“We are not just fighting for Antioch, we are fighting for the institution of tenure, for unions for liberal arts school, for other kids who might not go to Antioch, who might go to just another liberal arts college that did not close,” events manager Rory Adams Cheatham said in an impromptu speech during the afternoon session of the special stakeholder meeting with the Antioch Board of Trustees on Saturday.The Board decided to convene ad hoc on August 25 and 26 following mass nationwide outpour of support for Antioch College that showed that alumni and sympathizers did not take the closing, scheduled for June 30, 2008, as a given. Skepticism about an announced plan by the Antioch University Board and leadership to reopen a “state of the art” Antioch College by 2012, united alumni in a collective struggle unprecedented in the history of the 155 year-old Ohio college.
The fear of losing institutional memory and a system of tenure after a four year suspension period is high on the list of concerns of faculty, students and alumni. “I came to Antioch having taught at Columbia, Notre dame, Yale, Seaton hall and Georgetown and faculty at Antioch compare and in many ways exceed those I’ve known anywhere,” said Pat Mische, Lloyd Professor of Peace Studies and World Law at Antioch College. “Without tenured faculty we can’t operate in a mode of academic freedom and excellence.”
Students, faculty, representatives of the Yellow Springs community and alumni from across the country made early travel arrangements to be on time for the 9 am open meeting that allowed them to voice their grief and concerns about the board’s unexpected decision in June.
“In 1986 I came to Antioch looking for new home, “ recalled Hassan Rachmanian. “I left my country, couldn’t go home. I resisted staying in America, but Antioch gave my America. The democracy I found at Antioch is my America. Don’t take away my America.”
Stakeholders with various connections to the college spoke about the contribution of Antioch College to their livelihood and its relevance in US higher education today.
“The US needs Antioch,” alumnus Larry Rubin stated from behind a lectern facing the aligned Board members. “The US needs a small residential college in which faculty and students together examine the curriculum content as interfaces with work experiences and community experiences.”
Like other stakeholders that morning, Rubin criticized the board’s position that suspending operations of the college and reopening at a later point was the only viable solution to the situation at hand.
“The fi scal viability of this mode of education is not based on market studies whose methodology comes and goes,” he said. “It is based on the proven fact that enough people are interested in going to an educational place whose graduates have changes the nature of the market. It can be sold. But you have understand the product.”
Understanding the product and knowing how to make others “buy it” has been both at the center of attention and critique towards the current board, whose efforts to attract major donors for the college in recent years had fallen short of success.
As one of 74 who just “bought it,” incoming first year Jay Cassalli on his second day at Antioch drove down to Kentucky and took the lectern to address the Antioch Board of trustees. “Maybe its been a while, but I’ll tell you some things I love about Antioch. This place serves vegan, vegetarian and meat at every meal: no where else. There is a piece of original graffiti from 1968 on the wall in my bathroom hall that says “the only dope worth shooting is Richard Nixon”… If no one is interested, they just don’t know yet. If you give my class the chance to have this school and keep going we’re going to do some cool stuff.”
Two students who bought the product two and three years ago, stakeholders Beth Goodney and Fela Pierrelouise were the delegates to represent the current students during the semi closed afternoon session in the Holiday Inn.
Goodney: “We chose Antioch over other schools with sizable endowments, greater resources with shiny new facilities, because we know what Antioch has to offer in Higher education. We paid you tuition, we have defended the college, we have stayed in crumbling buildings we tried to shift into changing curriculums, we saw staff and faculty cuts, departments disappear, I got up at 5.30 this morning… because Antioch is worth all of that.”
Like fellow stakeholder Judith Kitner, who represented non unionize staff. Goodney advocated for the allocation of more funds to the remaining college staff that do not receive a severance pay like their colleagues in the Union. With their futures insecure and the search for a new job being a personal priority, there is little incentive for remaining staff to stay at the college when presented with a new position elsewhere tomorrow. This further guts the level stability of services and operations offered to students during their last year on campus.
Others, like Community Manager Chelsea (CM) Martens, stressed structural problems in the relationship between the college and University governance model.
“The governance model of top down decision making is very unantiochian. one of the biggest faults that has been made to the detrement of Antioch College is the way leadership has been seen by its leadership. […] If an institution does not act on its values it has none. If our very organizing structure and leadership does not refl ect what it is to be member of Antioch community, then that’s a core problem right there. If we can’t manage ourselves in a way that refl ects the kind of people we want to be in the world we will not succees. I am aware of the complexities of leadership, but I don’t think I’m overly in believing in a governing process that responds to who it governs.”
Despite openly voiced critique of the board’s governing processes, the tone of conversation at the meeting was one of respect and outreach for collaboration. Speakers urged the Board to reconsider its decision in light of new facts and current momentum to turn the ship around. Many expressed support for the proposal for Governance and Fundraising the Alumni Association presented in the afternoon session.
“We have proven ourselves to be worthy of collaboration,” Pat Mische said on Monday following the press release announcing collaboration between the BOT and ALumni Board Association. “We did, because it’s happening.”