By Eva Erickson & Diana Starkweather
Antioch’s campus was left a ghost town, last Saturday, as students filed in to a historical community meeting in McGregor 113. After impatiently waiting for a week, students, faculty, staff, and other community members anxiously gathered in the one room on campus had signs of life, to hear Antioch’s fate after a week long deliberation between College alumni and University trustees.
After a quiet build up of suspense with small interjections of applause, Andrzej Bloch, the newly-dubbed interim president, announced that the Alumni Board and the Board of Trustees had agreed upon a resolution in principle, and that the BOT “officially rescinds the suspension of operations of Antioch College.” The announcement of decision caused an immediate outburst of cheers, happy-tears, and applause that could be heard from outside the building. It was like popping a zit that had been festering on your forehead for a week.
“The easy part is now finished. The difficult part comes along,” proclaimed Steve Schwerner, Alumni Board member, former Dean and Antiochian since 1955. “There are a lot of details to be worked out. [But] it does not detract from the fact that this is a historic moment.”
An audio recording of the Chancellor, Toni Murdock, chairman of the University Board, Art Zucker, and President of the Alumni Association, Nancy Crow, brought comic relief, as Zucker announced his desire to be with us, and Murdock declared, “We’re a little choked up.” Pure joy, however, was only a short state of mind and only for part of the assembled crowd. The critical queries and the answers that followed, revealed discrepancies, bullet-dodging and Bloch’s propensity to tip-toe from one safe stone to the next.
Many people questioned a statement from the resolution that declares that “Antioch College will accept qualified transfer students and will resume recruitment of first year students when fiscally and academically feasible…” Currently, Antioch is not allowed to grant degrees beyond December 31, 2008, due to a mandate by the Ohio Board of Regents (OBR), that followed the June decision.
Recruiting students without first filing a petition with the OBR would be illegal, said Bloch.
In this petition the college will have to demonstrate that it can provide new students a four-year curriculum and education as promised and “adequate resources to offer the curriculum we claim to offer,” he explained. “They will not give us permission to continue granting degrees unless we demonstrate resources.”
Chair of the governance committee of the Alumni Board, Ellen Borgersen tried to ease concerns of the sleeping dog that appeared to have woken in the room: “Our belief,” she said, “is that it won’t be that difficult [to reverse the OBR’s decision]”,.
There was continued apprehension about job stability, but Bloch could offer no assurances. He discussed constraints on the operation of the college, saying “If we have a curriculum we have to have resources […], faculty, staff, facilities, material resources, that allow us to offer this curriculum to students.” Since the college will remain open, there is need for a new budget, Bloch said, without going into specific plans. “Now would there be a reduction in faculty and staff? It most possibly would be. But there is a process in which we determine these decisions.” According to the new interim president a plan to address reductions “is to be developed.”
“This college is engaged in a pattern of being force-fed in top-down models of power, put forth by the BOT and University Chancellor,” Pat Mische, Professor of Peace Studies, passionately proclaimed. “I’m deeply troubled.” The result of such force feeding, Mishe said, contributed to the college’s downfall in admissions and made her question the authority of those now controlling the college’s future and finances. “Who decides financial exigency when we already have a pledge of many million dollars and more to come, but somebody else is going to decide financial exigency? It sounds to me like it’s still with the Board of Trustees, the University Board, and the Chancellor’s office.”
“This group will establish a team that will plan the future,” Borgersen’ 72 assured. “It’s up to us to get the right people on the team, including faculty and students.”
The restructuring of the school into a “state-of-the-art 21st century residential college,” became the center of more discussion, as community members wondered what the definition of such a college was, and if the continued existence of Antioch depended on this undefined term. “If our school is not a 21st century school, are our students being shortchanged?” the parent of a senior student inquired. “Are they getting the education that we’re sending them here for?”
“What it means in English is that some of our facilities need work,” explained Alumni Board member, Steve Schwerner, in an attempt to demystify the term that continues to put up red flags for the college community as it was a central part of the 2012 plan for the College that the University presented at the now-infamous alumni reunion in June. “That’s no surprise to anybody who’s been here; it’s also no surprise at lots of other colleges.”
While the announcement is a great achievement for the College, it is one success that needs to be followed by many more to reach self-sustainability. As Schwerner observed, “The easy part is keeping the college open. The much harder part is sustaining the college, and building the college.”