By Jeanne Kay
I wish I could celebrate. I wish I could have called Bard College this week thanking them for their patience but telling them that I will never enroll, instead of simply deferring again. I wish I could have sent an email to my friends and family back home that said “The good news is that you’re invited again to my graduation ceremony in 2010. The bad news is, it’s still in Ohio.” I wish I could have let my yellow balloon escape, I wish the bell of main building had rung, I wish I could have gone back to being a normal student. I wish I could have felt relief.
Instead, I felt disappointed, betrayed, disillusioned, frustrated, bitter. And tired. I found myself, this weekend, in the situation I had found myself in last June—the I-love-Antioch-but-I-still-need-to-graduate dilemma.
“You’re the most pessimistic person on the whole campus ” Rowan Kaiser ‘05 told me. No, I’m just an Antioch student, and as an Antioch student I’ve learned to question authority, to re-examine, to deconstruct, not to trust structures, and not to believe in top-down processes. That is why, when I read the Agreement in Principle between the Alumni Board and the Board of Trustees, I cannot help but seriously question whether I am ever going to be able to graduate from Antioch College.
The suspension is lifted, yes. But the contradictions between the intended message: “we want to rejuvenate the college” and the content of the agreement in principle are such that one cannot but wonder whether the sacrifices undertook during the negotiations were worth it.
Let’s take the decision to “dim out operations”, for example. One might wonder how that is possible considering that we are already running at minimal operations with a student body of 200. Cutting student services? What student services? Room and Board? Electricity? Hot water?
Then there is the fact that we will apparently not be recruiting an entering class for the upcoming year. Considering that the graduating class for ‘08 is about as big as half the current student population, it means that when I come back next Fall, there’ll probably be less than one hundred students on campus. What is the course catalogue going to look like? What will breakfast in the Caf’ consist of? I don’t want to imagine. How will student morale, academic excellence, and intellectual exchange be maintained in these dimmed conditions?
Which brings us to the announced cuts in faculty and staff. At this point, cutting faculty is equivalent to closing down whole departments. What excuse will be given to students who cannot major in the area of their choice because their faculty advisor has been laid off, and their department consists merely of adjuncts? And is it not deceitful to make us current students stay today, in these circumstances?
And if we do, one day, start recruiting new students, how appealing will the “dimmed” version of Antioch be to them? Who will apply to an agonizing college, that could re-suspend operations at any time? And how will we recover from a downward spiral of declining enrolments, and bring in tuition money to the college?
Will donors flock to contribute to such an enterprise? How will they react to the mixed messages sent by the University, who one side claims good faith, but doesn’t wait a week before publicly deprecating our curriculum? What about promises of autonomy that have yet to be fulfilled, upon which pledges are conditional? The continued operations of the college are dependant on meeting very specific fundraising targets. Is it still reasonable to believe that these targets can be reached when the Agreement in Principle empowers not a powerful, independent, interim board of trustees, but Chancellor Toni Murdock, who has not only received a vote of non confidence from the faculty but from the entire college community in a referendum no later than last month?
The worst in all this, is that the University has done everything to protect itself from losing face, or being accountable in any way. Instead of having to explain to the media, to Higher Education, how they could possibly be dim-witted enough to reject the Alumni Board’s business plan, instead of having to explain to the world how they dare close down Antioch College, they have now crafted a system which absolves them of responsibility in case of failure.
In these circumstances, how can we not wonder whether we are being set up for failure? A long, p ainful death, with all the appearances of a natural one. “We tried; we cooperated. But it failed on the other end, on the end of the chaotic alumni, the stuck in the 60s faculty, the toxic students” That’s what the University will be able to say, and get away with it.
Yes, this is a pessimistic view. I also believe it is a realistic view of what could happen if the community doesn’t take action. But I am already seeing this happening. In true Antioch fashion, it has not taken us more than a few days and a couple glasses of Champagne to awaken to the gravity of the situation and to rise up, again, to the challenge. I am not the only one to feel exhausted, burned out, betrayed, angry. We all deserved to have the bell of North Tower ring, a real celebration, and to go back to delightful normalcy (if Antioch life could every be called that), to recover from the trauma of the past few months. But no, it is not over. The fight continues, and the community is empowering itself again, in AdCil, in Community Meeting, in the pages of this week’s Record, hopefully in alumni chapters all over the world and everywhere where our heart still throbs when we think of our time at Antioch College.