Referendum Issue #1: Vote of No Confidence in Antioch University Chancellor Tulisse Murdock

Antioch College is grounded in values of democratic shared governance, the worth and dignity of every individual, and the pursuit of social justice. These values have withstood over 150 graduating classes, two world wars, and 21 College Presidents, but right now these values are being threatened more than ever before.
Tulisse Murdock, Chancellor of Antioch University, has violated long-standing Antioch College values, community standards, and the Civil Liberties Code. Line six of the Antioch College Civil Liberties Code states, “We regard these as fundamental necessities of genuine education, individual worth and dignity, and democratic government.” Under Chancellor Murdock’s leadership the Civil Liberties Code has been violated and democratic shared governance has been stifled. The College’s financial stability and reputation have been repeatedly damaged over the past two years by Chancellor Murdock’s administrative decisions, which in many cases also circumvented the College’s shared governance policies. We acknowledge that problems have existed between the College and university long before Chancellor Murdock took office, however, Murdock has failed to bring the two institutions into right relationship and has never been an advocate for the College.
Chancellor Murdock’s removal of President Steven Lawry and her formation of a new administrative team is cause for question. Both President Lawry’s removal, and the formation of a new administrative team, occurred without the consultation of any of the College’s structures of shared governance. Weeks after the fact, Chancellor Murdock came to a meeting of the Administrative Council to answer questions about the recent changes in College administration. We found her answers incomplete and unsatisfactory, and we have yet to receive a candid account of the events of August 31, 2007. The administrative shake-up has damaged the College’s reputation and decision-making abilities at this critical juncture in Antioch’s history. Continue reading Referendum Issue #1: Vote of No Confidence in Antioch University Chancellor Tulisse Murdock

JointCil Moves to Present Referendum to Community

  “Unanimous.” AdCil chair Andrzej Bloch thus took note of the result of the vote taken by AdCil and ComCil members, united around the table of Main Building’s conference room on Tuesday morning. A special session of JointCil had been called to approve the submission of a referendum to the Antioch college community; a course of action not required by the Legislative Code, but that would add extra legitimacy to the process according to ComCil student member Sarah Buckingham. “We’re here out of good faith asking you to please be a part of this.”

Before bulking up into JointCil, the heavily agendized  meeting had started as a traditional Administrative Council. Director of Business Operations Deb Caraway presented its members with the budget for the current academic year. College COO Andrzej Bloch specified that the budget had been drafted under the auspices of the suspension of operations, and that, in the case of a reversal of the board’s decision in late October, another budget would promptly be presented to AdCil. Union member Carol Braun asked why the budget was presented to AdCil so late, “It seems like it was postponed even before the decision to suspend operations,” she said.

Bloch responded that college president Steve Lawry had been working on the budget until the last minute–the end of April– because of the uncertainty in enrollment numbers for the upcoming year.“It was a moving target,’” he commented.

Several issues were raised in regards to the proposed budget. AdCil faculty member Hassan Rahmanian questioned the process of “eating the endowment,” a decision which, according to him, was not taken in consultation with AdCil. Several members also expressed concern at the consequences of the restructuring of the IT department. Faculty member Patricia Mische suggested that, if the college stayed open, it might be cheaper and more efficient to have an independent IT department rather that sharing it with the University. Finally, the question was raised as to whether it was fair to integrate depreciation into the budget under the assumption that the college would suspend its operations the following year; the deficit might be exaggerated if depreciation was not reassessed.

As no definitive answers were brought to these questions, AdCil resolved to postpone the vote to approve the budget to a subsequent meeting.

At 9:40 a.m.  ComCil chair Fela Pierrelouis took over the chairing of the meeting as AdCil mutated into JointCil. The members were presented with the final drafts for a student-initiated community referendum to take place on Monday, October 8th. Two issues are addressed by the referendum; the first is a vote of no confidence against University Chancellor Toni Murdock; the second supports the independence of the college from the auspices of the University.

After the drafts were distributed around the table, a series of questions followed about the specifics of the documents; however ComCil member Sarah Buckingham, who was responsible for the language committee throughout the process of drafting the referendum, wished to make a clarification: “The initial draft was created by one student AdCil rep’ and one student ComCil rep’, and that initial draft went out in all faculty and staff mailboxes, it went out on FirstClass, and it was in the Caf’ both at lunch and dinner on Thursday and Friday, trying to get edits from the entire community, and we received very little input; so I just want that to be out there when people make suggestions like this.”

It was then clarified that JointCil would vote to support presenting the referendum to the community, not to support the actual content of the drafts.

Before voting on the motion to place the documents for a community-wide vote, Andrzej Bloch wished to elucidate who had authored the drafts. Community Events manager Rory Adams-Cheatham replied that the question was illegitimate, as the process involved was one of consensus; “It’s a student initiated community referendum, very much in line with the theories that we’re taught at Antioch,” she said, “it belongs to everybody.”

AdCil Still in Shambles

Three empty chairs
The absence of Toni Murdock, Art Zucker and Steve Lawry in main building’s conference room at 8 a.m. on Tuesday morning might not have been a surprise for AdCil members, but they nonetheless expressed their dissatisfaction. The invitation drafted by the Administrative Council at the first meeting of the term had been transmitted to the University Chancellor, the Chair of the Board of Trustees and the College President (on administrative leave since August 31st) in a formal letter signed by college COO Andrzej Bloch. Bloch reported that the recipients had acknowledged the invitation but that their coming to AdCil would have to be postponed until Art Zucker came to Yellow Springs.  Faculty member Hassan Rahmanian was not satisfied by Bloch’s explanation, “I don’t know if the letter conveyed the urgency of the situation. It’s a question of crisis of legitimacy.”

Letter of the law vs institutional values
Bloch asked Rahmanian to clarify the statement “crisis of legitimacy,” as, according to Bloch’s reading of the events, there is none; AdCil is not to be consulted when dismissing or choosing the college president. As to leadership, Bloch specified that he was running AdCil as CAO/Dean of Faculty, which is standard procedure for when a president is on a leave of absence. “There is letter of the law and there is historical consolidation of traditions and values of an institution,” contested faculty member Hassan Nejad, pointing out Antioch’s history of shared-governance, “These are values that we preach, we tell our students to uphold these values, we tell the world that we cherish these values, the feeling is that these values are not being honored and respected by higher-ups.”

Transparency & Procedure
Faculty Member Patricia Mische explained that the crisis of legitimacy as a result from the procedure by which the August 31st events were conducted. “We don’t have faith in what Toni said, I feel like she lied to us, to the faculty, that she is saying things in public that we know are not true” she explained, “so even if she came and apologized, what is done is done but we need to register that procedure.” Student member Julian Sharp also emphasized the lack of transparency as a critical issue, “Aside from being trampled on and such there has clearly been a cover up, (…) the University released press statements that are misinformation, lies” he said, “If Lynda Sirk was working for our college wouldn’t it make sense for her to put out a press release in behalf of the college, saying that in fact our president didn’t step down, he was placed on administrative leave and banned from campus?”

Call to Action
Faculty member Hassan Nejad stressed the need for AdCil to formulate a specific request to the University Administration, as he confessed his doubts about their good faith in engaging in candid dialog. “We are dealing with people who have very little respect, if any, for shared governance process, for honesty and integrity in administration, and for consultation and transparency. That’s my conclusion; I could be very wrong,” he declared.
The possibility of a student action to register formally their concerns to the Board was briefly discussed as a means to emphasize community’s dissatisfaction with Toni Murdock’s actions.

Olive & FPRC
AdCil then engaged in a discussion about the Olive Kettering Library. The 3 year long subscription to Ohio Link is about to end, and no funds at this time are designated to pay for its renewal. Moreover, Union Staff member Carole Braun pointed out that the renewal was conditional upon the continuation of acquisitions—a problematic fact because the Olive’s acquisitions manager has been laid off.
Andrzej Bloch sought advice from AdCil as to whether a Faculty Personnel Review Committee should be appointed.  Even though questions of tenure are postponed at the moment, faculty members could still seek promotion.  AdCil voted to approve the formation of FPRC.

When AdCil went into closed session, no resolution had been voted on in regards to the governance issues raised during the meeting.

AdCil in Quest of Identity

“We should close more often” quipped Kim-Jenna Jurriaans walking into a packed Main Building conference room at 8am on Tuesday. The first Administrative Council of the term was unusually crowded with community members looking for answers amidst the current bureaucratic fog. AdCil thus faced the difficult task of addressing the most pressing matters on the college’s administrative agenda while facing an existential crisis of its own. Where does AdCil fit in the newly recomposed power flow chart with no president to advise and no clear chain of command and accountability ?
“Keeping as many students as we can”
Director of Admissions Angie Glukhov and Associate Professor of Economics Janice Kinghorn presented an update on the operations of the Office of Transition in the summer and reiterated its present role as a facilitator for students seeking a plan B for a worst-case scenario in October. A series of events are planned in the current of the week to help secure these options for non graduating students; on Friday the 14th, representatives of Antioch University campuses will present their undergraduate as well as graduate programs; on Saturday the 15th, a panel representing 35 colleges will be on campus.
“I have a hard time sharing the enthusiasm of the transition team” declared Faculty member Hassan Rahmanian, expressing reservations about the OT advocating for transfer rather that staying in a more passive, responsive role. Kinghorn replied that for the approximately 100 students who will not graduate in the Spring, the approach “I love Antioch but I want to keep my options open” was the most responsible at this time. She asserted the Office of Transition’s commitment to “keeping as many students as we can” should the college remain open.
The Meanders of Accreditation
Faculty Member Patricia Mische asked COO Andrzej Bloch whether the college was in danger of losing its accreditation. Bloch explained that Antioch College is independently accredited by the Ohio Board of Regents. In case of a reversal of the decision to suspend operations at the college, a delegation from the OBR would visit campus to evaluate its potential for accreditation. The college is also accredited nationally by North Central Association as part of Antioch University. The issue of whether the college should receive separate accreditation from NCA under the Revival Plan is currently under debate as it would entail a very lengthy process and binding requirements such as enough funds to operate for three years.
The Waiver Issue
When the question of the “student acknowledgment of suspension of operations of Antioch College” was raised, Bloch reiterated his statement that the Ohio Board of Regents recommended that a statement be drafted to make sure that all students were informed of the graduation and walker requirements. As to who drafted the waiver, Bloch declared “We started to write the document, it was edited by our legal council and then it came back to us”, and admitted that the legal council might have been “overzealous” with the language.
“If anything goes wrong, you can blame me”
As the issue of the governance structure was brought to the table, Bloch clarified the positions of the administrative team. Milt Thompson remains the Vice President for Student Affairs and Services; Lynda Sirk is the Special Assistant to the COO for Institutional Advancement and Public Relations and Andrzej Bloch is Chief Operations Officer and Chief Academic Officer. As to what these titles imply, it was more difficult to reach a consensus around the table. Lynda Sirk will be a liaison between institutional advancement and the COO and will work to facilitate discussion between the Board of Trustees, the chancellor and the alumni board. While she is primarily paid by the College, the University contributes to part of her salary. Andrzej Bloch stressed that his functions were essentially those of a president, “So if anything goes wrong, you can blame me” he said. Debate arose over the conflict of interests resulting from the concentration of the roles of CAO and COO in the hands of a single person. Faculty Member Hassan Nejad pointed out that on AdCil, the president and the Dean of Faculty are two distinct ex-officio voting members; and that no other institution of higher education allowed for the combination of these two positions. He then raised questions about the relevance of AdCil in the circumstances: “I don’t know what AdCil can do if most of your directions come from across the street” he told Bloch.
“An institution known for democratic process, openness and transparency ”
The process by which Steve Lawry was made to step down and Andrzej Bloch appointed COO was criticized as contrary to college policy. Bloch denied there having been any breech in protocol, “I don’t remember AdCil ever voting to appoint the president,” he said, “it has always been the prerogative of the Board of Trustees and the Chancellor”. Nejad insisted that in the past, search committees had been appointed and AdCil consultation sought. He expressed the concern that this breach in institutional procedure undermined the legitimacy of the college’s leadership. “This is an institution known for democratic process, openness and transparency,” he declared, “we have not seen that in the past few months. It is very troubling.” Andrzej Bloch responded by stressing that he was merely an interim between two systems. If the college were to stay open, then the new Board of Trustees would proceed in due form to the appointment of a new leadership. “The process of consultation is different in different times” he concluded.

“We have never been without a president”

More concern was expressed over the fact that, for the first time in its history, Antioch College has no acting president. AdCil members feared that the situation sent a negative message to the outside world, implying that the college was so close to death that it didn’t need a president, but only a caretaker. Student member Julian Sharp reminded the assembly that Lawry was still officially president, but on administrative leave. Questions were immediately raised as to the language of the press releases which claimed that Lawry had “stepped down.” “I would like to know why he is banned from campus and why I can’t talk to him” emphasized Sharp, who then proposed that AdCil formulate a request to get these questions answered by the University Leadership. As a result, AdCil unanimously voted on extending an invitation to University Chancellor Toni Murdock, BOT Chair Art Zucker and Steve Lawry to attend AdCil on Tuesday September 18th to discuss “ the process by which the current leadership of the college was appointed.”


When faculty member David Kammler informally proposed for AdCil to resolve to give its advice to the newly appointed COO, objections were raised as to whether AdCil should give its support to the current situation. “We are legitimizing something that the faculty gave a vote of no confidence to”, warned faculty member Hassan Rahmanian, further requesting that more light be cast upon the situation before AdCil voted on the matter. The conclusion to the legitimacy debate was summed up by student member Julian Sharp: “ We are all legit’ here. We were all elected. The question is whether the administration team is legitimate.”