I’ve looked over the Board Pro Tempore’s concept paper a couple times since its release a few days ago, and my feeling are, to say the least, mixed.
I have to admit that it all looks very smart and exciting. In fact, there’s a lot of that stuff that I think I could get on board with. They want to enact more diversity initiatives and make the college more international? Great. Require students to develop a working knowledge of at least one additional language? Sure. The Distinguished Faculty program, with classes taught by alumni and friends of the college? Why not?
The Board is committed to a tenured faculty. That’s good. And though it doesn’t say so in the concept paper, I understand they also want union staff. Also good.
They propose a restoration campaign, and want to make the campus more sustainable. I support them in this too, so long as we take said “restoration” measures to have maximum emphasis on utility and minimum emphasis on glamor. Concentrate on the necessities of running a healthy college in line with our values, not projecting a classy image. I think we can all agree that Antioch College is never going to be luxurious, so let’s not throw desperately needed money away trying to make it look luxurious.
I agree with the Board’s wish to lower tuition. In fact, I would like us to commit to a long-term vision that one day Antioch College will be entirely tuition-free, with grants available for travel for geographically challenged students.
I also support the proposal to have students and faculty contribute a certain amount of work while on-campus, which I’m sure would also be a feature of an eventual tuition-free program. This Spring term at Nonstop we mandated a 4 hour per week work policy for students which-though beset with glitches-has on the whole been a step in the right direction.
However, I feel some of the concept paper’s other ideas give cause for concern. Most importantly: the three-year plan.
Anybody who’s seen my comments on Listen Up Antioch and ACAN knows that I think essentially eliminating break time for all parties involved is a spectacularly bad idea. In an emotionally and intellectually charged atmosphere like Antioch’s, students, faculty and staff need frequent breaks for a little change of pace, not to mention rest and recuperation.
Faculty, in particular need time to perform their own research, so they can stay on top of the latest information in their field and so that they can produce their own innovations, as good Antiochians do. Somebody at that DC area chapter meeting also pointed out that staff need time for building maintenance, and there simply wasn’t enough of it last time we were on trimesters.
Reading over the outlines for the curriculum plan, I can’t help picturing students running a three year educational obstacle course at top speed, with no time to rest, and also no time to pause and reflect. The best learning requires that the student have the opportunity to stop and digest what they’ve learned, subjecting it to critical analysis on the way. That’s what Antioch has always stood for. For this, the student requires time; more than three years, possibly more than four. Heck, let’s go back to being a five-year college, if that’s how long it takes to get the job done properly.
And while utilizing new technology to keep students in touch with the community while out on co-op sounds like a good idea, I can all too easily picture the concept being used to cram more work and obligations onto already overburdened students.
The first time I heard mention of this three-year notion was after the “Visioning a College” weekend at Earlham last year. The way I heard it, the alumni were talking about a five-year program and the organizers basically said “There’s nothing eye-catching about a five-year institution, why not go for a three-year program?”
In other words, the idea first came up as a marketing gimmick. When an institution bearing the name “Antioch College” is reduced to throwing cheap glitter over its program to attract students, I’ll know the Antioch I went to, the Antioch I loved, is well and truly dead.
Wake up, people! This is Antioch. We don’t want the students who are attracted to pretty buildings, or to a curriculum which rushes them through their education without time for any actual learning. Let’s have a curriculum which actually reflects our values of introspection and critical engagement.
One argument for the three-year plan is that it will be helpful in lowering tuition. What if instead we utilized that Antiochian propensity for innovation the Board brags so much about in the concept paper and find another way to keep costs down? Something that does not require such a potentially disastrous setup?
Elsewhere, members of the Board Pro Tem have been quick avoid making any definitive statements about curriculum, because they don’t want to tie the faculty’s hands. I can’t imagine what they thought they were doing with this extremely detailed concept paper, but it can’t’ve been keeping a blank slate.
I would like to take this opportunity to encourage the Board to let the faculty-once (they admit) they have a faculty-develop a workable curriculum, with input from Board members of course, and also of past, present, and prospective students, to insure that the result is something which addresses the needs of all Antioch stakeholders. As I said in my Listen Up and ACAN comments: we don’t need a plan that’s “trendy” or slick. We need a plan that’s right. A plan that’s Antiochian.
Class of ’11