Last monday I witnessed what I had been missing for months: engaged Antioch students.
After weeks of bitchin’ and moaning about the lack of student involvement in al things revival, I saw 70 students coming together behind the student union organizing in ways that made it clear we are on the verge of something big.
It was on a whim that I decided to stop by the c-shop stoop to check out the student organizing meeting that is held there every monday at 9 p.m. Granted, I too had flaked out on the first meeting two weeks before, pulling the arrogant editor card that I was contributing my fair share and there probably wasn’t much for me to learn there anyways. All I knew from those who had walked by the meeting was that it had been poorly attended and not excessively productive.Those who did show up were predominantly first years, probably wondering what secret location all the radical upper class men were gathering at.
From my own experience in the community over the last weeks, I was confident there was none. The teach-in weekend for which alums had flown in and driven down to Yellow springs from across the country, managed to attract a grand total of seven students. Two of them, I knew, were paid to be there. I felt embarrassed.
The number of times students would voice horribly uninformed opinions about issues widely discussed in adcil or comcil the week before, made forums like community meeting a weekly date with agony. The blank stares when alumni last weekend tried to engage current students in conversation on topics that had prominently run on the cover of the Record, made me openly wonder why we were putting out a news paper at all.
My surprise was accordingly, when I stumbled onto the c-shop porch of Monday to roughly a third of the student body, in a circle, facilitating their own organizing meeting with the wit and passion Antioch students have been known and respected for.
I remember staring at Rory in disbelief, not knowing whether to be happy or angry about the mass turn-up a day after half of the alumni had gone home. But Rory was all enthusiasm making a connection I hadn’t seen before. “It’ s all because of the teach-in! Haven’t you noticed, it’s the kids that where there yesterday that are now facilitating the groups here.” she was right. It had taken the upper class-men to get past a stage of apathy and reclaim the agency they had lost over the summer when their rug had been pulled from underneath them. I figure they needed to regain a sense of pride in being Antiochian to resume their roles as leaders. Spending one evening drinking cheep beer with three kids who graduated years ago, seeing the same spirit and hearing them say how much they envy you for the chance of being here right now, for some might have been all it took to make it happen.
Not to be paranoid or anything, but there’s an interesting theory going around in the community. It tells that the 2012 reopening date is not as innocent or arbitrary as it seems. According to American Association of University Professors guidelines, tenured faculty let go under financial exigency have to be re-hired…up to three years after a suspension of operations.
The deliberate choice of a 4-year time window for the launch of state-of-the-art-Antioch might indicate a will to eliminate institutional memory, but also tenure itself in the University system.
Of the six institutions that bear the Antioch name, only our college has a tenured faculty. An article published in Inside Higher Ed in June (www.insidehighered.com/news/2007/06/26/antioch) denounces the “adjunctification of Antioch” and relates it to the current trend towards less employment security in higher education.
In her July PhD Commencement speech, Chancellor Toni Murdock too recognized this trend, but presented it as inevitable, as “we know that the world of tomorrow requires replacing the notion of ‘lifetime employment’ with the notion of ‘lifetime employability’ because no one can be guaranteed lifetime employment anymore.”
Without even going into the political ramifications of such a statement, –and questioning the legitimacy of a leader whose values go against the social justice ideals of Antioch–, we can wonder about the attitude underlying that position. It seems to imply that because these are the realities of the current system, these are the requirements “to survive and succeed,” then we must follow them blindly. That because the current trends point out that economic success for universities go hand in hand with adjunctification, satellization and overall precarization, then it is adequate to follow that trend in pursuit of success.
This assumption is contrary to everything that is Antioch. Our history and identity enjoin us to question any top down ideologico-political structure, and to struggle against them if they do not correspond to our ideals. To stand up against the “that’s the way it works” and yell back to the “get used to it”s. That Antioch’s primary purpose is not to fit with “predominant trends in higher education” to achieve financial prosperity, but to set the example of an institution where values such as social justice and democratic processes are upheld–even against the said trends–, is pretty evident to us. But if the University is to brand itself with the Antioch heritage, shouldn’t it strive to live up to it too?
At the teach-in, we learned that it would be up to the new Board of Trustees to decide about tenure at the college in the case of a positive resolution of the October meeting. This prerogative, we have been told, is there to make sure that the new board re0tains complete independence.
Many of us expressed surprise and concern when hearing the news. And as much as we would like to trust the new board to take the right decisions concerning Antioch College’s administrative structure and governance system, I would like to demand that we be formally and publicly assured that certain pivotal aspects of Antioch, like tenure, will be maintained no matter what. Not to be paranoid, or anything…
Yours in struggle,