On June 4, 2015, S.J. Quinney College of Law Professor Nancy A. McLaughlin, was quoted in the Washington Post and ABC News regarding the controversial decision by the Board of Directors to close Sweet Briar College, an all-women’s college located in Amherst County, Virginia. Sweet Briar was created under the will of Indiana Fletcher Williams, who died over a hundred years ago and bequeathed substantial real estate and other property to trustees to create the college as a perpetual memorial to her daughter. Several lawsuits have been filed challenging the board’s decision to close the college, and the case is on appeal in the Virginia Supreme Court.
Nancy A. McLaughlin has followed the case from the University of Utah College of Law in Salt Lake City because the Virginia justices will be interpreting portions of the Uniform Trust Code, a model law embraced by 30 states, including Virginia.
McLaughlin, a charitable trust scholar, said a ruling concluding that, because Sweet Briar is a corporation, it does not have to seek court approval to close the school and thereby deviate from the terms of Ms. Williams’ bequest, could be “very damaging” for charitable giving.
“People will be reluctant to donate property if they think the charitable corporation to which they donate can use the property for a purpose other than what they wanted,” she said in an interview.
If Sweet Briar officials had to get a court’s approval to close, they would have to explain “to the satisfaction of the court that it has become impossible or impractical to continue to use the property for the purpose for which Ms. Williams gave it,” McLaughlin said.
McLaughlin stressed she has no position on the case but is interested in the process.
“Whether it has truly become impossible or impractical to run Sweet Briar is an issue for the court to resolve, in my opinion,” she said.