Open Letter to The Board Pro Tem
(CC’d to the entire Save Antioch! community)
As I write this letter, there has been no new word on the Definitive Agreements between the Board Pro Tempore of Antioch College and the Board of Trustees of Antioch University. This, to me, is not an issue, as my point revolves more around the end of the ninety-day period which began in January. If the deal falls through, then the rest of this letter becomes moot. If not, however, then my arguments stand, regardless of where we are in the process.
I will begin by inviting my readers to take a trip with me back through time. It’s late in the year 2007. The Alumni Board of Antioch College and the Board of Trustees of Antioch University have come to an agreement in principle that Antioch College will stay open, but donors are balking and many members of the Antioch community (on- and off-campus) have grave misgivings about the way in which the Trustees are moving forward.
Among the biggest of those misgivings: the Trustees’ continued threats to reduce faculty and staff, despite the unpopularity of the idea among Antiochians. (Also, their refusal to recruit first-year students for Fall ’08.)
Now let’s go further back. It’s Reunion, 2007. Mere days ago, the Antioch community heard the announcement of the college’s closing, and people are hopping mad. At Reunion, Antiochians come together in support of Antioch College. They do not support the Board of Trustees’ decision to close the college (especially without consultation with the other stakeholders). They do not support the idea of waiting until 2012 to reopen the college. The time is now, or not at all. Antiochians denounce the Trustees for casting aspersions on and for maltreatment of faculty and staff. Those gathered at Reunion go on record as supporting the staff and faculty of Antioch College.
Fast-forward to April, 2009. The college is closed, but a loyal core of Antioch faculty, staff, students, alumni and villagers remain in Yellow Springs. Over the past two years, they have endured an emotional rollercoaster of optimism building to exuberance … only to descend into disappointment as the latest deal falls through. They have endured being unceremoniously thrown off campus and then out of their new headquarters, and then being put on limited occupancy in their current headquarters. They have endured mistreatment, humiliation, ridicule, near-libelous attacks on their qualifications, broken promises, and horrible neglect (mostly from the Trustees and the University). All this on top of the ordinary stresses of a curriculum for which the descriptor “rigorous” would be a laughable understatement. Over the past six or eight months, they have also endured a process which has more than once been likened to learning how to fly a plane while in the air and while stilll building the plane.
This incredible group of Antiochians has worked diligently for almost two years to keep Antioch College alive, making unbelievably generous sacrifices in terms of money, time, energy, talent, and (very importantly) in terms of future economic solvency. Many have put their very futures and those of their families on the line for the sake of Antioch College. (Toxic culture, my ass.)
But now events are fast approaching a crisis point. The program is on life support, with only two months’ financing left through the Alumni Board-and that only barely-and still no assurance from the Board Pro Tem that they will be funded after the end of June.
The Board Pro Tem has informed this dedicated group of Antiochians that they cannot work with them until after the Definitive Agreements with the Board of Trustees have been signed. The ninety-day period set forth in the Letter of Intent signed by both the Board Pro Tem and the Board of Trustees ends on Saturday, April 25th, 2009.
Now, a legal nit-picker might say “Well, that doesn’t count as a promise. They could still get an extension, or sign the agreements in stages. And even if they do sign the Definitive Agreements on the 25th, the Board Pro Tem has no obligations to start working with the Yellow Springs group right off the bat.” An outside observer might also add “Besides, they’re funded for another few months. They can afford to wait a little longer while the Board Pro Tem works on other things.”
The latter of these two hypothetical characters is dead wrong. The former is correct, but completely misses the point.
No one, especially not faculty or staff, can wait until 11:59 June 30th, let alone until July or August, to hear the good news from the Board Pro Tem. Because until the Board makes a commitment to the faculty, staff and students of Antioch College, there can be no certainty among them that the news will be good.
These Antiochians have pinned their future on that of Antioch College, but they cannot do so for much longer. Sad as it is to say, we live in a society which does not automatically guarantee that people who so selflessly contribute to their communities will receive equivalent compensation in the form of resources they require for survival. With the very real possibility that they will not continue to be funded by Antiochians after the end of June, the faculty and staff have to act now to secure positions elsewhere or risk their livelihoods and those of their families. Some are already moving on.
I don’t have any particular insider information, but by my best guess we have two, maybe three weeks for the Board to make a commitment to faculty and staff. If those two or three weeks elapse and still no commitment, I believe that staff and faculty will leave Antioch en masse.
… And then Antioch College will die.
It is true that (rightly or wrongly) we cannot go forward as a college without legal title to the brand name, the buildings or our accreditation. But these things are ultimately peripheral to what makes a college.
At its heart, a college is a community of learners, an educational and political entity dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge and-more importantly-wisdom. A college is a community where people aim to support and educate themselves, each other, and, ultimately, the rest of the world.
For all intents and purposes therefore, we in Yellow Springs are Antioch College, alive and thriving. Look past the name and off-campus structuring, and you will find everything that has made Antioch College the forerunner in the field of higher education. We’re not perfect, but we’re the best there is, and we strive always for a more perfect college, a more perfect world.
But if the Board Pro Tem continues its policy of procrastination, we won’t be much longer.
One of the foremost reasons we fought so hard to separate the college from the university is that we recognized the monstrous injustices the Board of Trustees had committed against the college. We knew that a board which could even consider killing off Antioch had no business running the college under any circumstances.
Well, time is running out. And if Antioch College does die after all, it will not be the University Board that killed it. It will be the Board Pro Tem, for withholding medicine from a dying patient is murder as sure as driving a knife into their heart.
I do not ask the Board Pro Tem to commit to us lock, stock and barrel. I do not advocate a blanket acceptance of every person, structure, and institution associated with Nonstop Antioch. All I am saying is that the Board should (quickly) commit to work with those of us here in Antioch-College-In-All-But-Name as they move forwards toward reopening the campus. Some aspects of the current project will likely have to go, but surely we should be a full party to the decisions of what will be preserved and what negated. (This, as I understand it, was the essential problem with the Agreements in Principle of November 2007. The University understood that they would make a top-down decision about who and what had to go to keep Antioch running, while we assumed that faculty, staff, and other Antiochians would have an equal contribution in making decisions about our own futures.)
Therefore, I call on the Board Pro Tempore within the next ten days to commit (via phone conference or some other venue, as they deem most appropriate) to adopt the suggestions laid out in the “Petition to Support Nonstop” (www.saveantioch.org./), and to take immediate steps to implement those principles.
I call on the larger Save Antioch! community to aid us in this endeavor: to sign the petition, write e-mails, and otherwise express their support for this necessary component of a reopened Antioch College. I also respectfully ask them to pledge and/or donate to the College Revival Fund. We cannot reopen the college without significant financial resources, and the more we get, the better off the project will be.
And I beseech you to treasure up in your hearts these my parting words: Be ashamed to let it die. Be ashamed to make it die.
Antioch College, class of 2011