On July 26, Antioch College president Steve Lawry announced his resignation to the community, effective by the end of December of this year. “My family and I have taken this decision in light of the June 9th, 2007, decision of the Antioch University Board of Trustees to suspend operations at the College from July 1st, 2008,” Lawry said in an official press release by the College. “I look forward to contributing in other ways to the advancement of the kinds of values Antioch has traditionally taught and honored—engaged citizenship, free and open intellectual inquiry, and respect for human dignity.”
Shortly after Steve Lawry’s announcement, several newspapers published the news that Chancellor Toni Murdoch had asked Antioch College dean of faculty Andrzej Bloch to assume the role of interim president on the first of January 2008. However, as yet there has been no formal announcement as to whether Andrzej will accept the new title.
Interview with Andrzej Bloch
Andrzej Bloch came to Antioch 25 years ago as an assistant professor of Economics and soon attained the position of full professor. In 1985, he got involved in international education and became academic coordinator to one of the Great Lakes College Association (GLCA) programs. After directing two study-abroad programs, Andrzej was appointed associate dean of faculty, and was eventually asked to assume the role of director of Antioch Education Abroad in 1997. “Fundamentally, from that time on, I was part-time in the classroom, and directing AEA,” Bloch recalls. “It was about two years ago when they asked me to become interim dean of faculty.” Continues his work as the director of AEA, he currently remains in his position as acting dean of faculty.
As such, Bloch expressed that he assumed that he would step up to fill the office of the president of Antioch College in the event that the office were to become vacant. “Steve told me before he decided to step down. I had a meeting with Chancellor Murdoch and she asked me to fill in his place. I came back from vacation and talked to Steve, and we are acting like I am replacing him. Have I talked to anyone about it? No, but I am assuming. The official function of the dean of faculty is to step in if the president should leave,” Bloch said. “I was surprised that Steve was leaving but I do understand his motives.”
Generally, what is a college president’s role? How is it different for an Antioch president?
“The role of the president is essentially to be a person who represents a college to the outside world but at the same time provides leadership. As far as Antioch College is concerned, the big difference in the role of the president is the President of Antioch College must also be a leader to the community, participate in our governance system, really assume the position of the leader, not only on the outside, but for the whole community. It is probably quite different on other campuses.”
Can you discuss how you see your role as future interim president, under these unusual circumstances?
“My role is relatively limited, I would just carry on the responsibilities I have right now. In the situation we have right now, officially we are under the declaration of suspension, and I wish the initiative we have started will change that. But until it is changed, we are still under those conditions. I support the efforts of alumni and others, you name it and I am very much sympathizing with it. My role is, number one, to protect the interests of students so they can complete their degrees, that is fundamentally my role and will not change. My other role is to provide as much support for faculty as possible and then there’s a third area, which becomes very evident to me right now, should the course of action be as it is, we need to take care of the assets. Somebody has to really watch and insure that the property of the college is taken care of.”
“The president of Antioch must also be a leader to our community, participate in our governance system”
It seems that in the past many people in our community have seen the President’s role to be fundamentally about fundraising. Do you plan to put efforts toward raising funds as Interim President?
There is a possibility that the alumni will raise money and the entire effort of fundraising would be on the shoulders of them and if anything could be done to support them I would do that. I know right now the alumni have a great working relationship with the university administration. They have made all the numbers available. I really hope it’s going to work. I’ve seen a draft of the business plan; they are very ambitious. If they can accomplish fifty percent of what they want to accomplish we would be saved. I am really very optimistic. Let’s wait those two months and see what’s going to happen.
If the college remains open, will you continue to hold the interim president position until the a new president has been hired?
The new board would select the new president and I’m assuming that’s one of the first decisions they would make, they need to have leadership. Under circumstances like these it is really best for those who were here to step back.
Do you have any thoughts on the high rate of turnover we have experienced in the recent past (five different presidents and acting or interim presidents since 1994 – each averaging two years.)
It’s not a good thing. Ever since Al Guskin left the presidency there was something not right; there was something happening that was indicative of some problems. My feeling is that in this particular case it is much more a function of a particular condition the college is in; the system of governance and probably impossible tasks the president is given. We have been struggling since the 1970s, and there were different periods, and it was always a struggle. I came 25 years ago and I can’t remember a year when we met the enrollment projections. Maybe two years we were very close. Doesn’t that tell you something? Every year it was a struggle and the budget had to be adjusted. That is indicative of something.
So that’s one thing, the other thing, believe me I thought about it quite a bit, there is something happening on the national scene that makes me a little concerned. The place of liberal arts colleges has been shifting in the last few decades. What is the liberal arts college of the future? Is there a liberal arts college of the future? I would not be surprised if our fate is very much a part of that national trend. We might be on the edge and we might be affected by the national crisis more. I was talking to Deans at Oberlin and Kenyon, colleges with huge endowments, and they were concerned about budget cuts, they were eliminating full-time faculty.
“If they can accomplish 50% of what they want to accomplish, we would be saved. I am really very optimistic”
The other thing, if you really look at the university administration, including all the presidents, there seems to be a faster turnover. There are only a few distinctive institutions with long-term presidents. People are moving around at five to six year intervals. It is happening. I don’t believe we were affected by the last one, but deeper structural crisis. It is difficult to attract a president who comes with the vision, commitment, and talent to make change if that president is not the real president, but has to respond to someone else. Maybe at different institutions, but not at a liberal arts college.