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Bristol has hope against hope for the future of Virginia Intermont College

Bristol seeks to save the floundering liberal arts college that is so much a part of the city.
Bristol seeks to save the floundering liberal arts college that is so much a part of the city.
Wikimedia Commons

The lights will probably go out for Virginia Intermont College, both literally and figuratively, on May 5, the day after graduation. According to a Monday article on Tri-Cities.com, the local utility, BVU, has given the flailing institution only a week to pay an outstanding electric bill before services are terminated. Many Bristol residents have expressed displeasure with the controversial utility’s failure to provide more leniency to the historic institution.

BVU is currently under investigation itself for questionable spending, so that exacerbates the public outcry against their seemingly heavy-handed tactics with Virginia Intermont College. The school has been a part of the Bristol, Va., community for 130 years. It seems that Bristol residents, along with students and former students around the world, are expecting a last-minute rescue of some sort that will "stay the execution" at Virginia Intermont, despite all of the almost-insurmountable problems.

There has been a lot of money, private and public, thrown at the problems, but none of the range of solutions has proved feasible. Most recently, a merger with Webber University to bypass the loss of accreditation has fallen through, according to a Washington Post article. Besides the outstanding electric bill, the college has been unable to make payroll in a timely manner, and they supposedly lack funds to provide student refunds for the summer classes which have been cancelled.

While no specific reasons were explained, it only takes a quick drive down Martin Luther King Boulevard to see the most obvious reason: the campus appears to be falling down. It would be quite an undertaking to assume responsibility for the amount of renovation that would surely be necessary to bring the campus to merely safe conditions. The college has historical buildings which are always a challenge to maintain, but even the newer of the buildings appear to be dismally deteriorating.

For Bristol residents, V.I. represents much more than an alma mater or a college experience. School children in Bristol have always felt like the V.I. campus was almost part of their school because of the level of involvement and close proximity. Various opportunities in music, the arts, equestrian studies, and ballet were provided through V.I. that would have been unavailable otherwise. Residents are bemoaning the inevitable closing of Virginia Intermont College, even calling for the city government to attempt to bail them out.

A former student has started a petition calling for the ouster of the college president, E. Clorissa Phillips, who has fought valiantly to keep the sinking ship afloat. Sadly, the petition mentioned the "future" of Virginia Intermont College. Short of a miracle or a solution involving a completely different direction for the institution, there will be no future.