Toxic Talk: Steve Lawry’s Culture War


By Jeanne-Kay

Research: Brian Springer, Kathryn Leahey, Jeanne Kay

Prelude: The Discourse of Toxicity

“Toxic Culture.” Steve Lawry’s infamous phrase is now part of the vocabulary of virtually all Antiochians. The year before the Antioch University Board of Trustees (UBoT) resolved to close the college, the key political issue on campus and the polemic that reached alumni revolved around the question of Toxic Culture–whether there was one, how it manifested itself, how to fix it or how to debunk its myth.

To alumni whose only contact with the community in years had been filtered through Media and University intermediaries, “toxic culture” meant a steady decline in academic excellence and increased political narrowness from their time at Antioch onwards; to conservative reporters, “toxic culture” came to be the perfect excuse to write diatribes against political correctness at liberal arts colleges; and to many observers “toxic culture” was a perfect shortcut to explaining how Antioch College had found itself in such an incomprehensibly dire situation: Antioch students were narrow-minded, unstable, out of control–they chased away new students, driving down retention and preventing Antioch from achieving financial stability. The toxic culture narrative made sense–and it was useful.

For many students on campus, however, accusations of toxicity and the clean-up crusades that followed translated into a daily struggle to uphold shared governance, preserve freedom of expression, and debunk a myth that had been imposed from top-down unto what was most experienced as a close-knit, supportive and safe community. “It became difficult to go anywhere on campus without hearing conversations within our community about this analysis of our home,” writes Community Manager Chelsea Martens ’08, a student on campus during the toxic years; “we were being told that no, it was not the structural instabilities of a poorly managed governance structure, or poor financial stewardship of Antioch College by the AUBoT that was suffocating our campus, but a damaging toxic culture that was making Antioch College ill.”

On Monday, March 2nd 2009, The Antioch Papers ( published previously unreleased confidential documents that shed light on the workings behind the toxic culture narrative. Through them we learn that Antioch College President Steve Lawry (2005-2007) considered himself engaged in a full-fledged “culture war”–with the full mandate and support of the UBoT.

The attributes of a “failed culture” according to Steve Lawry

The centerpiece of the Antioch Papers’ release is Steve Lawry’s report to the University Board of Trustees on November 2nd, 2006. The seven-page long document was subsequently emailed to all board members and prefaced by Chancellor Toni Murdock’s warning that it should be “treated as a confidential document.” She expresses concern that “the proposals he raises will require far-reaching discussions with faculty and others at the College;” and asks for trustees to exercise their discretion since “it is important that [Lawry] lead and manage them carefully. We would not want some portions to reach members of the community without the careful preparations this kind of process deserves.”

The report begins by exposing what Lawry calls “the attributes of a failed culture.” Here, he describes student culture as intolerant and confrontational; “persons who might not fit the narrow mold of an acceptable Antioch student are subject to severe scrutiny on arrival. Their social values and political credentials are tested through a process of ‘calling out.'” Lawry explains such a phenomenon as students feeling “resentment” from past alienating experiences; “many Antioch students bring with them grievances for how they have been treated in the so-called ‘real world,’ for some by virtue of non-normative lifetyles, not fitting in mainstream culture, etc. As one student rather starkly put it, ‘the Antioch student is the person who did not have any friends in high school.'”

The college president goes on to pinpoint “substance abuse and a tolerance within the student community for it” as yet another cultural problem needing to be remedied. Lawry’s decision to expel three students from the entering class of 2006 a few days after orientation is an example of his attempt to remedy to what he perceived as a major issue for the campus.

Lawry further advances his argument by arguing that “the intellectual and learning environment has over the last two decades been diminished, in my view, through admission of large numbers of students with weak academic backgrounds.” To the college president, this trend in decline makes the Antioch’s self-managed education system as inadapted. The system of narrative evaluations, moreover, “can fail to hold accountable others for unsatisfactory progress,” Lawry writes.

Finally, “a deeply confused ‘shared governance’ model,” according to Lawry, had “…become [a] vessel[…] for vociferous opposition to the administration and strangely misdirected power struggles.” Community governance, he assessed, “has doubtful educational benefit.”

The Mental Health Issue

Steve Lawry’s depiction of Antioch’s “failed culture” then diverges to the issue of students’ mental health. Citing director of the Wright State clinic Dr. Cynthia Olson, Lawry claims that “the [Antioch] student body displays an exceptionally high proportion, for the age group, of persons with bipolar disorders, schizophrenia and eating disorders, exacerbated by high co-morbidity with substance abuse.” To Lawry, “campus social life and the health of entire learning environment are affected negatively” by this “issue.”

On October 31st, 2006, a week before his report to the UBoT, President Lawry informed the college faculty of his concerns about students’ mental health compromising the success of the college. In a document subsequently circulated among the community, former Antioch College President Bob Devine ’67 states: “When a President of a respectable institution tells the faculty, on the basis of a single conversation with a mental health professional, that the students they are teaching have too many gender disorders, bi-polar disorders, eating disorders and other psychological problems, and that is why the College is unable to recruit and retain students, and is the source of the institutions budgetary problems, I have reservations.”

In Fall 2007, an admissions counselor who requested to remain anonymous reported to the Record that Lawry had communicated instructions in 2005/2006 for students to be screened for mental health problems during the admissions process. The question as to whether this constitutes an act of discrimination naturally arises, since the American with Disabilities Act of 1990 “recognizes and protects the civil rights of people with disabilities and is modeled after earlier landmark laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race and gender. The ADA covers a wide range of disability, from physical conditions … to conditions such as emotional illness and learning disorders,” and applies to “a nursery, elementary, secondary, undergraduate, or postgraduate private school, or other place of education.”

On November 2nd, 2006, Dr Linda Sattem, director of the Antioch College Counseling and Wellness center, published a letter on a community forum that stated that as early as March 2004 she “sent out a campus-wide announcements concerning rumors that indicated thinking along the lines of ‘If Antioch did not admit such messed up students, the college would not be having such problems'” Sattem clearly states that “Antioch students are not different than other college students. Our students do not have more problems, more severe problems or a higher incidence of mental illness.” She ends her letter by emphasizing to students: “there is nothing wrong with you. You are not the reason the college is having difficulties.”

Lawry Gets “Culture War” Mandate From UBoT

Steve Lawry’s report concludes with a statement of confidence as to his ability to “shift” the culture to “one founded on intellectual freedom, open inquiry and respect among all community members.” He further recognizes the task as “very hard” because “large numbers of those who see the College as a fit socially and politically continue to bring with the values and attitudes anathema to the culture that we are trying to build.”

Lawry thus set out to renew the culture by changing the way in which was portrayed to prospective students. The Board contracted an independent agency in 2005 to make new recruitment materials that would present a picture of the college that a different population of college students would identify with. Notably, the college’s tradition of shared governance was increasingly downplayed. Professor Jean Gregorek recalls changes on the college’s website in particular; “the portion of the website describing community engagement –under the caption ‘you have a voice,’ ironically enough–was dramatically revised at Steve’s direction to eliminate references to student participation in college governance,” she says.

Lawry presents the “culture shift” operation as crucial to the college’s survival. He plans to adopt “bold and very ambitious” leadership in “addressing the problems identified above.” Moreover, he appears to be advocating for a shock therapy based strategy; “incremental change will not be timely or effective.”

The closed session minutes from the UBoT meeting of November 2-4 2006 state that Lawry told the board that “building a new Antioch entails revamping the structure and operations and a realignment of the faculty to meet new needs.” The minutes report that “Steve was commended by several trustees on the frankness of his report.” Trustee Larry Stone, in particular, stated that he was “pleased to see the support for Steve around the table,” since he feared that “some will see Steve as the problem.” “Lack of community and toxicity are real problems,” he said, “which were identified by the NCA well before Steve arrived.”

Antioch University Tullisse “Toni” Murdock “recognized the courage it takes to fight a Culture War … and underscored the support Steve is receiving from the ULC [University Leadership Council.]” Trustee Sherwood Guernsey “proposed a motion to support the president of the college and his vision,” the resolution was “revisited and passed the following day,” as follows:

RESOLUTION 11.4.06:13 (S. Guernsey/D.Fallon)

RESOLVED, that the Board of Trustees of Antioch University supports president Steven Lawry’s vision for Antioch College based on mutual respect, intellectual freedom and open inquiry [as envisioned by the Renewal Plan] within the University system with the same shared values.

The “mutual respect, intellectual freedom and open inquiry” tryptych is used consistently through several documents–from Lawry’s report to the February 2007 UBoT board meeting.

Divergent Agendas

In a private letter sent to Steve Lawry on October 7th 2006, Professor Bob Devine provides an interpretation of the grounds for the UBoT’s support for Lawry’s culture war: “The origins of the mandate to “clean up the culture” of the College are fairly clear,” he writes; “Between those on the Board who are still angry about the ’60s and ’70s (not just as they played out at Antioch, but in a much broader cultural sense), those younger Board members who experienced the symptoms, among students, of several years of autocratic, insensitive and ineffective leadership, and those who have critically limited experience with 18-year olds (like yourself) and consequently experience the generation gap as a constant affront, it’s no mystery how such perspectives might coalesce to forge a mandate. In my view it’s a misguided mandate, for the very reason that it conflates symptoms with causes.

Chelsea Martens ’08 advances the thesis that the UBoT culture war was nothing less than a red herring: “You have to ask yourself then, why was so much attention focused on an analysis of our campus culture, and not on more significant factors of governance or finances? What interests did this narrative serve? Simply, it was a cosmetic analysis that removed our focus away from the real issue at hand – the mismanagement of Antioch College by Antioch University – and placed the blame squarely on the victims -Antioch College itself. By faulting Antioch for its troubles, and not highlighting any institutional short comings, it paved the way for our very closure, while simultaneously ignoring the responsibility of the University to the College.”

Levi B. Cowperthwaite was Community Manager in ’06/’07; after reading Lawry’ “failed culture” report, he commented in an email to the Record: “Steve cites no evidence for his claims (something my Antioch education taught me was essential when making an argument, especially in a formal document). He was always fond of retelling one or two inflamatory anecdotes as if that constituted a thorough and inarguable statistical analysis of campus culture. In this document, he can’t even seem to produce his favorite flimsy stories as an attempt to back up his claims. This makes me wonder if he wasn’t so much as proposing an analysis to the board as he was confirming a characterization they had already provided for him.”

Indeed, it appears that Lawry made an unrealistically prompt assessment of the state of Antioch college’s culture upon arrival.”After being on campus for approximately 7 days, President Steve Lawry addressed the entire campus for the first time during our regularly scheduled Community Meeting,” recalls Chelsea Martens, 2007-2009 Community Manager; “He shared with us his excitement for the experience and challenges of being Antioch College’s newest world-class President. After a few minutes into his speech, he began to address the issue of a “toxic culture” on campus … I raised my hand and asked Steve, ‘How, after being on campus for only 7 days, do you know us well enough to know our biggest faults?’ It became quite apparent … that this was not an astute observation made by our newest President, but a narrative that had been told to him, strategically, for the purpose of waging a culture war at Antioch College.”

Another instrumentalization of the toxic culture narrative regards the rationale for firing tenured professors. Lawry claimed that dealing with the culture problem would require a “realignment of the faculty,” and his concerns about the lowering of academic standards and out-of-control state of the student body reflected directly on the faculty’s reputation and legitimacy. Media Arts Professor Chris Hill believes that Steve Lawry was preparing the grounds for cutting faculty positions; she recalls a faculty meeting in Spring 2007 in which Lawry spoke; “it seemed that he might be trying to convince the BOT to combine the College with McGregor,” she said, “he offered few details. I asked him at that faculty meeting–if his plan were ratified did that mean that some of the tenured faculty sitting in the room at that time would lose their jobs, and he said yes. I believe that someone else, either at that meeting or the next one, asked how many would lose their jobs, and he didn’t respond. He was probably expecting that exigency would be declared, and that would allow him to cut back on tenured faculty positions, but that level of detail was not provided to the faculty (or Adcil) at that time.”

Patriarchy, Responsibility, Agency

“It was always ironic that Steve was so fond of the term ‘intellectual freedom,’ since the culture he proposed was one that favored limiting campus discourse to only those topics he deemed ‘appropriate,'” further writes Cowperthwaite, referring to Lawry’s attempt to censor the Antioch Record in Fall ’06 and make it unacessible to alumni by demanding that it be taken offline. “Sex was not appropriate. Speaking truth to power about the lived experiences of queer people of color, survivors of sexual assault, people dissatisfied with the expectations given them by society – that was not appropriate,” he continues, “and stepping out of line, the line predetermined by him, meant punishment. He even told staff members that ‘dissent = termination.’ One administrative staff member privately criticized Steve to me and then asked me not to repeat it, adding, ‘Please, I have a family to feed.'”

After the UBoT voted to close down Antioch College, a New York Times article quoted Steve Lawry perpetuating the Toxic Culture narrative at Reunion 2007:

“In its glory days, it attracted students who wanted to change the world, through war protests or work in communities. But Steven Lawry, Antioch’s president, said in an interview that more recently, the college became a magnet for students who felt marginalized, and so bred a political narrowness and culture of resentment. By way of example, he cited students getting “called out” for wearing Nikes, seen as an emblem of globalization.”It became less about intellectual rigor, than a political and social experience,” he said. “The boot camp of the revolution became the model.””We were offering a political re-education” instead of a liberal education.And that model, he added, is sharply at odds with what most students are looking for these days.”

Several faculty and students wrote open and personal letters to Steve Lawry, characterizing the president’s public blaming of the community as “yet another hit in the stomach” during already traumatic times.

To Martens, the cultural war years are the occasion to “learn a lesson: what power do we give a President, and it what ways do we give up our own agency and voice? By hiring Steve Lawry –a man who had no prior experience dealing with youth– to come in and ‘clean up our act’, we invited him to participate in a savior complex,” she says, “we gave up our own power by thinking that what we needed was someone to save us from ourselves. It’s a common patriarchal narrative – a Father Knows Best narrative, if you will – that empowers someone with little knowledge about our community, our struggles, our dreams, and the reality of being young in a chaotic world, with the task of making top-down decisions that do nothing to make our community a more engaging and compassionate place to be. Really, what we needed was for a President who understood the task at hand and who joined us in our commitment to making this world a better place, and who could have gently and compassionately, charged us with the responsibility to do this work with as much dignity, passion, and love as possible.”

Intox vs Detox

Chelsea Martens is now Community Manager at the Nonstop Liberal Arts Institute. She still has to deal with the consequences of the toxic culture narrative on a regular basis, as it continues to influence the Antiochian collective unconscious. She is weary of the reductive, oversimplistic analyses that come with the standard toxic culture debate, and tries to provide a more complex discourse; “Antioch College is a demanding educational experience. And we wouldn’t have it any other way,””she explains, “where else can you go to learn about the problems that the world is currently facing, while also being charged with the responsibility to do something about it? Coming to terms with the numbers of victories needed to win for humanity, rattles you to your core. And sometimes, during this process – a process that I would call a detoxing process – you experience sadness, anger, disbelief, and urgency. Everyone goes through the process of learning about this world – and unlearning the stories we have told ourselves to be complacent with it – in their own way. This process has become, wrongly so, deemed part of Antioch’s “toxic culture”. That is a misjudgment. In my opinion, it is a process of cultural detox – one that all Antiochians engage in so that they can become effective change agents, equipped with an understanding of this world and their responsibility to it.”

Archeology of Toxicity: From The Record’s Archives

I/Culture War is Waged

Fall 2006: Luke Brennan and Foster Neill are editors of the Antioch Record.


Three first year students are expelled from campus. Read Record’s report: Part 1 Part 2

-Read letter from father of expelled student

-Record’s Question of the Week starts issue of Record censorship


-Several alumni write open letters in Protest Part 1 Part 2

-Steve Lawry’s ambition to clean campus becomes clear to students

– Andrzej Bloch cease and desist letter to record editors (Satire issue version of Andrzej’s letter here!)

-Alumnus Matthew Baya receives cease and desist letter from Steve Lawry for hosting Record online (read Matt Baya’s answer here)

Part II/ Dealing with the Toxic Brand

December 2006

“Not My Antioch,” Debate with Ralph Keyes, author of “End Toxic Culture in Yellow Springs”In YS News: Part 1, Part 2

-Summer 2007, Antioch College to Close down

Alumnus Michael Goldfarb’s Op/Ed in NY Times: “When the arts were too liberal

Golfarb’s Interview with Record: “When the arts were liberal enough.”

Ralph Keyes: Present at the Demise

Letter from Jean Gregorek in response to Ralph Keyes August 23, 2007

Who Killed Antioch? Womyn (LA Times) and Antioch Student Paige Clifton-Steele’s Response

To the Antioch University Board of Trustees: What about me seems toxic to you? by Julian Sharp, August 31, 2007

From the Antioch Papers:

Culture War – Vision – Nov. 06

Culture War – Open & Closed Minutes – Nov 06

Recruiting For The Unknown

By Tyler Morse
Recruitment has been a constant theme in discussions about the future of Antioch College. Several months ago, when the Antioch College Board of Trustees finally offered a compromise with the possibility of keeping the school open, Antiochians began to think about what the college might be like next fall in its “dim” state if the school was still part of the University. When the major donors thought about it they decided they didn’t want to be major donors at all unless the college was free to conduct its own affairs. The problem is it would probably be cheaper for the University to close the college then sell it, so there is much to discuss before an agreement can be reached and probably a long wait for an already frustrated community. How long that wait turns out to be could have big effects on campus beyond the stress it creates. Because Antioch College might not be open next year the Board of Trustees feels it is unethical accept any new students even if they are well informed about the situation. Currently, if someone sends in an application, “We just file them,” says Meredith Taylor, who by herself makes up half of the Antioch College Admissions Department. Meredith has filed 71 completed online applications and there are at least 21 more in progress, along with many that were sent by mail or fax and filed but uncounted.
Kip Vosler is a twenty-one year old gas station attendant in Yellow springs and is one of the 21 incomplete online applications. He first visited Antioch with a former student he met at the Yellow Springs street fair. His reaction was an “instant attraction” to the campus, but then again it may have been for the student that he is now dating. Kip’s attraction to Antioch is not just physical, he especially likes the concepts of the co-op program and narrative student evaluations. He was surprised and a little mad to learn that the University believes Antioch’s program is unattractive to serious students. According to Meredith, Kip is not the only prospective prospective student that wants to show the Board how serious he is. Unfortunately for Kip, the Admissions Department is not currently allowed to process applications beyond filing them for later analysis, and there has been no active recruitment of a first year class for the coming fall. For a school that might be closing next year, with an Admissions Department of two people, over a hundred applications is a very impressive number, but during a normal school year Meredith would expect about five hundred applications by now.

Continue reading Recruiting For The Unknown

July 1: Independence day?

By Kim-Jenna Jurriaans

Major donors intend to make Antioch College independent by July 2008

As of yesterday, the Antioch community has one more acronym to add to their daily vocabulary. After two weeks of negotiations with representatives of the Antioch University Board of Trustees, on Friday a group of deep-pocket donors and former trustees established the Antioch College Continuation Corporation, or ACCC, scheduled to take over operations of a fully independent Antioch College by July 2008.

“We have to raise a lot of money in a hurry to make this work, but we believe that we can, now that the goal is in sight,” says Eric Bates ’83, deputy managing editor of Rolling Stone Magazine, former trustee and co-chair of the new corporation. In a resolution adopted last week Thursday, the University Board of Trustees authorizes University Chancellor Toni Murdoch to explore the feasibility of turning over the 155-year-old college to the new corporation. This should happen “in a way that protects the interests of the university while also ensuring the viability of the college,” adds Antioch University Board Chair Art Zucker in a press release on Tuesday.

The corporation, whose members spring from the group of major donors that emerged as new power brokers over the past two weeks, is taking over the position as lead negotiator with Antioch University, after similar efforts by the Antioch College Alumni Association resulted in a widely criticized deal last month. Meanwhile, the ACCC is awaiting a letter of intent from the university chancellor that outlines a transfer of assets to the corporation. Such a letter should be drafted “as soon as possible, but not later than its regularly scheduled meeting set for February 21-23, 2008,” the release states.

The letter would detail what both sides need and want and would give the new group “sort of a work plan,” says Catherine Jordan ’72, member of the Alumni Board governance committee and one of nine directors of the new corporation. “And we have a lot to do. We are basically talking about taking over the operations of a college starting July 1. That’s a huge effort.”

In the meantime, the new corporation is moving forward to take all measures necessary to put the college on a stable basis, come July of next year. Raising large amounts of money to guarantee the success of the operation will be a key part of the ACCC’s focus in the next weeks and months. “All excuses are gone,” says Bates. “All the donors, all the alumni have to come together in an unprecedented way to provide the resources to show we can make this work. If we don’t have the resources, we can’t do this.”

Show me the Money!

As a first step towards significant donations to the “new” college, members of the corporation have raised $7 million amongst themselves to be put in escrow by the end of this month. The new agreement overrides all obligations of the earlier Agreement in Principle, including the December 15 deadline for the transfer of $4.6 million to Antioch University. In addition, the university is in the process of giving back the $2 million that was transferred to its account last month as part of the previous agreement, confirms Ellen Borgersen ’72, chair of the governance committee of the Alumni Board.

The new $7 million pledge in part overlaps the previous total of $18 million pledged to the College Revival Fund. The money, according to Bates, is held in a separate bank account and will not be transferred until a satisfactory letter of intent has been drafted.

In addition to gearing up for a major fundraising campaign, representatives of the ACCC on Tuesday began direct conversations with the Ohio Board of Regents, the regional accreditation body for higher education institutions, and will fly to Yellow Springs to meet with constituencies on campus as soon as next Monday.

“The way I’m thinking about this board is, it’s not even the interim board, it’s sort of the founding organizational structure,” says Jordan. “We will have to work very hard in the next three to six months to raise the money to do the hand off and get our college back.” The tasks of that founding body, according to Jordan, will include establishing an independent board and beginning the search for a new president of the college.

“There is an incredible amount of work that has to be done to make this work,” agrees Bates, “one of which is creating a board that’s going to be Antiochian, that is going to be inclusive, that’s transparent, that’s present on campus, but that also does what boards are supposed to do: raise money and keep their nose out of the daily business of the college.”

Joining Bates as chair of the new corporation is Frances Horowitz, president emerita of the CUNY Graduate Center in New York. Other directors are Laura Markham ’80, clinical psychologist and secretary of the ACCC; Dave Goodman ’69, principal of North Arrows and e-Solar Properties, who will function as treasurer; Barbara Winslow ’68, professor of Women’s Studies at Brooklyn College, former trustee and member of the Alumni Board; faculty emeritus Steven Schwerner ’60; president of the Antioch Company, Lee Morgan ’66; and Terry Herndon, entrepreneur and class of ’57.

Schwerner, who jokes that he wasn’t asked to join the corporation for his deep pockets after working at Antioch for 30 years, hopes that his position as a Yellow Springs resident and his background at the college will contribute to creating a process that is true to the college’s values. “Some people have not been a part of Antioch because of the university and are now interested in being very much a part of it.” He is optimistic, but cautions for the work and negotiations that are still to come. “There are no guarantees in life. There is a lot of work to be done, but I am certainly more hopeful now than I have been before.”

Getting Down to the Beef

A next step in the negotiations will be a full assessment of the assets and obligations that bind the college and the university. A long-time call of faculty and alumni for an external audit of Antioch University’s finances and the flow of money from and to Antioch College will then likely be answered.

An independent audit is part of the plan, believes Nancy Crow, president of the Alumni Board Association and ex-officio member of the University Board of Trustees. “It was certainly part of our plan.”

Paula Treichler, a ’65 graduate of the college and current trustee on the university board, underlines that the board promised to assist in an open process as negotiations continue. “The leaders of the board and the university assured us that all relevant documents would be made public and a great deal of further information will be shared with the executive committee of the new corporation.
This includes the general inventory of legal issues to be adjudicated.”

Main issues on everyone’s mind are the ownership of the historic Yellow Springs campus, with its land and buildings, the endowment and the name ‘Antioch College.’

“I think everybody realizes for the college to raise the level of funding and support that it needs, it has to be Antioch College, says Laura Markham, who will chair the governance committee of the new corporation. “People aren’t going to give to some no-name college. Everybody understand that and of course the college will keep its name.”

Sharon Merriman, current trustee on the university board and college graduate of the class of ‘56, likewise sees the name as an intrinsic part of the future college: “I have nothing to base this on besides my intuition, but I cannot imagine them loosing their right to use the name Antioch College,” she says. “I simply cannot imagine that ever being negotiated away.”

For those brokering on the Antioch College side of Livermore Street, like Catherine Jordan, leaving the negotiation table with the endowment and buildings in hand is a natural understanding. “If I have anything to say about it, we are taking every asset that comes with the college. Of course this is me talking as Catherine, but yes, we are very much interested in keeping all the historic assets of the college.”

No fools

In order to bring negotiations to the most positive outcome for the college, the ACCC solicited the help of a prestigious international law firm, Dewey & LeBoeuf, headquartered in New York and known for its expertise in mergers and acquisitions. The notion that the original broker group is bringing the level of negotiations up a notch is one that current trustees, like Merriman, did not fail to notice. “The other side is quite sophisticated. We are not dealing with fools,” she remarked in a phone conversation after the announcement on Tuesday.

“I think it is imperative if this is to work that a reasonable transition should be negotiated, in good faith,” says Treichler, “and I’m sure that can be done. I think we all want a robust, successful independent Antioch College.”


At a joined meeting of subcommittees of AdCil, the college’s administrative council, yesterday, faculty members were overall positive about the outcome of the drawn-out and secret negotiations that had the college community waiting in anticipation for the last two weeks. But most are well aware of the Sisyphean task that still lies ahead.

“The long view of stabilizing and reviving the college and getting back our personal and professional lives is encouraging,” says Chris Hill, Professor of Film at the college, via email today. “But In the months ahead there is still trailblazing to do.”

As chair of the College Budget Committee, Hill experienced first hand the stifling effect of the veil of ambiguity in regard to future college operations that had dominated discussions on campus in recent weeks. Coming up with a budget based on limited information on facilities, faculty levels and recruitment had so far proven to be a difficult task. Likewise, other campus committees charged with the task of establishing a plan of operations for the coming three years have worked largely blind, with no combined leadership or assistance from the current administration.

Plan for the future

To expedite the process of creating a solid plan for operations at Antioch College in the next months and beyond, the ACCC has established committees of its own that will incorporate members of the current AdCil and Alumni Board. “Those committees can be the place were all the work is brought together, to coordinate and move forward together,” says Bates. “We don’t need to re-invent the wheel and we don’t need to substitute our judgment for that of people who are in the position to know better.”

Both chairs of the ACCC, Horowitz and Bates, will meet via conference call with the on-campus committees today and the full executive committee, including Laura Markham and Dave Goodman, is planning on being in Yellow Springs for further meetings on Monday.


“This group wants very much to be the reverse of the [Antioch University] board of trustees, that is approachable and open and available,” explains Schwerner. “People are talking about flying in next week and most definitely at the beginning of January to talk to people and listen to people and hang out and find out what’s going on. That is one of the great criticisms of the board – how distant it has been. And this group wants to change that.”

While Bates and members of his group are committed to listening to the needs of the people on the ground in Yellow Springs, he stresses it is essential that the community, too, once again step up to the plate. “We need to talk to people who accredit Antioch, we need to talk to people who owe Antioch money, we need to talk to the community, to students, faculty staff and the Alumni Board and really sort of lay out what this looks like. There obviously will be a lot of questions. But there also needs to be a sense of ‘everybody look at this together and what can I do to make this happen?’”


Bates is aware, he says, that the Antioch community only is were it is today in terms of negotiations because of the work of the Alumni Board. “That said, even when I went to Antioch 25 years ago, I always said – even at that time – there only is an Antioch today because of the incredible sacrifice of staff and faculty. There only is an Antioch today because people have devoted their lives to it, who have worked for way less than they could get elsewhere, and who have put up with way more shit than they would elsewhere.” Although neither Bates nor Crow were in the position at this point to guarantee that all of the faculty would keep their jobs, the attitude of the new group appears to be a solid step away from the “dimming” model Art Zucker and Nancy Crow proposed in previous weeks, as part of the failed Agreements in Principle. “We will all be negotiating, interacting with the faculty to keep the faculty in place under the new board of trustees,” says Crow. She added that her hopes are that none of the college’s faculty had to be laid off.

New Students

Like many professors on the ground in Yellow Springs, Hill hopes that the new corporation will be able to take on the responsibility for the college and ensure a clear message in moving forward. “Right now, I think, there must be a plan developed for recruiting students for the next year that will not be encumbered by the risk averse strategy of the current university and college administration.”

Although talks with accreditation bodies have just begun, Bates and Schwerner operate under the assumption that a letter of intent, no later than the February deadline, will aid in clearing the way for the corporation to act on behalf of the college, start off invigorated without a declaration of financial exigency and work towards the admission of a first-year class for 2008.

“I’m hoping way before a letter of intent to have an admissions office up and running,” says Schwerner. “I would be very disappointed if we would not have an admissions office up by new year’s. He sees a clear distinction between accepting and recruiting students. “I want people who are interested to say ‘we are interested, we’re going to have a look at it,’ and for us to be ready to get into touch with those folks.”

“There is a lot of due diligence that has to be done,” says Bates, “but it has to happen quick, because we know people’s livelihood are on the line, people’s degrees are on the line and we need to be in a position where we can tell everybody that we are moving forward and recruiting new students.”

Dire Conditions

While college faculty are hoping for new students and an official notice that they will still be employed past July 2008, service staff who have been challenged to provide the best services to students with a bare minimum of resources are crossing their fingers for an influx of money and manpower in the following months.

Manager of the cafeteria, Marvin Bohn, is one of a number of staff members whose daily job has been made near impossible with the current budget. With no money to provide warm breakfasts and several of his employees laid off following cuts in February and after the June decision to close, this term has been extra hard. “I have no ambition to become a big mogul somewhere, I don’t need a McMansion. I like what I do. But it’s just been bad lately to do it under these circumstances.”

Tuesday’s announcement does make him more hopeful for the months to come. “I am much more happy at this moment,” says Bohn, who reveals he had extreme doubts about the October agreement. “I had been so unhappy that it hurt.” The fact that the group of deep-pocket donors is stepping up for the college alone is key to make the institution work, he thinks. “You need a group of people solely interested in the well being of the college. And they seem to be.”

Tipping the Scale

With all its uncertainties, last week’s agreement is still a milestone that had some trustees baffled how they had gotten to this point, says one trustee who likes to remain anonymous because of the ongoing negotiation. It indeed is a long way from the late-August stakeholder meeting in Kentucky, when the Antioch College community first turned the tide by convincing the Antioch University Board to open the way to explore options to keep Antioch College open, to full separation of both institutions less than four months later. The combined weight of the donors’ checkbooks eventually tipped the scale.

The group of major donors convinced university trustees that the move towards full independence was the only viable option, after an initial meeting two weeks ago had made it clear that the Agreement in Principle of November 2nd between trustees and the Antioch College Alumni Board did not meet the donors’ demands for far-reaching autonomy of the college –- a conditionality they had attached to their original multimillion-dollar pledges. “There simply wasn’t money forthcoming for that plan and we looked at what we could do about that,” Bates recalls of the meeting.

Prior to the first donor meeting, which took place secretly in the office of Board of Trustees Vice Chair Dan Fallon at the Carnegie Mellon Foundation in New York, a group of former trustees had worked on a memorandum of understanding to flesh out the content of the Agreements in Principle. At the meeting, however, it soon became clear that the group of deep-pocket donors were not that easily pleased. “The donors that went to the New York meeting said, ‘we are not interested in this. Even this would not satisfy us – this structure is too dysfunctional,’” recalls Bates, who worked on the initial memorandum. “Major donors made it clear that they wouldn’t support any plan that would not include a completely independent college with its own board.”

Following the New York City meeting, representatives of the donors and former trustees, including Bates and Markham, were invited to attend the executive meeting of the University Board of Trustees in Dallas the following Sunday. There, both parties further explored the idea of establishing an independent non-profit organization under Ohio law that could assume full responsibility over Antioch College by the end of this academic year. The corporation was established under Ohio law on Thursday and the board voted on a charge to the university chancellor that same day.

Momentous Opportunity

Merriman, who voted on the recommendation of the governance committee on Thursday, says she was not surprised by the attitude of the deep-pocket donors. “I am hopeful and I am optimistic. My personal opinion is that this would be the best and possibly only way to save the college. I do believe that the trustees tried, but they couldn’t raise the money from those who are presently coming forward. And if the people that are currently coming forward are only coming forward for an independent college, then that is what we have to do.”

“This is a momentous opportunity for us,” underlines Markham. “Obviously, there is an entire process to got through. We are working out the details on how to go forward without damaging the university and giving Antioch College the foundation to be reborn. But this gives us a chance, the Antioch College community, alumni, major donors and everyone that loves Antioch – an opportunity to rebuild it and insure its future. This means the Antioch community has to come together in an unprecedented way.”

“It’s a shame this couldn’t have happened while there were students on campus,” says Alex Borowicz, one of a-hand-full of students still left in the deserted dorms, “but at least we’ll have something more concrete to come back to. Having wandered around an empty campus for the past week, I have seen what a closed college would look like, and it’s a scary thought to have that become reality. Antioch deserves better than that.”

Dude, Where’s My Application?

By Jeanne Kay and Kim-Jenna Jurriaans

Prospective transfer students browsing the Antioch College website this weekend in search of the Common Application will be disappointed. As of yesterday, the form has disappeared from the Admissions site, which now only shows a link to the readmission application and financial aid information. The removal of the material was done without consultation of the current Director of Financial Aid and new head of Admissions, Robin Heise, who was presented with a fait accompli when she opened the online admissions section in the early afternoon on Friday.
Heise was on her lunch break when she was called by one of her fellow financial aid officers who informed her that Director of Communications and Public Relations, Lynda Sirk, had just walked into her office and used her computer. When Heise returned to her workplace, the Common Application had disappeared from the college website and alterations to the admissions part of the site had been made under her name.

Suggestions made by Sirk that the move to pull down the Common Ap followed instructions from Art Zucker and Toni Murdoch in consultation with the University lawyers leave open the question why the changes were made from Heise’s computer. Sirk, under her own web account, would have full access to the sections of the site that were modified.

Further investigation into the motives to pull down content off the site amidst current negotiations between Antioch University and major donors to the college, and whether University officials authorized the action, is expected to take place after this weekend

Bootcamp for the Non-Recruitment

Students, Alumni Take Admissions 101

By Kim-Jenna Jurriaans

There were no board games or TV in the C-shop on Monday night. Instead there were Powerpoint slides and scribbling pens, as the newly formed student recruitment group met for a second time, this time to familiarize themselves with the ins and outs of the admissions funnel.

“We want to send out a message that Antioch is still alive and they should check it out,” says Marysia Walcerz, one of the students behind the project to get the community directly involved in the admissions project. “Since we can’t as a college officially recruit yet, we try to bring students and alumni into the process of attracting new students.” Continue reading Bootcamp for the Non-Recruitment