President Lawry Shows His Teeth

By Wesley Dawson

At the AdCil meeting Tuesday October Tenth School President Steve Lawry began discussion with a document entitled “Principles of a Community Learning Structure.� Presumably written by Lawry himself, the page subtitled as a “Draft for Discussion� had all statements and no questions. Community members present at the meeting found the document demonstrative of the President’s desire to change to a more top down school power structure that negates decision making shared governance once had.

The bite in the document seems to be that even though Lawry has been instigating what many older students see as unprecedented change on the school, it is written as an explanation of policy rather than a proposal for change. Lawry’s point is to say that the community government never had any real power beyond advising the real decision maker, himself.

The document asserts that the purpose of shared governance is purely educational, preparing students to “be effective in public life and to represent their views and values convincingly in public affairs after leaving college.� This is not unlike Student Government models in many other colleges where students hold no power beyond fund raising and throwing parties. One purpose this parallel serves to the perspective of a newer student like myself is to say that Antioch is, and always has been, structured the same way as any other college in the country.

Many students, some of whom who have been at the college longer than the President, disagree with the statements in his document. They say that while the President of the school holds the official power, they have historically taken heed of the community’s wishes and made decisions as a representative rather than an authority. This point of view shared by many members of the community asserts that until the current president, governing power was shared under shared governance.

Teachers present at the meeting were noted as saying that the ability to utilize real power allows students a better opportunity for learning to be “effective in public life� because it allows them to do so as students instead of just “after leaving college.�

The document does not refer directly to Steve Lawry but rather to a theoretical President but also includes statements like, “Faculty have in recent years gained greater direct responsibility for curricular matters. This is a welcome and healthy trend and it should continue,� which, aside from the date, is the only part that shows that Lawry himself wrote the document, and recently. The rest could have been a policy set out years ago by the school administration were it to always have the absolute power Lawry asserts it to have.

According to the President, “AdCil’s role is advisory to the President and the administration� and ComCil is “a place of discussion and debate on community matters� not “an alternative locus of authority to the President, the administration or the faculty.� Older students say that while the President’s statements may correspond to how the school policy is written, it is a new interpretation of that policy that does not take account of how school decision-making has historically worked at Antioch.

If that is the case, the student body faces the question of whether the decree of authority is more important than the ideals of community. President Lawry has already considered this question and made up his mind.