A mental core dump of my feelings about Antioch College announcing itâ€™s closing itâ€™s doors on 07/01/08
Iâ€™ve been trying to find a way to put into words what Iâ€™ve been thinking since I heard Antioch College was closing. Iâ€™ve e-mailed and chatted with a number of friends since I heard about this and thatâ€™s helped me frame this a bit but Iâ€™m still mostly in shock. I am on a family vacation in WV right now and only can get online once kids are in bed and I can sneak off to the main lodge, so I didnâ€™t hear about this until 10:30 PM on Tuesday 6/12 when I got hundreds of e-mails from various friends, chat lists etc. A good friend from Antioch, Adam Schwartz, said â€˜I feel like I just found out a close friend has terminal cancerâ€™ and that pretty much summed up how I felt that night. I went to bed that night and had dreams of going to reunion and chatting with Bob Devine and others about possible ways to revive Antioch. My sub-concious was still optimistic in my dreams, just like how I still have chats with Michael Groteke, a friend from Antioch who died in a car accident while we were still students back in the early 90â€™s. Gee dreams about Antioch not living up to itâ€™s potentialâ€¦ â€œOh, my beautiful dreams for the college!!â€ – Horace Mann on his deathbed.
â€œThe personal is the politicalâ€
As An Antioch Student
Other folks have summarized Antiochâ€™s 150+ year history much better than I ever could so Iâ€™m not going to try here. Instead Iâ€™m just going to speak to my own dance with Antioch beginning back in the fall of 1986 when at a college fair in Yonkers, NY a fellow Hastings High School student, Kerry Donnegan I think, asked me if I had seen the booth for Antioch College and suggested that I look at it. For some reason this recommendation stuck and I requested literature from Antioch. It arrived and immediately caught my eye with itâ€™s all lowercase logo and font over crayon scribbles. Totally non-pretentious, non-standard, humble and eye catching. The fact that it had a co-op program, which a friend of the family had sung the praises of regarding his alma-mater Drexel University won more points in my book. I applied to Antioch and like 8 other schools via the â€˜common applicationâ€™ and got accepted to most. A few months later when chatting with a friend at a YRUU conference in Vermont he said he had just come back from visiting this really cool college in Ohio and he was going to apply. When he said it was Antioch I pulled out my acceptance letter and said â€˜You mean this Antiochâ€™. He said there were lots of other YRUU folks out there and that sold me on it. I showed up in Fall â€˜87 sight unseen and while I had a love/hate relationship during my time there, I considered it home and, the faculty, students, campus environment, made me who I am today.
In 1992 when I graduated I ended staying as the CG Budget Manager / Community Manager as part of â€˜The Collectiveâ€™ and then after that I was hired as the â€˜Assistant to the Dean of Studentsâ€™ from June 1993 to June 1996. I was the â€˜Assistant Director of Technology Resourcesâ€™ from June 1996 through October 1997 when I finally escaped the Yellow Springs gravity well and moved to Ellsworth, ME. This was a fascinating time for me, to see the college from another point of view. It was fun being the â€˜He used to be a student here, heâ€™s okâ€™ guy in the administration, until entering students in Fall 1997 started calling me Mr. Baya. Ugh.
However I didnâ€™t fully escape, I was on the Alumni board from 1997 through 2000 and returned a number of times during that period for Alumni Board meetings. Since then Iâ€™ve been in touch with a number of CMs trying to offer some â€˜institutional memoryâ€™ on some matters CG, ComCil related and most recently finally found some Record editors willing to accept my offer to help them get the Record back online. Since they apparently couldnâ€™t figure out how to get online on the campus server I got them set up with their own website on my server and spent dozens of hours setting it up and posting articles up only to be served with â€˜cease and decistâ€™ type letter from the college president as soon as the site began to get any traction. For the past 8 months Iâ€™ve been corresponding with Record editors & CMs trying to find out what hurdles needed to achieved before the Record could get back online and what a coincidence that the college president finally put things in writing last week enabling this again. Prior to the closing announcement Christian Feuerstein, a fellow Antiochian friend with publishing experience, and I had sent a number of letters back and forth with this falls Record editor planning on getting her new software, saving her money on printing, getting the Record online and really showing what some alumni volunteer time partnering with a campus office could do. We may yet do this but certainly spending the time setting up a site that will no doubt get ripped down on July 1, 2008 when the college officially closes.
The â€˜new Antiochâ€™ in 2012
First off, a reality check. I donâ€™t believe itâ€™s going to reopen in 2012, or at least not in any manner that resembles the Antioch I know and love. A watered down mainstream college with the same name perhaps, but with all new faculty and no â€˜institutional memoryâ€™ from the Antioch I know and love. If the Board of Trustees think alumni are going to blindly support this â€˜new Antiochâ€™ I think they are sorely mistaken. Theyâ€™ve just killed the Antioch I know and love and now they want me to trust that they can rebuild it bigger, stronger, faster than before?
â€œFool me once â€¦â€
Hereâ€™s the thing that gets me. Even if Antioch College returns with a â€™state of the art campusâ€™ (which means what exactly? fresh paint, new furniture and high speed wireless campus wide and a new PR campaign now with serifâ€™d fonts?) in 4 years, and for the sake of argument lets say they find a fleet or really good faculty that are somehow not tenured elsewhere and are willing to trust and work for a place that closed itâ€™s doors 4 years earlier, and again, for the sake of argument, lets assume that by some stroke of luck & dedication by Alumni and current faculty that some â€˜institutional memoryâ€™ is passed on.. oh and that they can find a bunch of students willing to pay lots to attend a â€™startupâ€™ college with no upperclass students and existing community or track record of quality, whoâ€™s to say that if in 4 years thereâ€™s a downturn in enrollment or a â€™stumbleâ€™ for some other reason, the Board has already made it clear they believe that closing the doors is an option on the table.
â€œBut Iâ€™m not dead yetâ€¦â€
Maybe if the college is separated from the University and itâ€™s board is filled with activists and visionaries with a sense of responsibility and mission then maybeâ€¦ maybe. But will Antioch University let the college, and itâ€™s endowment, separate? What would be their motivation to let those assets go besides lots of really angry alumni writing them? Surely the Yellow Springs real estate prices alone are worth a pretty penny, and if the penny pinchers on the BOT only look at things as â€˜bottom dollarâ€™ then I donâ€™t see them letting the college spin off, least without â€™sellingâ€™ it at fair market value which means weâ€™d have to raise 10â€™s of millions just to do that, let alone enough money to operate the college etc. Guestimates for all this total over $50 million. I doubt the â€˜committee of 17000â€² alumni can muster that unless a few sugar daddies of granting institutions step in.. and why would they? Antiochâ€™s already pronounced itself dead, surely there are more worthy places that didnâ€™t throw in the towel. Anyways, I donâ€™t see them letting this go willingly, and is it really worth raising money to â€˜buyâ€™ it from them? Could we form a new college easier? Or should we create the Antioch Scholarship program to assist and encourage activists & truth speakers at other colleges? I have no idea. I guess my optimistic subconscious still has a need to keep some part of Antioch alive.
The Board of Trustees closing Antioch College just disgusts me on many levels. Losing money or not, the only reason the satellite campuses exist is because Antioch College spent itâ€™s money opening them instead of building an endowment. Antioch University itself is solvent, it can afford to have the college run at a loss, at least for long enough for them to follow through with their recent 5 year commitment to help the new curriculum gain traction etc. Bob Devine has explained in far better detail than I could ever summarize how the BOT basically screwed the college over the past decade through policy changes and requirements. Even if this wasnâ€™t the case, the fact that they even considered closing it proves that they just donâ€™t feel the same way about the college that I do. I know Iâ€™d consider and attempt every other option before closing the place. Itâ€™s bigger than just a part of a business, itâ€™s an organization with a mission that I signed up to be part of back in fall 1987 when I started attending and I know Iâ€™d do just about anything to keep it open if I were entrusted with itâ€™s care. Itâ€™s clear to me the Board doesnâ€™t feel this way, or at least all board members who didnâ€™t resign as soon as this decision was made (I heard at least one did, so itâ€™s good to know there was at least one person in that room in Seattle that made it clear this was NOT a reasonable option). Frankly Iâ€™m still shocked that this option was on the table, I certainly never heard that things were dire. I thought we were in an expected downturn in enrollment because we just switched our curriculum and while things werenâ€™t perfect we were progressing and moving forward.
This is another example of how more mainstream generic businesses eventually kill off the small specialized unique places. Home Depot & Lowes kill off small hardware & building supply stores. Borders, Amazon, B. Dalton, Waldenbooks kill off small bookstores. Super Wal-Marts killâ€¦ well just about everything including supermarkets. In this case the weekend campuses have become the bread and butter of Antioch University and the unique little small college with students who speak out and attend protests and make the news have become a liability. Those on board just consider the university a business, they clearly have no sense of mission for the college itself, if it ainâ€™t profitable, kill it. Sure this is the way to treat a business, and if that is all Antioch College is then fine, treat it as such. In my book itâ€™s much much more. Guess this is why Iâ€™m not on the BOT, I care for Antioch in a non-logical irrational manner, it means too much too me.
â€œThe Medium Is The Messageâ€ or â€œâ€¦and the horse you rode in onâ€
Also this â€œ4 year breakâ€ sends other messages. That the board feels all the current faculty were â€˜part of the problemâ€™ and arenâ€™t competent or worthy of the roles they currently hold. They just ripped dozens of tenure contracts to shreds. How can they expect to get any decent new faculty after doing this? Any wise person would be pretty leary to trust going to work for place that just pissed on those it had made promises to only 4 years prior. Iâ€™m sure theyâ€™ll find some folks, and maybe some of them will be good, but it seems like a really shakey assumption that they can just restaff the place. As if quality faculty are an easily replacable commodity. Just cogs, throw out the old and get some new ones. It also does the same for any current students, youâ€™re not worthy, youâ€™re disposable, we have no respect for you or our commitment to your education, please leave so we can bring in new students in 4 years that wont be infected by your bad influence. I havenâ€™t heard officially if this â€˜closing the doorsâ€™ kills the UE 767 contract but I can only imagine that it does. Another â€˜cost saving measureâ€™ by releasing the college from the â€œoppressiveâ€ hold that a workers union has on it. The Antioch 2.0 will no doubt be Union freeâ€¦ just like the McGregor School & University officesâ€¦ and Wal-Mart.
On the night I heard about this one friend said this was like hearing a close friend had terminal cancer. But the more I think about it, itâ€™s worse than that. As much as it hurts, we all know that other people we know are going to die someday.. hopefully a long time from now, but we know weâ€™re mortal.. But organizations like Antioch you expect to outlive you, and that the time you spent studying, volunteering, and working there were part of something bigger, something eternal, something immortal. This is what makes this announcement even more shocking, I just truly believed Antioch would go on beyond me and that maybe my money & time spent to help there would count for something bigger. For the record that â€™something biggerâ€™ is NOT Antioch University, I feel no allegiance to the University or those other campuses even if they â€˜carry the DNAâ€™ of Antioch College, as one trustee insists. I am glad they exist and Iâ€™m sure they are doing good work, but my heart belongs to Antioch College.
What I need to hear
I need someone I trust and respect that knows Antiochâ€¦ not Steve Lawry, not Art Zucker (BOT Chair), not anyone in the Antioch PR or â€˜advancementâ€™ offices.. someone like Bob Devine, Susan Eklund-Leen, Jimmy Williams, or John Feinberg to convince me that the â€˜new antiochâ€™, or that whatever alternative organization/plan/movement/granfalloon comes along, is worth supporting. Until that is achieved the $200 I just spent to attend reunion this year is the last donation Iâ€™ll ever make. As far as Iâ€™m concerned Antioch University have proven to be poor stewards of the college and until someone I trust convinces me they are worthy of trust again, Iâ€™m out.
Postscript from Owen, my 4 year old son
Upon hearing that we are going to visit the â€˜big schoolâ€™ that daddy used to attend, it was clear that Owen had heard some other conversations about Antioch earlier in the week when he said â€˜Is that the school that is broken?â€™.. Yes, sonâ€¦ yes it is
The next chapter
I am attending the Antioch College Reunion on 6/21 – 6/24 and have e-mailed all friends I could think of encouraging them to join me. If nothing else itâ€™s a chance to say goodbye before faculty & staff we knew as students disperse, and maybe, just maybe there will arise a plan to move forward with. Join me.