Mediation to the Rescue


When Sweet Briar College in Virginia announced it would close at the end of summer, its committed alumnae mounted a legal challenge to save the all-women’s private school.

Sweet Briar, like many small, liberal arts colleges in rural areas, has struggled to stay afloat for years. As noted in The Wall Street Journal, Sweet Briar dramatically increased aid to attract more students (it enrolled only 561 undergraduates in Fall 2015). The school also suspended retirement benefits and laid off employees, but faced such overwhelming financial burdens that it decided to close. This sparked an intense outcry—and litigation.

And this is when mediation saved the day. As noted by Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring:

I convened this mediation because I truly believed it was the most promising venue for resolving this incredibly complex and difficult situation. We’ve spent hundreds and hundreds of hours on this matter over the last several months and everyone involved deserves credit for committing to the process and reaching a resolution. The agreed settlement certainly is better for all parties than continued litigation, and more importantly, Sweet Briar College will stay open.

The settlement allows Sweet Briar to remain open for at least another year, and, more importantly, establishes new leadership at the college; the hope is to address the financial crisis and formulate a plan to reinvigorate and rebuild the college.

Pacific ADR Consulting’s neutrals have experience resolving disputes in school environments. For more information, please visit our website or call us at 206-624-3388.

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