Repost: A Deal to Revive Antioch

The following was published in Inside Higher Ed on July 1st, written by Scott Jaschik. Original article here

Antioch College is poised to come back.

On Tuesday, leaders of the college’s alumni association and the Antioch
University Board of Trustees — which suspended operations of the college a
year ago — agreed on a plan to make the college fully independent of the
university. The college will gain its campus, the endowment (about $19
million), the ability to use its name, and the literary journal The Antioch
Review. Most important to many, the college will have its own board and will
not answer in any way to the university. The college’s alumni supporters
will pay the university about $6 million in return for the assets being
turned over.

Leaders of the college alumni group anticipate admitting a new class of
students — 100 at first — in two years.

Before the process can move ahead, various regulators need to sign off on
the plans, but approval is expected. The deal ends two years of intense
negotiations to save the college — a process that alternated between
enthusiasm and recrimination as various efforts moved forward and fell
apart. The negotiations were revived and advanced in recent months with help
of the Great Lakes College Association, whose involvement was praised by
both the university and the college for keeping the talks going.

Matthew Derr, who serves as chief transition officer for the college alumni
team, said in a briefing Tuesday that the alumni board overseeing the
transition is committed to reviving a college in the Antioch model — mixing
liberal arts education with career experiences. Further, he said that board
members believed strongly in tenure for faculty members and expected to
rehire some of those who lose jobs.

“We have our work cut out for us,” he said. “There is a strong feeling on
the part of the alumni that to do that swiftly, we need people with
experience in the traditions of the college. That’s a critical piece for

The intensity of feeling that has surrounded the question of the college’s
future reflects its significant — and at times controversial — role in
American higher education.

Antioch was founded in 1852, with Horace Mann serving as its first
president. The college played a role in the abolitionist movement and was an
early institution to admit students who were female or black. In the 20th
century, Antioch was among the pioneers in “co-op education” in which
students alternated positions of work all over the country with their
education at the Yellow Springs, Ohio, campus. Antioch was particularly
notable in that the education was focused on the liberal arts, and the
college was known for turning out graduates who went on to play major roles
in intellectual life and social activism, people like Clifford Geertz and
Stephen Jay Gould and Coretta Scott King.

More recently, however, Antioch’s history has been more troubled. The
campus — designed for 2,700 students — saw fewer and fewer students
enroll. The college’s long association of liberal politics attracted more
students in the ’60s than the ’90s, when a policy requiring explicit verbal
consent before any sexual act made the college a favorite target of pundits
seeking to mock political correctness.

Many at the college also for years resented the role of Antioch University,
which came into being as the college launched branch campuses around the
country. These campuses primarily offered graduate programs taught by
non-tenured faculty members. A central administration and single board ran
the college and the branch campuses — and college supporters said that the
board didn’t pay enough attention to the college. When the board announced
plans to suspend the college’s operations, many supporters of the college
denounced the trustees, saying that they had sacrificed the very heart of
the institution.

The university will maintain its headquarters and its distance education arm
in Yellow Springs. The remaining university endowment is about $3 million.

Art Zucker, chair of the university board, said that after the initial
decision to suspend college operations, the university board had the
“responsibility” to rebuild the college and wanted to do so. In explaining
the decision to agree to make the college independent, Zucker said that “it
became clear that the funding would have to come from alumni, and rightly or
wrongly, we think wrongly, many of the alumni felt an antagonism toward the
university, so we felt the best best was to ask the alumni association to
take over.”

Many alumni have pledged to up their donations to the college,
post-independence. Derr said that one good thing that has come out of the
turmoil of the last few years has been renewed activism and philanthropy by
alumni on behalf of the college. As planning gets started on the revival, he
said that support “is critical.”