“Antioch’s Near Death and Revival as a Learning Experience” – Michael Brower ’55

  Antioch College is based on both classroom and real world learning.  Let’s look at our recent Near-Death and Revival asking What happened? What did and didn’t work?  What could we learn?  Here are my own 12 learning areas.

1. Organizing, not blaming.  What worked was not complaining and blaming, but lots of organizing and dialogue with help from everybody – Faculty, Students, Alums, AND from the majority of Trustees, who, believe it or not, really do want Antioch College to survive, be healthy, and thrive.  Lesson?  Involve, don’t blame.

2.  Loyalty, Passion, Eloquence, AND Civility. The students who came to the special Trustees meeting at the end of August, including 3 new Freshmen, did a magnificent job of showing Trustees that current students are passionate and eloquent in their love for Antioch – and are also polite and civil.   And CG leaders led the open session with calm experienced leadership skills.  The Trustees were deeply impressed and happily surprised, since some of them were fearing angry attacks.  To the current Antioch students: you proved again that you are awesome! You helped save our College.  Lessons for the future?  Organize and speak up.  Be passionate and eloquent AND also courteous.

3.  Antioch faculty are also awesome.   The above statements are also true of our faculty.  At Antioch 50+ years ago I thought our faculty were the best teachers in the country.  That is still true today.  We must organize and fight to protect tenure and to keep as many present faculty as possible – and also expand our curriculum breadth and faculty depth.  The Trustees should meet our faculty, as I have in recent weeks.   Lessons:  When we rebuild and regenerate organizations, don’t throw away, but build on, the best of what we already have.

4.  Alumni should be organized, involved, and utilized, not ignored. Antioch has traditionally ignored its Alums, taking them for granted, not involving or organizing them, and then being surprised when only 1/5 or so donate to Antioch.  Never again!  Alumni are now organizing Chapters around the world (now over 40 and more to come), to keep informed and involved and to help– and have Antioch-related fun!  Alumni can be helpful to Antioch in many ways, including: outreach to high schools and with student recruitment, offering experienced unpaid teaching help to our overworked faculty in areas of temporary needs, helping create and find co-op jobs and helping students on those jobs, spreading the word through media and personal contacts of Antioch’s regeneration and health. And, of course in fund raising.  Lessons?  Whatever you are organizing, utilize your strong unpaid supporters!  PS to all graduating seniors:  You become an Alum the minute you graduate.  Don’t forget that – we need you active in our Alumni Chapters.  And understand that you have not paid the full cost of your Antioch years, so you have a large accumulated debt to repay to Antioch over the years ahead.

5.  Give up the “Blame Game.”  For Antioch’s decline there is plenty of blame to go around, from decades past, for everybody. Huge mistakes were made, by many, for 35 years or more.  But blaming individuals does not recruit or mobilize anyone, for anything, since it creates only negative energy.   Effective organizing depends on giving up the emotional surge of the blame game.  Instead,  create a postive vision we can unite around and then find a common path towards that vision.  This helps create mutual appreciation, shared values, and actions that we can agree on.  And it is more effective and more fun!

6.  Those who make mistakes are not therefore bad or evil. We all make mistakes (write and ask me about mine!), so those who make mistakes should not be accused of being the “bad guys” with “us” being “the good guys.”  We Americans have long lived in a sort of bi-polarizing culture, as in:  “We are right, you are wrong!”  “You’re either for us or against us.”  “It is good v. evil, and WE are good!”  “It is a win-lose game, and WE are going to be the winners and You are going to be the losers.”    To succeed in complex situations, we must  learn to give up this immature and destructive way of seeing the world.  We should look for what we have in common, for common paths forward, for how we can create together ‘win-win” games and causes.   Last month we have saved Antioch precisely because the leaders of the Alumni Board and of the Trustees came together and adopted this philosophy of seeking common values, common causes, and common agreements.

7.  Sometimes, the Structure is to blame.  Instead of blaming individuals, we should blame, and are now blaming, the governance structure, as Steve Lawry taught us to do.  We have argued, and the Trustees now agree, that Antioch College and all the other campuses should each have their own separate Board of Trustees. We have this agreement in Principle, but we still have lots of work to do to reach agreement on the proper division of powers and responsibilities.  Lesson:  When troubles are wide and deep and long lasting, blame the structure, not the individuals.
(Personal note:  we have massive national structural problems that are undermining our democracy, our willingness to use peaceful methods instead of warfare, and our ability to live in harmony with the rest of the world.  I am writing a book about this.)

8.  Celebrations are in order.  There is a lot of work ahead, there is still a lot of room for disagreements and difficulties.  But even if incomplete, we have won a significant victory for Antioch, and therefore for Humanity.  We should now celebrate together.  Why? A day without celebrating something, without some moments of joy, without laughter, is a day wasted!

9.  Next, we must get back to work.  Here are some really urgent issues.  We must find a way together- Faculty, Administration, Alums, and Trustees—to make sure that the Ohio Board of Regents and the North Central Association quickly recognize Antioch College as again a viable College worthy of continuing to grant degrees long beyond 12/08.  This should pave the way for accepting and recruiting not only transfers, but also new Freshmen in September 2008, which is the best way to re-build Antioch quickly.   Lesson: Celebrate? Yes.  But then then get back to work.  The job, if important, is never finished!

10.  Preserve our present curriculum AND start planning new programs. Working together – faculty, students, Alumni, and Trustees — we need to both preserve the best of the current curriculum AND slowly build on it to include new progams, new courses, new learning experiences which will again put Antioch College on the forefront of  Higher Education, preparing us to “Win Victories for Humanity” (AND “Victories for our Planet Earth”) for another 150 years.  This is not either-or, with our choosing between our present high quality curriculum, or some whole new curriculum design, which some argue for.  Rather, it should be Both-And.  The best of the past and present, plus some creative exciting new developments, which I call the “Regeneration of Antioch.”  Lesson:  Make it both-and, NOT either-or.

11.   Work with our Allies in the educational world.  Our Alums active in other educational institutions and organizations report strong outpourings of support for Antioch and offers to help.  Larger lesson:  When organizing something, reach out to those in other organizatons that have, or might have, similar interests, values, and priorities to see if they could help.
12. Fund raising must proceed and succeed at an accelerated pace. We must bring in unprecedented millions to support current faculty and staff and student services, and to enable a whole new level of outreach and recruitment efforts.  We need about $80-$100 million in the next 4-5 years. THEN I think we should go on to raise a really solid endowment of $500 million in another 10 years or less!  Let’s all learn how to be good at many things:  learning, scholarship, organizing for social justice, building healthy organizations, AND fund raising too!

If you agree or disagree with any of these ideas, I would be pleased to hear from you.

–  Michael Brower ’55.   Member, Alumni Board and Chair, Chapters Committee.  mbrower32@comcast.net.