Banners, signs, and golden balloons all over Yellow Springs announced the arrival of the Antioch University Board of Trustees last week Wednesday. In addition to the meeting between Trustees and the Alumni Board, around 130 alumni from around the country flocked to campus to await the decision they had been working towards since June: the lifting of the suspension that is scheduled to make the College go dark by July of next year. The weekend, however, ended without a decision.
Resolute and chanting the Antioch community descended upon the Bryan Center last Thursday for the presentation of the alumni business plan to trustees, villagers and Antiochians.
Spirits were high, when alumnus Matthew Derr revealed the $18 million in cash and pledges the alumni have raised to encourage Antioch University to deliver significant autonomy to the college.
Derr, who was part of the fundraising team that went coast to coast, compared the fundraising campaign to a large-scale feasibility study for the plans for the college. Fundraising with Antioch alumni is a difficult process, he explained, as they demand to be listened to. “Antiochians like to talk about their experiences,” he said. “Sometimes they want to complain about something that happened 20 years ago. We are complicated,” he quipped, “After all, we are a college whose motto starts with the words ‘be ashamed.’ But we are also talented grass roots leaders, and that is what you see here today.”
The amount raised is the backbone of a business plan that the Alumni Board expects to convince trustees to overturn their decision of June 9th to close the college due to financial strains. According to the plan, the college would receive its own Board of Trustees, with significant power, specifically the hiring and firing of the College president. Most Trustees and University leadership that sat around a round table with representatives of the alumni board, watched interestedly as business consultant Tracy Filosa presented the numbers and stats that outline the future course for college enrolment and investment. Recruitment of new students, according to Derr, could begin immediately after the board lifts the suspension.
What followed was a day of silent negotiations between both boards in the Glenn Helen Building on Friday. After a rocky start in the morning session, treasurer of the Alumni Board Rick Daily felt that “things were getting better” as the week progressed.
While the presence of the trustees was unnoticeable on campus until late Saturday, returning alumni soaked up Antioch like a sponge. At the Herndon Gallery on Friday, amongst improvisational dance and hors d’œuvres, Dennie Eagleson officially opened her photo show Collaborations. Alumni cruised the gallery, as co-op professor Susan Eklund-Leen tried to hawk the last tickets for the faculty legal fund raffle to passers by.
Having cleaned out Herndon of wine and snacks, a group of Antiochians continued downtown. For the night, the Sunrise Café’s martini bar stocked full exclusively of Antiochians, as visiting alumni, current students, faculty and former staff squeezed into booths and converged in the pathways. Politics and analysis took a back seat to reconnecting and reminiscing with old and new friends.
Negotiations continued more secluded in the Kettering building, the University administrative offices, the next morning. While the Alumni Board was occupying the second floor of Weston Hall as their fall out base, alumni and students converged in front of the building and on the stoop, at around 2 p.m. to discuss the latest updates. Errands into town and around campus were kept short, due to the feeling that a decision was only minutes away. Nobody wanted to miss the moment.
Rumors of maintenance staff being ordered to carry champagne into the Bryan center and the testing of the north tower bell set a buzz over campus around 3p.m.. Enthusiasm, however, was shattered quickly as the Alumni Board was called into closed session unexpectedly, to meet over a procedural issue that had come out of the Trustees meeting in the Kettering Building.
Impatient alumni and students that crossed the street to the University offices, awaiting the decision that was supposed to be cast an hour earlier, were among the first to hear of the lack of decision and the special meeting that was to follow. Within minutes, rows of people on foot, bikes and by car streamed down Livermore street onto Xenia, down to the Bryan center, where it had all begun earlier that week.
We are complicated…after all, we are a college whose motto starts with the words ‘be ashamed.’
Speculations circulated widely while alumni, students and villagers gathered like lemmings outside, accompanied by armed security personnel that was brought in for the occasion. “I’ve been hearing so many different things,” said 2nd year student Kelly Ahrens waiting to be let into the Bryan center. “Someone will say the [BoT] meeting is going well and the next moment an alumn will give a grim look when they walk out… it’s all rumors and I’ve been sweating profusely.”
Inside, in a symbolic gesture, Art Zucker and Nancy Crow took the stage together. A sigh of disbelieve went through the room as Zucker announced that “the Board of Trustees postponed a vote to consider lifting the suspension” this weekend and negotiations would continue over the course of the next week. “We simply need more time,” he added.
CG Events manager Rory Adams-Cheatham voiced her frustration with the no-decision, stressing the need for support for those remaining on campus. “How are you going to support the people who have put their blood into this fight?” she asked. “We are all sitting here waiting for an answer. I want to know what you personally, Art, are going to do to support me, because I don’t see you?” Zucker underlined the collaboration that had ensued over the weekend, stressing that “this is not a fight,” and ensured the dedication of all involved to save Antioch.
As negotiations continue this week, treasurer Rick Daily will no longer be taking part in the process on behalf of the Alumni Board. Daily who was a key player in the Alumni Board’s efforts over the past four months, had been asked to step out of the talks on Saturday, after reporting back mid-negotiation agreements to his board in an open meeting on the second floor of Weston. “People criticized my having called back to the meeting,” Daily said over the phone on Wednesday. “I updated the full Board on the negotiations. Someone else posted it to the internet.” The news that the chancellor would no longer have veto power over matters of the College, first spread among alumni on campus and quickly made it on to the listserves, compromising Daily’s position on the negotiation team. Daily does not expect his leaving to affect the outcome of the negotiations, he said, “at least I hope not.” He will remain available to anyone who calls upon him, he added, but is glad to have more time for his law firm and to prepare for upcoming trials.
How are you going to support the people who have put their blood into this fight?
Saturday night, negotiations were put aside for the evening and the Alumni Board and a handful of trustees joined students, alumni and development staff for a community dinner in the Birch Space kitchen. Alumni Board President Nancy Crow fought the cork of a bottle of red, while CM’s Chelsea Martens and Corri Frohlich, and alumni Wakka Ciccone and Kristine Hofstra served the hungry crowd in line at the walking buffet.
As trustees departed Yellow Springs in the course of the weekend, the campus community was left behind with flags and banners, but no decision. A big white sheet in front of the cafeteria still spells the word “yes,” as a reminder that the struggle is still going on for an outcome that will change the future of Antioch College.