- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The former Randolph-Macon Woman’s College is facing another legal challenge by a group trying to preserve the private college’s long-standing traditions.

The group of 11 students, alumnae, former faculty and benefactors filed court papers yesterday to stop the Lynchburg, Va., college from selling artwork purchased through a trust fund of the college’s first arts professor, the late Louise Jordan Smith.

They maintain that Mrs. Smith, who died in 1928, donated money to the college to purchase art for a permanent collection.

“The documents in her lifetime always talk about a permanent collection,” said Anne Yastremski, executive director of Preserve Educational Choice, a Richmond-based nonprofit organization that is funding two additional lawsuits against the college for its decision last year to admit male students for the first time in its 115-year history.

The group’s cases to stop the school from allowing male students were dismissed in January by the Lynchburg Circuit Court, but are being appealed, Ms. Yastremski said.

Administrators at what is now Randolph College last month asked the court to determine whether the Smith trust fund allows for the sale or sharing of artwork. The college used the fund to buy 36 of the 3,500 pieces at its Maier Museum of Art.

“In order to share or sell any of those pieces under the Louise Jordan Smith bequest, we would need a court determination that such a transaction is permissible under her will or that a court would permit a change in those terms,” college spokeswoman Brenda Edson said.

The college plans to sell some of its art collection to generate money for its endowment, but has not determined which pieces, Ms. Edson said.

“The college is looking at [selling] as few pieces as necessary to give us the infusion into the endowment that we need,” she said. “The board of trustees continues to explore its options regarding certain artwork from the collection.”

Selling art purchased from the Smith trust fund — no matter the reason — violates donor intent and the terms of the gift, Ms. Yastremski said.

“She has as the trustee a separate bank,” she said. “If she wanted to, she could have let the college be a trustee. If she wanted it for the endowment, she would have left it to the endowment.”

Critics say the school has reached this financial predicament because administrators have overspent and are fiscally irresponsible.

“This is yet another example of poor decision making and financial mismanagement by the College Trustees,” the memorandum states.

Ms. Edson said the board of trustees, the college’s governing body, is working to reduce spending, but ultimately determined that admitting male students is necessary for the college’s long-term viability.

Enrollment at the roughly 660-student school has stagnated over recent years, despite increased financial aid and scholarships to lure prospective students, she said.

“The board is ultimately responsible for the financial health of this institution,” Ms. Edson said.

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