Jury Still Out, Courtroom Left Wondering

“I feel like it’s absolutely wretched,” commented third year student Rachel Sears, “but I hope it means that they’re considering a yes.” With the announcement on Saturday October 27th that the Board of Trustees’ decision in regards to the future of Antioch College would be delayed, the Community has been, once again, left hovering in uncertainty.

Homecoming weekend, with its flood of alumni—some of them coming from as far as Slovenia—its media momentum, and the yellow decorations extravaganza, had a climactic quality that led many to believe that the decision would come “now or never.” On Saturday afternoon, students, alumni, faculty and staff gathered on the Stoop, expecting an imminent announcement. “Have you heard anything?” echoed back and forth while wild rumors and sophisticated interpretations of alumni board members’ facial expressions went around, and test rounds for the Main Building North Tower Bell made everyone jump. The announcement at the John Bryan Center that no decision would be reached at the end of the weekend, and that trustees would be flying back home that same evening broke the illusion that October 27th would be a historic day.

“I felt extremely disappointed’” said first year student Ben Horlacher, “I was expecting maybe not a complete decision but at least a more firm resolution towards keeping the college open.” The argument that a clearer positive message—if not a binding agreement—could have been released to the community was reiterated over and over again in the community. “The alumni presentation was so persuasive that I saw no conceivable reason not to release an agreement in principle,” commented Tim Noble ‘02, “The details may be complex but the decision is simple. It should have come on Saturday.”

With no deadline set for the final vote, the community is left to wait for an indefinite period of time. A few more days extension, however, felt as untenable, with staff and faculty’s professional lives on hold, students’ academic future in the air, and the overall pressure of having invested tears, sweat and blood in Non-Stop Antioch. Several community members expressed dissatisfaction at the trustees’ apparent lack of concern for the nervous conditions of the stakeholders. “It just struck me—the lack of respect the BOT must have for the community not to deliver a decision during this weekend,” said Horlacher. “I felt betrayed by the trustees,” emphasized Noble, “I don’t think the Board of Trustees took the meeting seriously enough to do their homework and prepare to make a decision.”

In this emotionally loaded climate, community members are doing their best to cope with the persisting uncertainty. “I feel horrible,” confessed second year student Loftin Wilson, “My paranoid self is thinking this is all a sinister plot, and we’re never going to get a straight answer and it’s never going to be what we need, and my idealistic self is thinking that it’s good that they’re working out the details, and that stuff like this takes a long time. I go back and forth constantly. We’re left in a space of suspended animation where we have no way of knowing what the actual reality is.” Assistant Professor of Co-Operative Education Eric Miller declared: “How do I feel? Tired. I’ve kinda gotten used to the pins and needles, I’ve been on them for so long.” He also expressed optimism in regards to the upcoming decision.

The now infamous “cautious optimism” formula, born after the August 25th Cincinnati meeting, still seems to hold to describe campus mood. “I’m very impressed with our hope and optimism,” declared Community Manager Chelsea Martens, “You can definitely feel that we’re all holding our breath, but there’s also [a recognition that] we don’t have any other choice, let them do what they’re doing.” “If I were a Radiohead song from Kid A, I’d be torn between In Limbo and Optimistic,” quipped Rowan Kaiser, ‘05, “They have to try to get everything in its right place, and once they figure everything out, we can ring our morning bell.”

Alumni Board member and Chair of Governance Committee Ellen Borgersen also expressed optimism: “I think the fact that people are still working, that Toni is describing the discussion as very positive, and people working hard together is a very good sign. I certainly understand why it takes time.” Borgersen added that the Alumni Board members were “waiting for the news as everyone else is,” and that both trustees and alumni were aware of time constraints and the pressing nature of the situation. “The Alumni Board has made it very clear that time is of the essence here,” she said, “The people who are working on both teams have been working at an incredible pace, I don’t know how they’ve kept it up.”

“I hope the Trustees understand that this is not just a college, this is our home. We cannot distance ourselves from the decision—this decision affects our livelihoods,” emphasized CM Chelsea Martens. But no matter how high the stakes or how strong the frustration, community members are “not doing anything that could compromise the best result,” said Martens. “I think people could have reacted very differently,” said Associate Dean of Students Joyce Morrissey, “We’ve reacted very positively. Much of it has come through the leadership of students on this campus.” It’s almost a wonder that these same students were called “toxic” in the press as recently as this summer by Antioch College President (on administrative leave) Steve Lawry. Morrissey further remarked: “I think the community is dealing with it incredibly well. It’s not that it’s not stressful for people but people have been very patient. It’s really incredible how this community has been through this whole thing … I’m not sure that people outside the community can fully realize that we have 200 students who have put their lives on hold, in addition to staff and faculty.”

The feeling of solidarity engendered by the feeling that ‘we are all in the same boat’ is, perhaps, making the situation more bearable to community members. “The community is being very supportive with each other,” said events manager Rory Adams-Cheatham, “We know that it’s not about one constituency together, but that everyone is in this together. It’s very nice to see everyone be so selfless.”

The first conference call meeting, on Tuesday 30th October, did not lead to any decision, even though it was called “very positive” by Director of Public Relations Lynda Sirk. Another conference call is scheduled for Friday at 6 p.m. Hopefully, the bell of North Tower will sound before the end of the week. As student Rachel Sears put it: “Suspense is only fun when you’re waiting for a birthday present and this is far from a birthday present—because as much as we’re waiting for something exciting, it’s something we should have never had to wait for.”