhow, this is our FUNDRAISING GOAL tonight. We are going to raise us some COW MONEY!

savingsweetbriar.com/donations

Kentucky Derby Challenge
Kentucky Derby Challenge

Before the Cow Challenge, there was the “Latte Challenge”.   Hundreds posted photos of themselves holding a cup of coffee (while providing a challenge to Saving Sweet Briar).  This past weekend, there was a challenge around the Kentucky Derby.

Events.  From Washington DC to San Francisco to around the world, events helped alumnae and friends connect and raise needed funds.  At one event in Atlanta, pledges totaling over $600K have matched an initial challenge by Teresa Tomlinson, Sweet Briar alumna and Mayor of Columbus, Georgia.

Shopping for Sweet Briar

Meanwhile, back on the web, fundraisers of all kinds continued to grow.  When the going get’s rough….

lets shop

Clothing.  Sweet Briar Alumnae Goods features something for every corner of your home.  Virtually anyone with a shingle and a heart can make a contribution.  Examples include:  Coffee Table Book, Decals, Luggage, baby clothes, ring dishes, prayer beads, men’s ties….

Goods of all kinds to #saveSweetBriar
Goods of all kinds to #saveSweetBriar
Baby clothes and fashion galore!
Baby clothes and fashion galore!

Home and Garden.   Everything you might need for home, garden and College:  Yard flags, cookbooks,

Everything for home and garden and College....
Everything for home and garden and College….
Wine plugs, ornaments, key chains...
Wine plugs, ornaments, key chains…
Stelladot jewelry - a favorite.
Stelladot jewelry – a favorite.

They Sell That?  Some of the more unusual offerings included “Jamberry” press-on fingernail polish, Tattoos and even bull riding competitions,

Bull riding?  This alumna offers a 50:50 raffle at her husband's bull riding competition!
Bull riding? This alumna offers a 50:50 raffle at her husband’s bull riding competition!
Tattoo fundraiser.  Yep, we had that too.  Who says SBC is all pink, green and pearls?
Tattoo fundraiser. Yep, we had that too. Who says SBC is all pink, green and pearls?
"Sometimes you have to put on some pink and green and crush it! Rise Up Climbing will changing their colors from black and red to host a pink and green climb night." (Raleigh Durham Club)
“Sometimes you have to put on some pink and green and crush it! Rise Up Climbing will changing their colors from black and red to host a pink and green climb night.” (Raleigh Durham Club)
Sports fundraisers - many SBC field hockey and lacrosse players returned to campus.
Sports fundraisers – many SBC field hockey and lacrosse players returned to campus.
Bumper stickers, decals, anything to share our #saveSweetBriar spirit.
Bumper stickers, decals, anything to share our #saveSweetBriar spirit (Margaret Fisher).
Vixen vodka - the perfect compliment to fundraising....
Vixen vodka – the perfect compliment to fundraising….

As of this writing, alumnae gave the equivalent of multiple cows.  One alumna, Christina Savage Lytle, joked, “Now we are going to need to raise enough for a barn…”

There is no category for this... it just made me giggle.
There is no category for this… it just made me giggle.

What we have here is a recipe for fundraising success.  We have a recipe for institutional success.  HUNDREDS of volunteers divided thoughtfully into groups by expertise and passion are working hourly, daily, weekly and constantly for Saving Sweet Briar.

This is the most fun I’ve had fundraising in a very long time.  The last time I had this much fun was when I was Reunion Gift Chair for my 25th Reunion.  Before that, calling as a Freshman in 1984 when I literally “dialed for dollars’ (and treats).

This is all without formal records or professional staff.  Imagine what could be done for the future?

Care to help?  Check out Saving Sweet Briar and Sweet Briar Alumnae Goods

P.S.  For a post about “cow money” I would be remiss if I didn’t add a parting comment by an amazing woman (whose name I did not catch) who served in the Marine after Sweet Briar.  On the call with the “President”, Missy Witherow, Interim VP of Development, and Sandra Taylor, member of the Board and President of the Alumnae Association, she said,

We have a term for this kind of behavior in the Marines.  It’s called BULL.  I throw down the “bullsh*t flag” on this behavior leading to this decision.

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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