Community Confused by Announcement

By Jeanne Kay
On Friday, February 22nd, Interim President Andrzej Bloch announced to the Antioch Community “the reconfirmation of the decision to suspend operations of the college on June 30th for at least one academic year.” Students, faculty, staff, alumni and Yellow Springs residents gathered, like they had many times since last June, for an emergency community meeting in McGregor 113. The Interim President had just flown back from Los Angeles, where the Board of Trustees (BOT) meeting was still being held, to present the college community with the resolution of the trustees’ discussions concerning the immediate future of Antioch College.
The discussions took place on Thursday the 21st, Bloch specified in a later interview; they started early in the morning and lasted until the mid-afternoon. The negotiating team, composed of Chancellor Toni Murdock, Chair Art Zucker, Chief Financial Officer Tom Faecke, and two attorneys, presented the trustees with a report based on their negotiations with the Antioch College Continuation Corporation (ACCC.) The trustees, Bloch said, “concluded that there weren’t sufficient material, sufficient grounds, to take action.” Therefore he decided, with the approval of the board, to come back to campus to inform the community.
The decision to make the announcement, however, came as a surprise for many stakeholders. “When I went to community meeting on Friday I had no idea what was going to be said and nobody, to the best of my knowledge, had been informed in the ACCC” declared Steve Schwerner, ACCC and Alumni Board member; “my first reaction was why now? There’s nothing in that statement that the Board hadn’t said before; this could have been just as easily done on Monday.”  Lynda Sirk, Former Special Assistant to the COO and Director of Public Relations, who declared to not be working under a specific title at the moment, stated: “they [the trustees] had an agonizing day on Thursday and they didn’t want to hold people in limbo past that… Not telling anything would have been far more damaging.”
Yet even the Community Managers, who had flown to Los Angeles for the meeting, had not been informed about the announcement.  Community Manager Chelsea Martens mentioned having learned “by a text message from a student” that an emergency community meeting had been called. When she called Bloch for information, “he portrayed a different picture than what has been happening; he just said that nothing earth-shattering was going to be announced and that I didn’t need to come back.” She recalled feeling “frustrated” and “misled” when she listened to the podcast of the Friday community meeting; “I was confused: there was a decision when negotiations were still happening.”
When she came back to campus, Community Manager Chelsea Martens had another version of events to convey to the community. “It is not necessarily negative news,” she said about the University’s position, “Part of the information is true: the University plans to end its operation at Antioch on June 30th; but the negotiations are still happening and the University can’t say if Antioch college is going to be open–they can say that they won’t be operating it.”
In an interview with the Record on Wednesday, ACCC member Eric Bates said he too was “surprised” and “disappointed” when, “at the same time as everybody else,” he heard about the announcement. He called the statement that was presented to the college community “a very alarming message.” “We are still in negotiation with the University,” he emphasized; “The ACCC doesn’t approve or support what’s in the statement—we don’t support the announcement or the way it was presented.”
On Tuesday, 26th February, Andrzej Bloch made an additional address during community meeting in which he claimed that “The ACCC and the BOT are in agreement that operations will be suspended on June 30th 2008.” A statement which was denied by Eric Bates, who reiterated: “it was not a joint agreement;” and characterized the University’s announcement as “unilateral.”
What motivated the University to make such a drastic announcement before the end of the negotiations, without approval or consultation with the ACCC? According to Chelsea Martens, “The University is covering its back at the expense of everyone else…they need to have their hands cleans of the college.” But she also believes that “there are people on the board that don’t want to see the college open next term, and others feel like the college is in shambles and needs to close for a while—they are well intentioned but inaccurate.” Associate Professor of Philosophy and Political Theory Scott Warren called the Friday announcement a “self-fulfilling prophecy.” “There’s one tactic that people can use when they’re in a negotiation or a struggle,” he said, “which is to say something over and over again so that people start believing it and it ends up happening. I find it very cynical and disingenuous.”
Indeed, campus morale suffered a severe blow after the announcement was made. “On Friday, all of my energy towards saving Antioch had been eroded,” recalled 2nd year student Greer Paris, “this was just the last straw: I felt really defeated.” Paris described the atmosphere among students as “deflated”: “No one seemed fired up like in previous meetings; it seemed that we had been worn down completely.” Caroline Debevec, also a 2nd year student who will be transferring at the end of the term, declared that Friday’s announcement was “not a big surprise” and that she had made previous plans to transfer due to the level of “uncertainty.”  She commented on the reaction of students: “People felt like there wasn’t really much hope, but then CG had been sending out text messages to tell that it wasn’t what was happening so everybody is confused right now.”
The damage done by the announcement also goes beyond campus borders; since a press release, drafted, according to Lynda Sirk, by the Communications Committee of the BOT, went out on the same day to inform the media about the University’s decision to confirm the suspension of operations at the college. The press release was “clear,” according to Andrzej Bloch, yet the quasi-totality of the media (with the exception of the Yellow Springs News) announced the definite closure of the college.  Steve Schwerner ventured that the University wished to “Make it [the suspension of operations] a fait accompli by virtue of putting it into the press. Why did they put it into the press? There was no urgency!” According to Bloch, the press was expecting a decision to come out based on the 12-6-07 Resolution; therefore, “they had marked their calendars,” he said.
The Antioch College Action Network (ACAN) was prompt to issue a counter-press release. “The University press release was very successful in being picked up by the media, and it wasn’t correct,” commented Rowan Kaiser ’04 who participating in drafting the ACAN press release, “We weren’t sure that the ACCC and the Alumni Board would be able to make [a statement] (they eventually did and we support both of them) but as an autonomous organization ACAN had the ability to make a statement without compromising negotiations or fundraising.” According to Kaiser, the counter-press release was “meant to educate the media—we wanted to let the press know that the information that comes from the University is questionable.”
When confronted with the argument that the Friday announcement was damaging to the college, Interim President Andrzej Bloch answered that “It is equally immoral to sustain unjustified hope.” The negotiations, however, are to proceed in the near future. “We are waiting for the Board to contact us,” said ACCC member Steve Schwerner, “We know that every day that goes by makes chances smaller.”  No set agenda for the negotiation has been made public, though Lynda Sirk declared that the BOT had “every intention on going back to the table with the ACCC,” and Andrzej Bloch ventured that the trustees, during executive session on Saturday, “most likely drafted instructions for the negotiating team.”
“We’ve been careful not to characterize the chances,” stated ACCC member Eric Bates, “but we’re trying our hardest to reach an agreement and we are confident that we have everything needed to reach it.” When asked what he would tell students that are wondering what to make of the announcement, he answered:  “I’d tell them we’re doing everything we can to bring about a different outcome. A lot of people are devoting a lot of time, energy and money to create an independent college that can thrive…Each individual must make plans, plans that are right for them. But we very much hope that there’ll be a college to go to next year.”