By Kim-Jenna Jurriaans
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.”