Never mind the Pentagon, here’s The Antioch Papers

Today, theantiochpapers.org launched another batch of files disclosing information about financial measures taken at College and University level over the decade leading up to the current crisis.The files, among which letters from former College President to then Chancellors of the University James Hall and Jim Craiglow in 2001 and 2002, show that red flags about the college’s financial challenges and government structure have been raised for years. In a letter dated February 22nd 1999, Bob Devine wrote: “The top-down implementation of the plan to charge depreciation to each campus is, for the college, the crushing blow. It renders the challenge of building a healthy and viable college a Sysyphian nightmare, in that it means that the college’s revenue over expenses will never again be a positive number.”

The quote on the front page of the website reads, “As words are the tools with which we must work in discussing objects, we must take care that words shall be so transparent that the objects they represent shall be easily seen through them.” They’re Horace Mann’s words from 1852 and they appear on the homepage of the Antioch Papers at theantiochpapers.org

On August 15, a national network of journalists, archivists, and information scavengers opened an online public archive of primary source documents concerning Antioch College/University. The Antioch Papers, as it was titled, became an open source archive of materials that document the institutional life of Antioch College, and by extension, Antioch University.

The archives are filled with source materials gathered through public accessibly archives and submissions by institutional whistle blowers concerned about violations of transparency, community governance, and educational standards in the dismantling of the college. There is no individual spokesperson for the Antioch Papers, however, the group as a whole is willing to answer questions and accept submissions. Their collective strategy of anonymity is intact for two reasons: one, the sensitive nature of the documents being revealed, and two, the current imbalance between personal experience and documented institutional understanding in the popular press coverage of Antioch College.

The Antioch Papers was created partially as a response to the opinion editorials, like Michael Goldfarb’s in the New York Times, that have recently been printed about the College. One of the Collective’s quotes on the site reads “Our education at Antioch taught us to integrate, elevate, and challenge our personal concerns and insights among the larger social fabric of civic life. We feel there needs to be an institutional review of the college based on internally and externally generated documents as counter-point to the personal-experience based critiques that have dominated so many opinion editorials.”

Reading the titles of some of the documents in the archive is like looking at the index page for the CIA Family Jewels, the 700 page collection of previously classified historical documents that was released this past summer. “Invited Stakeholders Meeting Agenda”, “Closing the College Scenarios Financials”, and “Budget Report to the Board of Trustees” are a few of the titles highlighted on the front page. “CONFIDENTIAL” is stamped across the headers of many documents, and the gritty, thrice-photocopied pages complete the look.

Few of the documents claim an author- rather, in keeping with the collective nature of the website, “Compiled and presented by the research staff of The Antioch Papers” is more commonly seen. Many of the articles have particularly telling quotes pulled with research staff notes, such as, “XIX. Capital Budget Request Summary For the Period July 1, 2007 – June 30, 2012. Seattle – FY12 – 25,383,000. Note – the item above appears to be the largest capital expense in the history of Antioch University – $25 million for a new Seattle campus.” It’s the story behind the story, and essential reading for anyone interested in the history, and future, of Antioch College.