A five-hour meeting in New York City on Monday between six major donors, the executive committee of the Board of Trustees and representatives of the Alumni Board did not resolve the impasse threatening the scheduled transfer of $4.6 million for the Antioch College revival due on December 15. The meeting, described by one attendee as “very serious,” produced a memorandum to the university that will be further discussed at the next Board of Trustees Governance Committee meeting in Dallas on Sunday, December 2.
“This is the first time in my memory that this number of donors were able to engage in serious conversation about the future of the college,” says Barbara Winslow, a member of the Antioch College Alumni Board and former Trustee of the University Board for 12 years. “There was no BS, no ‘let’s all get along;’ these were probably the frankest discussions I can remember about the college.”
The group of six actual and potential donors with pledges of seven-figures and higher does not feel last month’s Agreement in Principle between the Alumni Board and the Board of Trustees meets the conditions of their pledges to the College Revival Fund. As a result, the deep-pocketed donors are keeping their hands on their wallets until conditions are met. “The former trustees and major donors are very actively working alongside Alumni Board representatives to insure that the governance agreement reflects the concerns of donors, alumni and community members to provide for the meaningful self-governance promised by the University,” says another former trustee, that requested to be anonymous in order not to jeopardize ongoing negotiations. “Everyone is aware that the donors’ pledge conditions regarding self-governance need to be satisfied in time for them to contribute to the December 15 payment, and is working toward that goal. It would be tragic indeed for the University to choose not to honor the pledge conditions, of which they have been aware since negotiations began.”
A statement put out last night by President Nancy Crow of the Alumni Association asserts “Everyone at the meeting agreed, in keeping with the November 2, 2007 Agreements in Principle, that Antioch College must be in control of its own destiny, through its own Board of Trustees. The discussion revolved around the degree of that Board’s authority and autonomy and the timetable for its establishment.”
Chair of the University Board Art Zucker, recovering from recent surgery, connected via speakerphone for the duration of the meeting that lasted three hours longer than scheduled. Zucker opened the meeting, which included presentations by individual donors and former trustees. What followed was a “very frank, very serious, sober discussion about the future of the University and the College,” says Winslow.
Terry Herndon, one of the donors in attendance, agrees that there are many things to be worked out, given that this is the first time that representatives of the university have directly talked to the major donors. “In addition to talking about Antioch and governance, there was discussion about the money to be raised to keep Antioch going,” recalls Herndon. “Donors had some suggestions as to what they like to see happening in regard to Antioch College. The chairman of the trustees is going to be talking to members of the Board of Trustees about the suggestions that donors have made, seeing whether they can come to an agreement.”
Also present at the meeting was consultant Tom Ingram, who was hired by the university prior to the suspension. Ingram’s original written report from early 2007 addressed the issue of self-governance for the various campuses within the university. He continues to be involved as a member of the university governance commission that is currently looking into models for installing an advisory board for each satellite, under the auspices of a University Board of Trustees.
Donors, however, are looking for a board to be in place by mid December with full authority over the college, including fiduciary responsibility and the power to hire and fire a president.
To expedite this process, a group that includes former trustees and major donors adopted a memorandum of understanding that states a number of expectations, including that the college will receive a board that is interim and not advisory. In the meeting itself a number of donors further pushed for total separation of the college and university in the future, a step that might be necessary to fulfill all of the donors’ expectations stated in their memorandum.
Meanwhile, those donors and former trustees that may take seat on the new board for the college, according to Crow, “made it very clear that they have no intention of serving on a body whose advice the UBoT (soon to become the Antioch University Board of Governors) would be free to accept, reject or ignore, and pressed for meaningful and increasing authority for the interim body and the future College Board of Trustees.”
Regardless of the marathon five-hour session, the conference ended as a “preliminary” meeting. Several of the attendees are expected to represent their constituencies again at the executive committee meeting of the University Board at the Dallas airport on the 2nd of December.
“There is really nothing to say at this point besides that we had discussions and that nothing has been resolved yet,” says Winslow. “Given the fact that the next amount is due by the 15th, it is obvious that time is of the essence.”