By Marissa Geiger
The Man in White Came in Riding on a Horse
After a presidential search, the BOT chose Alan Guskin to replace William Birenbaum. Guskin’s presidency spanned from 1985 to 1997 and I split them up into two very distinctive periods: 1985-1990 were the calm years and 1990-1997 was when things started to get severely problematic. According to Guskin, when he arrived here, AC was an estimated 12 months from closing. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, in the first two years Guskin was here, in order to reverse a downward spiral, he had to fire some people, begin phasing out the Law School in D.C. and balance a budget some $800,000 in the red.
While Birenbaum named the University, Guskin sustained it at a very high level of prosperity for most of his tenure as an administrator. It is not until the period of 1990-1997 that you can see why he may be so controversial. Things started going sour when the Record investigated an administrator whom Guskin appointed without approval of any pre-established legitimate processes (AdCil various committees of the time). Michael Bassis was unilaterally hired in 1989, and just happened to be one of Guskin’s old University of Wisconsin colleagues (where he held a position previous to Antioch) and also created a position for him, AU Executive Vice President to assist Guskin with the College. This was a developing trend for Guskin, as he appointed many people who shared his interest to high-level authority positions. The Record unearthed that Bassis lied about the concentration of his PhD: it wasn’t in Sociology as he and Guskin adamantly proclaimed time and time again, but in Education. This raised serious questions about his qualifications for the job and honesty relating to his academic record. But Guskin shot back, “Mike Bassis will be here as long as I am”.
The Snowball Effect
The problems snowballed. That little lie set the stage for the rest of Guskin’s tenure. Guskin had been rearranging positions and departments since he got to campus, but nothing was as epochal as the restructuring of 1992, which stretched until 1994. This was often referred to as “decentralization”, or Guskin implementing his “federal model”, in which there was is autonomy but within a negotiated policy framework. According to Devine, who was also the Dean of Faculty a short while during Guskin’s tenure, “The federal model allowed the College its autonomy to have the governance that we have, to have the program that we have and provided the safe harbor to say ‘We had a bad year’ and we had some subsidies to help cover what we’re doing.”
The subsidies Devine mentioned refer to the other units of AC. It was at this time the position of AU Chancellor was created, to link all the other executive directors (i.e. presidents) of the other campuses. This decentralization was said to promise the reduction of the responsibility and workload of the central administration. It was at this time there were only five units under the AU (six if you count the AU administration as a separate entity): Antioch College, McGregor School, Seattle, Southern California, and New England (last four are adult campuses).
Instead of AC pumping money into the adult campuses, Guskin reversed the flow of resources and they turned into, in effect, the College’s endowment. Money flowed toward the AC from all the centers it birthed years ago. It usually added up to about $1 million from each center (this number fluxes depending on the source). Devine added, “Guskin was good at working a board. That’s what a CEO of a non-profit has to do. Love him or hate him, he did rebuild the finances of the place.”
Under Guskin’s model, the affected offices were Personnel, Business, Financial Aid, the University Registrar, and (at the time) possibly the 1993 equivalent of Tech Resources. The campus was assured that the consolidation of these departments would save money.
Administration for each unit would be central, but would report to the BOT through the Chancellor of the University, which made the relationship between campus administration and the Board a little more ambiguous. Denman calls Guskin as a loving parent and all the units his children, “Guskin fell into the trap of getting too close in his sense of identity to the College and its future so when he began to receive criticism after the romantic period was over (1985-1990), he withdrew periodically, began to see faculty and students as aliens. At times he tried. When it didn’t pay off for him, it was a reason for anger, and he would move back into the authoritative role. He loved Yellow Springs; his love affair was too great; love in the romantic sense. Love of one who could maintain own independence, and offer independence of College to itself. Its like the love of a parent and letting the child become an independent person that bewilders, disappoints but also achieves its own visions.”
The Crowfoot Dismissal
Guskin took the chance to become Chancellor of AU, thereby ending his dual presidency. After a presidential search (which also caused an uproar in the way it was conducted), Jim Crowfoot was chosen as the 18th President of AC. He only lasted one year (1995-1996). This particular year in our history is the reason the AIF was born and part of why some alumni feel so severed from the AC community.
The Crowfoot controversy is a complicated one and depending on who your sources are, can be entirely hearsay. According to a faculty compiled chronology of events, a new College budget came out on July 1st, accompanied with restrictions on the budget. Crowfoot left for planned vacation on the 22nd. The 23rd, the University imposed a freeze on spending and College could not authorize any spending. A memo given to faculty read Severe disciplinary action if procedures are not followed. Crowfoot was contacted and said a freeze may be helpful and that it is essential to cooperate.
On August 6th, Crowfoot flew home to attend an AdCil budget meeting and found that $600,000-800,000 deficit is why the University took over. It was announced the 13th that Crowfoot “resigned”. Guskin replied with “Sometimes you have to act.” Now, I have heard from some that Crowfoot was a terrible President and the campus culture didn’t mesh well with him.
Denman said “These climatic events, turning points… In the minds of some of us, we felt these were moments where it was established, or should’ve been established, that certain kinds of processes are legitimate here and other processes are not. It stands as a precedent that the University can’t get rid of a College President without consultation, without real involvement of the AC process for hiring and firing. It all goes back to the notion that we make decisions collaboratively at the College. We have normative processes that we should follow for making decisions.”
The dismissal of Crowfoot, was out of line with the College practice of due process, up until that point, that is. There was a flood of articles posted in every newspaper in 25-mile radius, and one thing resounded, the actions of the Executive Committee of the BOT were necessary and the stability at the top of the College hierarchy was the key consideration. Less than a week later one of the Board members, Malte von Matthiessen resigned, citing a lack of confidence in the leadership of AU Chancellor Al Guskin. Malte’s concern lay in the fact that Crowfoot wasn’t given the resources or the support to deal with the College’s problems and was not informed as to how severe they really were. It was doomed from the start merely from miscommunication.
Do you need clarification at this point?
From 1972-2002, the College had 16 different leaders. In the first ten years, 1972-82, enrollment dropped from 2,470 to around five or six hundred, where it has remained. I asked Bob Devine his what he thought of the stagnate admissions rate in the past 20 years and he replied, “You gotta meet 100% of financial need to compete. We need consistent financial aid and more people on the road promoting Antioch College.” Money is always the issue with this question. When we spike the money to be able to bring people here, we spike in admissions. There is a direct correlation between the two. All distractions aside, I set out to determine the root cause in our current crisis, and I believe it lies within the Dixon Network. Superfluous educational imperialism of the early days of the University set the precedent. But I should probably describe what I mean by the “current crisis”. Not really knowing who is really in charge compounds the effects of living within, as Devine calls it, a manufactured crisis. The Board made the decision to charge depreciation to the College’s budget (and every other unit) two years ago. “Depreciation is the $1 million worth of physical plant and it’s going to wear out in 10 years so you must show expenses of $100,000 each year. It originally showed up on AU’s budget (started in 1993, since it was required to have it)- depreciation as an expense, and endowment growth and revenue and they wash each other out.” Numerous consultants advised AU financial executives not to charge each unit for depreciation, claiming the College can’t take the hit.
It is a good strategy, since the money can be used to revitalizing dorms, inadvertently addressing issues of retention. However, it is taking a huge chunk out of the school’s budget for depreciation. At the same time that it was a shock there was no reserve funds set aside to counteract dilapidated conditions of the grounds, $1.8 million dollars was also wrenched from the College’s pockets at the same time when all the other units decide to stop paying the overhead they have been sending our way for years. Instead, the subsidies are called (money from adult campuses, because remember, they were thought to be our endowment) “allowable deficit”, meaning they will go away sooner or later if we get our finances in order. Glenn Watt’s attitude and the rest of the University is destructive, as both think it is time for all other satellites to concentrate on themselves, to better themselves with all their revenue, instead of pumping money into a black hole of a college. Devine responds, “The College is a black hole cause we don’t know what people do, and we don’t necessarily share the values.” But the University seems to forget that the College is a vital part of AU. The central administration is located here and without some of the resources we have (library, cafeteria, etc.), the other schools could not be accredited.
Adult campuses are the most important source of revenue for the University. Not only do they bring in more money, but the other branches of the University are growing amazingly fast, in comparison to the College, which is currently struggling to maintain its existing attendance figures, as it waxes and wanes like it always does, or has for 20 years. A liberal arts model of education is expensive and there are two ways of remedying it: large endowments, which we don’t have, and/or high enrollment rate, which we don’t have.
Again, the structure is questioned
“But when the autonomy goes away [supplied under Guskin’s federal model] and the subsidies go away then I question whether the College does not need its own BOT, its own structure.” which is Devine’s response to how he feels about the current AU/AC dichotomy. AU administration is putting us in a very difficult situation, as all our money is tied up in projects that should have happened a long time ago. It is really easy to fall into the trap of not seeing the end in sight when it comes to campus projects, since we have adopted the “band-aid fix” for many years now. I asked Denman for his opinion on AC/AU and he said, “I have been convinced that it would be good for the College to regain its independence, but I have concluded in the last four months that this is an impossibility, that the AIF was the last good try, that now the future of the College lies within the University and that we better do everything we possibly can to have the entire University system thrive with the College as a part of it. The trustees will never really entertain the question, let alone answer it favorably.” (In a Record from 1993, it said the Board will no longer entertain questions about whether the University should exist or not.)
I asked Pelakoudas the same question and he mentioned that other places had Board of Visitors and depending on how the BOT defines the BOV, they can be delegated whatever powers the want. He suggested, “Total abolishment of current hierarchy. The University is a holding company with five separately incorporated units. It’s a business model. It doesn’t produce anything. Make the University a non-operating unit, contrary to what we have across the street. The superstructure can exist, but while not running programs. Each unit can make decisions about assets and leadership as long as they are consistent with the holding company (AU) and the BOT. As long as AU owns the resources we cannot be successful. We must manage our own resources to be successful, if we have any chance. (And here is where Al and Connie agree) It may be that we are beyond the stage where anything will work. I hope not… but I don’t think we can work under the present structure.”
I ran into an article in a Record from 1985 titled Is the University good for the College? Professor of Co-operative Education Dan Hotaling responds with, “Accountability and sense of responsibility are so spread around that no one can get a handle on how to run the place. No one is in a position to make a significant difference. No one can truly lead here since advocacy for this campus clashes with subservience to the University’s administration. Who is in charge of AC and what can s/he really do?” I want to challenge and prove Guskin wrong when he says, “It is an academic truism that trying to change a University is like trying to rearrange a cemetery.” It doesn’t sound like Connie’s suggestion would be that painful.
Reports of linkage problems
Even if our ideas are not heard or just completely ignored, the current system should not go to waste or make us go to waste. We have a communication problem with the University and it is to our benefit to remedy it. I read in the NCA report from the last time the accreditation team was here in 1993. A serious fault they see within our system is the problem of linkage, connecting different departments, especially between AC and across the street. Duffy explained to me that, for a long time, Glenn Watts didn’t know the air condition was broken in the library. He told Duffy that no one had told him, to which replied to me during the interview, “Kettering Building might as well be in Mexico.” Although, I do know information slips through the cracks over there and irresponsibility cannot be blamed on workload. If that is the argument, a review is in order of the consolidations that occurred more than a decade ago. So…what?
This summer, I was blaming Joan, and then I convinced others and myself that it was the BOT. Recently, I think that it is we as a community. Richard Lapides, a trustee of nine years, resigned June 8th, 1995. He was interviewed in the Record and he had this to say about the “blame game”, “Sometimes people like to talk overmuch about leadership because it’s a way to avoid dealing with them. It’s a lot easier to hold a leader responsible for what’s good or bad, more often what’s bad, instead of looking to oneself and one’s own role. It’s ridiculous. It happens all the time. It’s human nature.” I don’t fully agree with that statement, but I do think he makes a valid point by singling community members out and telling them to take responsibility for their surroundings. Times have changed since 1995, and I wonder if any Trustees would agree with his statement while still recognizing how many times students voices and efforts have been quashed on this campus.
Which leads me to four criteria I found in a commentary I found in the Record by student Matthew Rick. 1) The people who control the money call all the shots. 2) Important decisions are made from the top down. 3) The people in control don’t have to apologize. 4) Protest is tolerated as long as it doesn’t change anything.
These were written in 1992 and I remember discussing these same issues in the days following Joan’s meeting with us. We protested about DOS restructuring and the blatant weakening of the Office of Multicultural Affairs. If you have noticed other parallels through out this report to what is going on now, do not be surprised. It all goes back to the Guskin era, at the start of his difficult years. Notice that Guskin created a position specifically for Bassis. We ran into that issue this past summer with how obvious some of the positions were designed and written. Some purposely excluded while others were inclusive. It was as if some of the positions were being molded around individuals. Also notice in Guskin’s decentralization/federal model how there was decentralization of less centralized power in one area (AHEM DOS) and this command came from above, namely the BOT, but implemented by President <enter name here>. The College Community has yet to see the Restructuring Committee notes that were compiled at numerous social settings and via email. Again, whom are we supposed to go to for it? I gather there is some hesitancy from up above Joan to release them, or she would have put them out by now. Or maybe not. The students don’t have the money to be able to call the shots, but we certainly have every other constituency beat by majority. And without us, there is no reason for the College to continue operating. “If you don’t feel influential over your environment, then you loose the will to change.”
There are interesting parallels between the past and present. McGregor School merged with AU in 1995. Of course there was a lot of discussion on taking on such collaboration. At the same time, the Yellow Springs campus dwellers were in an uproar about the College renting out Units to McGregor. And here we are, in 2003, McGregor is threatening to leave, and we are negotiating with them to rent out Units (or maybe it was quashed by Housing). It was also the same time as racism/systematic oppression were active issues on campus. You would think the administration would have it down by now, right? We are moving in circles around a circle. It seems as if we keep asking the same questions over and over again, and they are the wrong ones every time because we don’t get the right answers. The question “Is AU good for AC” is becoming tedious and gets us nowhere close to achieving some sort of independence within the College.
We have been operating in the same cursed structure for 20-odd years. The fear that I mentioned before plays an important role in keeping us in this static position. Pelakoudas states, “An environment in which you feel squeezed by limited resources and constant economic constraints makes dealing with the other issues difficult (those of race, class, gender, etc.) It makes people angry and scared. It comes down to ownership of resources and the quality of life campus. If you don’t feel influential over your environment, then you loose the will to change, and not just financial, governance side. It is also the ownership of assets, issues surrounding governance. If you really feel that [influence] working with colleagues, you can make a difference. If you don’t have that possibility, what is the point?”
I personally, do not feel like I am, or have been, influencing my environment. The resistance against that this summer was suffocating and culminated at one particular community meeting where two executive administrators began to tear up. THEY WERE ACTUALLY LISTENING FOR ONCE. And its not like they had a choice. There is no room for power hungry individuals in administration. Guskin is a member of the Renewal Commission. Check out and click on “Project on the Future of Higher Education”. Notice who is on it: Guskin, BASSIS, and a few other of his friends he appointed to administrative positions while President/Chancellor.
Should this scare you that he is once again a part of a crucial decision making process? I will leave that for you to decide. I am not placing blame on any one individual for all our current woes. However, it seems odd to me that we are tackling issues that have root in the Guskin era, and he is on the Commission. People say the Commission and its members have the best interest of the College in mind. But what they mean is the members have their own interest for the College in mind and in turn, come to the table wielding their own agenda.
I am not a proponent of this, it is merely an observation- I already pointed out that we, as students, have the majority, population wise. Students in 1973 took advantage of that and look at the damage they did. We are still recovering from it. I say we escape this perpetual victim mentality that comes along with living in an environment where we have no control. We are at another crucial bend in our cycle, where we could possibly break off. The Renewal Commission, restructuring of the DOS, presidential search- its all happened before, and all at the same time and Antioch College reacted the way we always do, with fear and trembling submission. I am going to take Duffy’s advice and “adopt” a trustee, alumni, or a member on a commission and open my heart to them totally so I can feed them so they can make the judgments by they know from me. I cannot accept “Nothing will ever change here”, because the means lie within all of us.