An Open Letter to the ProTem Board of Trustees

February 3, 2009

“I’m an evangelist, and I was hunting for a cause.”
– Loren Pope (1910-2008)

Greetings from Texas!
Last semester I had the privilege of attending the Nonstop Liberal Arts Institute as a transfer student from Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas, my hometown college. (If you follow college football, you may know that the TCU Horned Frogs have been ranked number 7 in the nation by two polls. I’m no college football fan but my instincts tell me that’s a fairly good ranking.) This semester, I am back in Fort Worth as a visiting student at TCU and working two jobs equivalent to forty hours a week. However, I do not consider my absence at Nonstop as anything more than the first Nonstop student more or less on ‘co-op’. Indeed, my intent is to return to Yellow Springs in the near future, perhaps as soon as this summer.

As I mentioned, I transferred into the Nonstop Institute last semester, having only been to Ohio once, and never having lived outside of Fort Worth, Texas before. I took a risk, just as all budding Antiochians do when deciding to attend the College. Not getting the privilege of a physical campus zoned for educational purposes, nor moving into a pre-assigned dormitory, nor signing up for classes in advance of my arrival, nor even knowing if there was sustainable work in the village, though, perhaps I took too much of a risk. But after following Antioch College years after I enrolled in TCU, I felt that I could trust the people whose hands I was falling into. And in the end, I was not disappointed in the care, commitment, and concern I received. After years of wondering, hoping, and praying that I could get the Antioch experience, I was finally an Antiochian.

Since first reading about Antioch College in Loren Pope’s Colleges That Change Lives, I knew that it was the education and experience (‘to be an Antiochian’) I was looking for. Indeed so much so that I tried to remake the Antioch experience in the realms of my personal, working, and intellectual life. I hardly need to repeat to you, faithful alums and board members, of the value of the Antioch education. The three pillars of an Antioch education, co-op, community, and classroom, are unmatched in that form. Antioch, as Pope put it in his Colleges That Change Lives, “is in a class by itself.” The Antioch you went to, however, was not the Antioch I attended. To many, the Antioch I attended was not Antioch at all. The Antioch I attended was not a campus, or a centrally-located culture, or even a space but a lived experience. It was a real education, or as Hassan Rahmanian said it, education as action. Antioch College is something, as evidenced by your outstanding commitment, carried throughout your life. And though your experience may not be mine, we are intertwined not merely by the name Antioch College, but by a cultural memory; one memory that reminds us of people, place, and struggle. My personal memory of it will be, in one semester, learning to live on my own, adapting to a new place, paying bills, holding a job, interacting with new people, watching my back (yes, in Yellow Springs, don’t laugh!), filling out W-2 forms, and engaging in every intricate facet of my education. None of that would have occurred without the people I learned from and with.

But the purpose of this letter is to not tell you about how, perhaps like you on your co-ops, I struggled. What frankly compels me to write this note, then, is to address upfront the worrisome rumor I am hearing that not only will Antioch College at its earliest be open in 2010 but that many faculty, staff, and students may in turn not be a part of the process to reopen it. It is a rumor, yes but as a student on co-op, I live off of hearsay, so please do not think that any one person is perpetuating this notion.

Regardless, as you will hopefully see when you visit Nonstop on February 15th, Antioch College is being lived out every day as truly what an education should be: learning, wherever, regardless of the situation. The professors I studied under know this best, and confronted this mighty feat all of last semester. They worked without offices, taught in living rooms and churches, interacted without any central meeting point other than the spaces we could find around town. They also kept going without knowing what would happen next. The faculty and staff ultimately were living off the tension of last year but this time, without the comfort of an office.

The faculty and staff developed a school in less than a year’s, maybe even six-month’s time. And when I came, I developed it too with these wonderful, brilliant, and amazing people. They taught me what I could not teach myself. And together we lived the education provided by Antioch College.

“So I ask you . . . to cherish up in your hearts, these, my parting words,” Horace Mann ended his final commencement speech to a graduating class from Antioch. Let me give my take on the parting words: please, don’t forget these outstanding individuals who changed my life.

Yours, fondly,

James Russell
Hopefully of the
Antioch College Class of 2011