Last Sunday, I woke up at 9 a.m. to attend the first day of class at McGregor Campus West. When I walked into the building, my first impression was that of walking into a high school. Building sections are indicated by letters, classrooms have exiting names like “Classroom of the Future.” Open areas are broken up with cubicles and Ikea-style furniture, reminiscent of Birch Kitchen post-renovation.
The students I interviewed generally liked it a lot. And, to be fair, in the educational model they are pursuing, I can see why. For them it doesn’t need to be a home, they just want a building that’s easy accessible from wherever they live and that provides them with working facilities one day a week.
Nevertheless, my visit left me dispirited for the rest of the day. It’s great to hear that the McGregor students really like it and that it apparently serves their needs. But all the color in the world is not going to change the fact that it’s a simulacrum; it’s a copy of a copy of the real thing. I imagine, when you’re 55 years old going back to school for one day a week, you don’t care about college history or campus culture unless someone can explain to you why it is relevant to the style of education you are receiving at your school. Sadly, most at McGregor would never recognize the difference, because they’ve never spent significant time at the College, let alone taken a class there.
If you walk into the main entrance hall of Campus West, a large mural reads: “Be the difference you seek to see in the world.” The quote is unattributed. I had to smile in disbelief the first time I saw it, as It is difficult to even call it subtle plagiarism. Nevertheless, it tells the whole story right there. It is a story of co-opting Gandhi without having the guts to quote Gandhi on the wall of a 20 million dollar building. It is a story of co-opting Antioch without having the guts to be Antioch. And it is a story of running away with a legacy you did not create and making it your own.
In an interview with The Record in December 2006, the Chair of The Board of Trustees, Art Zucker, said, “I had the opportunity to visit the other campuses and I was amazed how much they share the same values, the same goals, the same commitment to improve social conditions, to care about the environment, the freedom of expression.”
I don’t doubt for a minute that McGregor has dedicated faculty and students. And for many it might be a suitable place for the sort of education model they are looking for. nevertheless, it can never be Antioch, because there is no room for Antioch in that structure. It can never be “Be ashamed to die until you’ve won some victory for humanity” because making that change takes more than reading about it.
I spent a day In that building and I felt uncomfortable even moving a chair in the lobby. How can you learn to question authority in a place that is structured in such a static way. How can you learn to implement change, “to be the change,” in a structure that doesn’t invite changing anything around you? All the while, McGregor students are structurally forced “to care about the environment” by having to travel into Yellow Springs by car for a quick lunch break, and “freedom of expression” is such that faculty after speaking to the Yellow Springs News last year feared to loose their jobs.
As much as I want to believe in the ability of a small Ohio College to create a mindset that reaches far beyond the constraints of a podunk midwestern town, Art Zucker can talk all he wants about “the Antioch DNA;” genetics are worth nothing, if you don’t grow up in an environment that stimulates you to apply it to its full potential.
I came out of Community Meeting, last Tuesday, with a strange feeling.
During Pulse, two students presented the community with a referendum proposal. One addressed Chancellor Toni Murdock’s actions of August 31st, the second expressed the necessity for the college to secede from the University. It was all done in pure Antiochian fashion, a bottom-up initiative, asking for everyone’s participation.
But what struck me most was how incredibly genuine the enterprise was. How, –again in that beautiful Antiochian way,– it was both awkward and incredibly bold; as in we’re claiming “we are the leaders of the new progressive movement,” but we’re not sure how to spell “Steve Lawry.”
At that time I thought that maybe one of the things that unites us in our love for Antioch is that in the forever disappointing quest for something pure in our world, what Antioch offers comes closest to that Grail. The spontaneous and reckless attitude of I’ll fight for it with what I am, even if it’s against a cold wall, but on a wider scale: community.
I was, –like, I believe, the rest of the room– incredibly moved by such a display of Antiochian nerve, and in awe at our own ability for organizing, articulating our values, and, channelling passion.
But I was also scared. For the past two weeks I’ve been learning more and more background about how the college found itself in the situation that led the Board of Trustees to suspend operations last June. And the least I can say is that there’s nothing genuine about it…
Decade-long intentions of closing the college, employee intimidation, increased corporatization, lack of transparency, procedure and regard for Antioch values…. And, above all, an utter disrespect for Antioch College, as the lame duck sister, the ‘loony house run by inmates,’ the vision of toxic, disturbed or infantilized students that has been passed on intentionally…
As much as I admire our efforts, I am concerned that our innocent good will and Antiochian skills are set against something so cold and dehumanized that our hopes might end up being crushed in the end. I have an image of a bunch of sparrows against a flock of wolves, and it makes me shiver…
The contrast between the hypocrisy, manipulation and opacity of university administration workings for the past decade, and the candor, energy and authenticity of the community’s efforts to survive and be independent, is so striking, that it’s hard not to be enraged. But I’d rather transform that strange, mixed feeling of frustration, apprehension and awe into a sense of infinite pride of being part of the struggle, and a strengthened determination in seeing us through it.
Thank you, Antiochians, for never ceasing to impress and inspire me. And hopefully we’ll make it through–let’s remember wolves can’t fly.
With love. pride and gratitude,