The more I read about the decision to shut down Sweet Briar College, the less sense it makes to me.
Essentially, when I look at Sweet Briar, I see the following:
1) A physical plant, a faculty and a staff that are formidable assets.
2) A sizeable endowment.
3) Complex liabilities in terms of conditions of gifts, etc., that might be negotiable with the right legal strategy.
I see also the following things that need to be done:
1) Dramatic change in the curriculum. Sweet Briar has a huge, sprawling curriculum in relationship to the size and character of its student body. Yes, this means shedding staff and faculty, but more importantly, it means coming up with a distinctive idea about what the education at Sweet Briar is about.
2) Wider recruitment. Of international students, maybe of men if the legal strategy can be found, of non-traditional students.
3) Novel strategies for setting tuition. Maybe Sweet Briar could be the first SLAC to be brutally honest about “discounting” in relationship to means-testing.
4) Rapid commitment of new energies behind pedagogical innovation. Suppose you straight-up say, “We’ll take students whose parents have a lot of money to subsidize education and we’ll give them a completely new form of individual attention, something they can’t get from a MOOC or a large impersonal university or even a traditional selective small college. We’ll build singular programs around singular individuals, every single one.” Maybe, for example, give every student admitted to Sweet Briar gets a “budget” to spend on commissioning particular courses or instructors. Anything that makes it seem like a place that is not like anywhere else in terms of its pedagogy.
I see assets, I see possibilities, and I see a Board of Trustees and an interim President who gave in preciptiously rather than explore those possibilities and assets.
I’d love to see a pro bono project of small liberal-arts college presidents, provosts and faculty who would agree to descend upon Sweet Briar for a weekend of creative thinking, to help their Board and President see the futures they haven’t seen. I’ll pledge my time right now if there’s sufficient interest in such a thing.