Virginia judge clears way for Sweet Briar College to close

By Gary Robertson RICHMOND, Va. (Reuters) - A Virginia circuit court judge on Wednesday rejected efforts by alumnae and others to block the closing of Sweet Briar College, clearing the way for it to join the growing ranks of shuttered U.S. women's schools. But Judge James Updike issued a 60-day injunction that forbids the private women’s college from spending charitable donations to aid the closure, according to local media reports. The Amherst County attorney, who along with an alumnae group sought a more sweeping injunction that would have stopped the college from closing, vowed to appeal the judge’s decision. In early March, the 114-year-old college announced that it would be shutting its doors at the end of this academic year because of what it described as “insurmountable financial challenges” brought on by a dwindling enrollment and soaring expenses. In a statement posted Wednesday on its website, Sweet Briar applauded the judge’s ruling. “This ruling, however, allows us to continue to work closely with the Office of the Virginia Attorney General for an orderly and responsible wind-down of operations," the statement says. "We recognize this is a difficult situation for everyone involved and we, too, mourn the loss of the College,” the statement says. In a court filing, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring said the decision to close Sweet Briar rests with the college’s board of directors and not with the state. The non-profit group Saving Sweet Briar Inc announced earlier this week that it had received pledges of more than $10 million over the next five years from its supporters, and had already received nearly $1 million in donations. Sweet Briar rests on a sprawling 3,200-acre campus near Lynchburg, and has been known nationally for its equestrian teams. It had only recently completed a library renovation costing nearly $9 million, and has recently reported an endowment of about $84 million. In the fall of 2014, Sweet Briar enrolled 560 degree-seeking undergraduates, and had more than 300 employees. Sweet Briar is among a shrinking number of women’s colleges, which totaled 230 in 1960 but by last year had dwindled to just 47 in the United States and Canada, the Women’s College Coalition says on its website. (This story corrects judge's first name to James in second paragraph) (Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Eric Walsh)