- The former president of the now-shuttered Southern Vermont College filed a lawsuit in December alleging four board of trustees members and the institution's restructuring officer illegally denied him severance and indemnification payments during its closure.
- David Evans, who is now the interim president of American University in Bulgaria, is seeking compensatory and punitive damages, attorney fees and other restitution.
- Evans contends the board members tried "to shield themselves from accountability for a lack of necessary financial oversight" that led to Southern Vermont's closure. They retaliated against Evans after he raised concerns that the college wouldn't make requisite wage and benefits payments to its employees, the complaint alleges.
The lawsuit sheds new light on decisions Southern Vermont's leadership made leading up to the college's closure in May.
The complaint states "it became clear" in January that the college was "experiencing a severe liquidity crisis," and that its leaders were worried they wouldn't be able to convince the institution's accreditor, the New England Commission of Higher Education, to let it keep its accreditation.
With the college in distress, a "subgroup" of trustees "dominated the Board and sometimes took Board action without a Board meeting," the lawsuit alleges. For example, without seeking Evans' or the board's approval, one trustee sought out a "chief restructuring officer" in order to protect the "personal interests" of the four board members, the complaint contends.
By March, the board had begun formal steps to wind down Southern Vermont's operations. At the time, Evans said the board voted to close the college after it realized there "was no plausible way" to boost enrollment enough to help the institution overcome its financial difficulties.
But he became worried the board was planning the shutdown "without sufficient funds to cover operations and pay earned wages and benefits to employees."
A consultant hired to help halt the college's operations wrote the board a letter in March expressing similar concerns, saying his firm would not be willing to work with the college if it didn't have a plan to "cover all of its statutory obligations and legal responsibilities," according to the complaint.
This isn't the only legal trouble arising from Southern Vermont's closure. A donor sued the college in May to recoup $2 million he provided so it could secure an $8.5 million bond for campus construction, VT Digger reported.
However, there are some bright spots for the college. Its primary creditors signed off on a deal to sell the main campus to a New Hampshire boarding school for $4.9 million, the Bennington Banner reported. The deal did not include 6 acres housing the college's art center.
Southern Vermont is one of several liberal arts colleges in New England to close in recent years. Enrollment declines there are expected to continue in the next decade due to a shrinking supply of high school graduates.
Green Mountain College, in Poultney, Vermont, has also been looking for a buyer for its land after it closed at the end of the spring semester. Property values have sunk and the town's businesses have struggled since the college closed, according to WGBH.
Officials at Marlboro College, a small liberal arts institution in southern Vermont, announced last year that it may close its campus and become a department of Boston's Emerson College.