Letter from Daniel E. Solis ‘06

An Open Letter to President Steve Lawry
October 5, 2006

Dear President Lawry,

It is with the heaviest of hearts that I write this letter to you. As a proud alum of Antioch College, I am deeply disturbed by the emerging direction of your presidency. You have taken actions that not only violate the most cherished of Antiochian values and traditions; but also move against the fundamental mission of the College – education.

Given that your actions affect not only the on-campus community, but also everyone who has sweated, cried, and sacrificed for Antioch in its long history, I felt it appropriate to address this letter to you in a very public way. I understand that this will be taken by you as an act of confrontation, for indeed it is. When people in power commit gross violations of the power they have been entrusted with; ethical people have no choice but to be confrontational. That is why I write to you now in the form of an open letter.

In your rather short time as an Antiochian, you have single-handedly chosen to impose a top-down cultural shift at the College. You find a pessimistic “Culture of Confrontation? to be undermining Antioch, and have decided – with minimal input from all sectors of the community- that this culture must be eradicated for the College to grow and be successful.

You have seriously attacked the intellectual freedom of faculty and staff through seemingly arbitrary dismissals or forced “voluntary retirements.?

You have attacked the community’s free press, The Record, by legalistic manipulations and the imposition of an Editorial Board controlled by you. This has very serious implications in an academic community that depends on open and unfettered deliberations.

You have unilaterally moved vast extents of decisions traditionally made collaboratively through the legitimated bodies of the Antioch community, into the hands of a small cadre of relatively new high administrators. Through these actions, you have eviscerated both Administrative Council (AdCil) and Community Council (ComCil).

Most tragically of all, you have birthed a culture of fear at Antioch. Through the strict enforcement of “the President’s Agenda,? the thoughtful deliberation that you claim to cherish has completely disappeared. Faculty and staff members fear for their jobs. Students fear that they will be summarily expelled or suspended for confronting you or your Agenda. The entire community fears honest discussion for how it might offend you.

Given the state of our nation at this present moment, when fear rules our lives, when fear is pessimistically manipulated for the gain of a small elite; it is not only tragic that you too have chosen to rule through fear – it is shameful. Our institutions of higher education have no greater responsibility in our society, than to educate our youth to be responsible members and advocates of democracy. It is reprehensible that your leadership has moved Antioch away from its long-standing role of educating the defenders of democracy.

To further illustrate your own hypocrisy, I quote at length from your welcoming speech to first year students and their families this past September. You said,

An authentically liberal learning environment should be one where complex ideas and problems can be studied, discussed and debated- -openly and freely. This is how we learn; this how we come closer to a truer understanding of ourselves and our world. We are a Community of Inquiry.

From time to time, we somehow convince ourselves that we have possession of the answers to complex problems, and further discussion or debate about them surely is not necessary. And those who express contrary views should be ostracized, and made to remember the error of their ways. This causes pain and anger, and is corrosive of the freedom to learn and inquire that so many have fought so hard to maintain in our society. It is corrosive of the Community of Inquiry that we are and that we must be diligent in protecting.

So, I invite you to an Antioch life, a life of sifting and winnowing, of doubt and discovery, of trying to do better by our families and communities and our planet. The Antioch community, for me, is grounded in a commitment to intellectual freedom and respect among all community members, students, professors and staff. These two qualities—intellectual freedom and mutual respect—must always be present if we are going to continue to succeed as an educational community. I have high expectations that you will embrace these values in your time at Antioch and beyond.

I respect these words for they truly represent what lies at the core of the Antioch Community: thoughtful and critical engagement, contentious deliberation, and respect for one another. While I will be the first to admit that this has often not been the case at Antioch, you cannot address this issue by doing the exact same thing. One does not end a disrespectful and closed-minded discourse through disrespectful and closed-minded actions.

President Lawry, your relentless belief in the supremacy of the executive is not only detrimental to the deliberative process that is the bedrock of a democracy; it is also inefficient and wasteful. Rather than focusing on how to strengthen Antioch College and secure lasting financial stability or ensuring the success of the new curriculum, you have decided to consolidate your power within the College on the backs of Intellectual Freedom, Deliberation, and Democracy.

President Lawry, I hope that you will take this letter as a chance for thoughtful reflection and will truly question your motivation and actions. However, I am not encouraged by your past reception of criticism or confrontation. While I do not expect a radical change of course, I do hope that the faculty, staff and students that agree with the views expressed in this letter will creatively and appropriately rise up to challenge the attach upon Antioch. Antioch is a community of critical thought and action. Only time will tell if the current caretakers of Antioch will accept their responsibility and protect our core values you seem so unfamiliar with. I, for one, remain committed to responsible actions and am willing to dialogue with you on this matter. I do believe that you have strengths that can greatly aid Antioch, but you must be educated first. I look forward to assisting your on-going education as a proud Antiochian. I leave you with a quote,

“If we desire respect for the law, we must first make the law respectable.”

~Louis D. Brandeis

Respectfully,

Daniel E. Solis ‘06