Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

Farewell Antioch

Posted by metaphorical on 14 June 2007

“Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.” Horace Mann, Antioch College’s first president

As graduating classes go, consider 1860 one of Antioch’s finest. That year, out of a class of 28, Antioch produced among others four ministers, four teachers, four business owners, three lawyers, two college professors, two physicians, a banker, a newspaper editor, and a railroad official. By far its most interesting member was Olympia Brown, a Universalist preacher and a key figure in the women’s suffrage movement.

Olympia Brown was born in Michigan in 1835. Her parents took an active interest in her education, and she had a powerful example in her mother, Lephia Brown, a highly independent woman with a strong belief in the equality of the sexes. At fifteen Olympia began teaching school in her hometown of Prairie Ronde. She wished to attend the University of Michigan, but that institution did not yet admit women. She then enrolled at Mt. Holyoke Female Seminary, but found its strict orthodoxy in conflict with her already progressive ideas. She subsequently came to Antioch in 1855 and her family moved to Yellow Springs with her.

Olympia developed strong moral, religious, and political beliefs at Antioch. She became an ardent abolitionist, took in the anti-slavery atmosphere prevalent on the campus, and coupled it to her familiarity with the Underground Railroad station her aunt operated in Michigan. Her experience at Antioch tempered an earlier evangelistic fervor she had felt at Mt. Holyoke, and influenced her to become a minister. She came to not believe in the doctrines of endless punishment and predestination that she felt kept so many congregations in thrall. She chose instead to lift up the spirits of Christians by rejoicing in their God.

After graduation she spent three years searching for a seminary that ordained women. Many rejection letters later, she entered the Theological School of St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York. In 1863 she received her ordination at a meeting of the Northern Universalist Association in Malone, New York. At twenty-eight she became the Reverend Olympia Brown, the first woman in America to be ordained by a regularly constituted ecclesiastical body.

In 1885 Wisconsin passed a half-hearted suffrage law that provided in part that every woman over twenty-one had the right to vote in any election pertaining to school matters. Olympia reasoned that in a sense all elections pertain to school matters and this interpretation thrust her into the national spotlight in one of Wisconsin’s most celebrated court cases. In a spring 1887 election she and about twenty other women showed up at the polls intending to vote for officers in no way connected with educational matters. Their votes refused, Olympia and the WWSA filed suit against the election inspectors, and won. This landmark decision essentially enfranchised Wisconsin women, but the State Supreme Court overturned the ruling just two months later. Olympia refused to share her colleagues’ bitterness about the defeat, turning her energies to a monthly suffragist paper she started, The Wisconsin Citizen.

J. H. Willis died in 1893, and by that time owned part of the Times Publishing Company in Racine. Olympia bought his partners out, and for the next seven years managed the Racine Times-Call. In 1914 she moved to Baltimore to live with her daughter Gwendolyn Willis, a teacher at Bryn Mawr preparatory school. Six years later the Nineteenth Amendment finally passed, and Olympia Brown, at 85 one of the last survivors of the suffragist leadership, cast her first vote.

Antioch College is closing, the school announced on Tuesday. Inside Higher Ed reported:

Antioch University announced Tuesday that it would suspend operations of its main undergraduate college — which has played a historic role in American higher education — at the end of the next academic year. All of the approximately 40 faculty members teaching at the college will lose their jobs. Antioch’s other campuses, which focus on graduate programs and nontraditional students, will continue.

Antioch was founded in 1852, with Horace Mann serving as its first president. The college played a role in the abolitionist movement and was an early institution to admit students who were women or black. In the 20th century, Antioch was among the pioneers in “co-op education” in which students alternated positions of work all over the country with their education at the Yellow Springs, Ohio, campus. Antioch was particularly notable in that the education was focused on the liberal arts, and the college was known for turning out graduates who went on to play major roles in intellectual life and social activism, people like Clifford Geertz and Stephen Jay Gould and Coretta Scott King.

As it turns out, there’s lots of Antiochs to Antioch University. The school’s About page lists them:

Antioch College, founded in 1852, is part of Antioch University, which includes the Antioch New England Graduate School in Keene, New Hampshire; Antioch University Seattle in Washington; Antioch University Southern California in Los Angeles and Santa Barbara; and Antioch University McGregor in Yellow Springs, Ohio.

U.S. News puts the school’s size at 464 but Inside Higher Ed says,

Low enrollment and a small endowment were blamed for the decision. For the coming fall semester, 125 new students had been expected, which would have brought total enrollment to just over 300.

More recently, however, Antioch’s history has been more troubled and sometimes controversial. The campus — designed for 2,700 students — has seen fewer and fewer students. The college’s long association of liberal politics attracted more students in the ’60s than the ’90s, when a policy requiring explicit verbal consent before any sexual act made the college a favorite target of pundits seeking to mock political correctness.

While the university has created campuses from California to New England — boosting total Antioch enrollment to around 5,000 — that development has worried many supporters of the undergraduate liberal arts college. These supporters felt that the attention of the board shifted too far away from the undergraduate institution that once was Antioch.

Essentially, the school invested in all those other campuses instead of increasing its endowment, which is a miniscule $30 million. U.S. News puts the school in its third tier and says tuition is $27,212.

Eli Nettles, assistant professor of mathematics and associate dean of of the faculty, was among the 15 or so faculty members who were on campus Tuesday (during a between term period) and who were told in person that the college was being shut down and that they would lose their jobs.

Even as she faces unemployment, Nettles said that she does not blame the current leadership of the college or university. “We didn’t use our money well 30 or 40 years ago,” she said, and so the college never saw its endowment or fund raising base grow as it needed, leaving the current leaders without any good options. “You cannot be a small liberal arts school that is this tuition-driven,” she said.

Chad Johnston graduated in 2001 and is among the alumni who have been worrying about the college closing and monitoring the situation through a group called Save Antioch.

During his time at the college, Johnston said, he saw the student role in governance diminished, and more authority shifted from the college to the university — changes he said paved the way for Tuesday’s news. “It’s been a downward spiral of college autonomy,” as the university focused more on its far flung campuses, which he acknowledged brought in money. He said it angered him to see the university focus on these regional campuses for financial reasons, while still using the Horace Mann legacy, prominently using a Mann quote — “be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity” — on those campuses’ Web sites, while letting Mann’s legacy in Yellow Springs disappear.

Antioch is about social justice, he said, not making money, so the college should have stayed the institution’s top priority. “Of course it’s a struggle” for the college to manage financially, he said. “But it’s always a struggle to be a liberal arts college and to do some radical things for education.”

Perhaps we no longer need Antioch itself. There are plenty of other small colleges in beautiful, wooded rural areas in America. There are schools that do co-op programs, and ones that let students define their own major. We have, perhaps, enough other places for the next Stephen Jay Gould or Coretta Scott King or Olympia Brown. But if schools like Antioch lose their way, where will all our Chad Johnstons come from?

10 Responses to “Farewell Antioch”

  1. Janet Winans said

    I graduated from Antioch in 1956 and am deeply saddened by the news of the college’s closing. Antioch is one-of-a-kind and I believe there must be a loyal alumni base which would become actively involved in a serious effort to reverse recent decisions and revive a school which has changed the lives of so many. What would Horace Mann have done? What can we do?

  2. Does Antioch College have any chance of reopening in service to its historical mission? A slim one, but only if alumni ask the hard questions. As a former member of the board of trustees, I would start with this one: Can Antioch College take all its property, including the small endowment, and find itself a new Board of Trustees that represents the college?

    It’s true that the College has been in decline for three decades. But it’s also true that during that time there have been many heroes teaching and working there, and many graduates who went out into the world inspired to win victories for humanity.

    Antioch College’s recent problems are all too real, but they were only symptoms of a larger problem. For the past three decades, Antioch College has been largely mismanaged by a Board that represented not the College but the University.

    First, the College’s resources were plundered to start the rest of the University. Administrators hired by the Board were too often incompetent or even openly hostile to the College. Board members did not always adequately supervise the finances (I was on the Board’s finance committee, so I observed this firsthand. The College has been malnourished for decades and was expected by the Board to support itself on tuition, something small liberal arts colleges just can’t do. Appropriate investments in the infrastructure were not made. Finally, the Board committed to raise money to implement the Renewal Plan — and then broke their commitment.

    There are good people on the Board, but the power imbalance for decades now has left Antioch College floundering. If the current Board is left in charge of the college, it will never reopen as the Antioch that inspired so many. The assets will be — dare I say it? — plundered again for use by the rest of the University.

    Antioch College has risen from the ashes before. Are there enough fearless and committed champions to help it do so again? Now that would be a victory for humanity.

  3. Yvonne Wingard said

    I am not a alumnus, just a “townie” here in Yellow Springs who has seen the recent changes in the college. It’s time that the College has its OWN Board, not one that is based within the University. The goals of the two are NOT the same obviously, and that has been part of the problem. The alumni and the village need to act now so that Antioch College can return as Mann’s vision, perhaps a little more modern, but still as its own unique educational model. On other sites, in other articles, I read where alumni were asked for donations, but had no idea that things were so desperate; I think that was done deliberately. Enough said!

  4. Amanda said

    I am one of those students who called doing fundraising. We were not deliberately witholding information. We on campus have known that the college had limited money and was in a poor financial situation, but it’s been that way for many years. There was no message from the Board or anyone else that there was a threat of the college closing or that things were that dire. We thought that things were being done to address problems and that there was hope. And we were doing things (like signing up to work as a Phonathon caller and helping with Admissions) to help the college.

    The Renewal Plan initiated by the Board of Trustees and imposed on the campus, with extremely limited input from people on campus, was in its second year this past year. Our enrollment had dropped because of the new curriculum, both because of it being harder to recruit people to an unproven new program, and because of details of the implementation being poorly handled/being worked out and refined. But it had been getting better. The Board promised the college support through the several years (5) it would take to implement the Plan, through the enrollment drop that was expected because of it being a new program. In my perception The Board considered the Renewal Plan to be a last-ditch effort to save the college, and when it didn’t magically turn everything around in 2 years (which it couldn’t have anyways), they decided to pull the plug.

    None of us on campus expected this. Nobody was talking about the college potentially closing, except as one of those thin, worst-case scenario “threat” rumors. At the end of this past term a possible merger with McGregor had been discussed, so that students could take classes at both places, and money could be saved, etc. Steve Lawry, our President, when he announced 20+ layoffs during the spring term said he believed that the money saved would ensure the future survival of the college.

    I don’t know what’s been going on in the Board. I’m angry. They have gone about their actions in an inconsistent way. They didn’t explore any alternatives to closing the college down. They didn’t communicate that things were desperate. They kept pretending in their PR that everything was fine. They never had the guts/expertise/humility to come to campus and really have a conversation with people there about what was wrong and what was needed to fix it. They never asked us for their help, at least not very well. And… it’s not all their fault.

    In any case, I and others are exploring what kind of effort there can be to bring faculty, staff, students, alumni, Yellow Springs residents, and other supporters of the college together to keep Antioch open and to figure out ways to address the college’s problems. The Board has failed. It’s up to leadership outside of the formal administration to respond creatively and resourcefully to this threat. We have a lot of power collectively, a lot of insight, intelligence, time and energy, and skills. We have a lot of good ideas, and a lot of learning to do.

    The Reunion coming up next week (June 21-24–Thursday to Sunday) is going to be an important time of coming together. What is needed is something as constructive as the strike in the 70s was destructive. I encourage anyone who cares about Antioch to come to Yellow Springs next week. Alums, students, faculty, emeritus faculty, staff, former board members, townspeople, maybe even current board members will be there. It will be exciting and stimulating, and probably amazing. This is an unpredictable situation. This isn’t just any school closing down for lack of funds. This isn’t just any community.

  5. Sara said

    Ten years ago a group of Alumni formed a group, AIF, Antioch Independence Fund, and raised a Million Dollars and placed it in a Trust for the College, asking only that a serious exploration of an independent Board of Trustees take place, and serious discussions with the Fund occur. The AIF was first ignored and then called all sorts of names. Finally the decision was made to liquidate the fund, donating it to members second charitable choices. (mine went to the American Friends Service Committee).

    Many of us believe, as a result of this, that the University Board has no interests in an honest effort to do the kind of serious reorganization that would be necessary to give Antioch College a real future. The inability to respond in a businesslike way to what was essentially a challenge grant, and the willingness to engage in personal trashing of those who made this effort (many being people in Higher Education), needs to be factored into comprehending the dimensions of Antioch’s closing.

  6. Phaye Poliakoff-Chen said

    This is a letter that a group of us sent to the chancellor and the chair of the board of trustees. It’s an analysis/summary, with a positive plan for the future. (Any alumni who would like to sign can contact me directly at chen@speakeasy.net. Thanks.)
    June 22, 2007

    Dear Mr. Zucker and Ms. Murdock,

    As graduates of Antioch College in the late 1970s and early 1980s, we can identify with the tragic uncertainty now facing the campus community after the Board of Trustees suddenly announced it is closing the College in Yellow Springs.

    We, too, were told that the College would likely be closing at some time during our tenure there because enrollments had dropped and the endowment was too small. As it turned out, that didn’t happen. But the internal debate over the relationship between the main College campus and Antioch’s satellite campuses (it was never a true university no matter what the college PR department said) was high on the agenda in those years.
    Many of us remember refusing to shake hands with then College President, William Birenbaum at graduation ceremonies in 1980 as a public protest. It wasn’t merely that we disliked his ideas about education, his arrogance in dealing with students, faculty and staff, or his misguided attempts to funnel resources away from Yellow Springs. An even greater transgression was his total disdain for a cornerstone principle of Antioch College: community governance.

    We are outraged and saddened to see that the current Board of Trustees has exhibited a similar lack of regard in the way it has sprung news of the College’s closing on the campus body politic. It has compounded the wrongdoing by not outlining a clear role for that community in key decision making about what kind of institution will supposedly reopen its doors in Yellow Springs in four years.

    As this year’s alumni reunion goes forward, we want to deliver a clear message to you and the current College administration: We will not support any future educational institution bearing Antioch’s name that fails to return control and academic focus to the main College in Yellow Springs.

    The Board of Trustees needs to be comprised of members who support that mission and who have demonstrated their commitment by contributing to the College campaign. The assets of the College need to be returned to the College—including Antioch University McGregor, which should be merged with the College and come under the control of the College President.

    College leaders should launch a democratic process of renewal on campus that will result in a plan for a future educational institution in Yellow Springs that respects the best traditions of Antioch. The current Board of Trustees has betrayed those traditions, both in the way it announced the College closing and in actions it has taken—or failed to take—that have brought us to this pass.

    Specifically, the current Board of Trustees reneged on a commitment to raise the needed funds to implement the Renewal Commission Plan that it imposed on the College. In fact, most individual trustees did not even contribute to the campaign. When the fundraising campaign foundered, trustees failed to address the obvious implications for the College. In addition, the board only recently discovered problems with University bookkeeping that disguised previous losses. The University Board of Trustees has failed miserably in its legal and ethical responsibilities and has lost all moral right to the Antioch name and mission. The time has come to return control of Antioch College and its assets to the College community, including its alumni.

    We stand ready to pledge money and fundraising energy to a reopening of Antioch. But we will not support any plan created without the involvement and leadership of members of the College community. Nor will we back a future institution that fails to uphold the school’s long established standards of shared decision-making, innovation and the notion that even the privileged realm of higher education can be a proving ground for social justice.


    Barbara Solow, Class of 1980, Highland Park, NJ
    Christopher Adams, ’87, Landsdowne, PA
    Jeanne Badman, ’80, St. Paul, MN
    Lesley Pownall Bahr, ’83, Buffalo, MN
    E. Ann Baldwin, 80, Higganum, CT
    Helen Bloch, ’78, Forest Hills, NY
    Douglas Brodoff, ’77, Paris, France
    Marianne Connolly, ‘80, Amherst, MA
    Peter Crosman, ’77, Flintridge, CA
    Laura Drey, ’80, Durham, NC
    David Feinstein, ’79, San Francisco, CA
    Cora Hook, ’79, Bethlehem, PA
    Rob Kenter, ’80, Toronto, ON Canada
    Laura Markham, ‘80, New York, NY
    Marc J. Masurovsky, ’77, Falls Church, VA
    Barbara McCann, ‘83, Washington, DC
    Lizzie Olesker, ’79, Brooklyn, NY
    Glenn Paris, ’80, San Diego, CA
    Lydia Dean Pilcher, ’80, New York, NY
    Phaye Poliakoff-Chen, ‘80, Baltimore, MD
    Scott Pollock, ’80, Evanston, IL
    David Pratt, ’80, Brooklyn, NY
    Sandina Robbins, ‘80, Oakland, CA
    Jodi Solomon, ’80, Boston, MA

    cc: Steven Lawry, President, Antioch College
    Risa Grimes, Director of Alumni Relations

  7. What a great letter, thank you for posting it. I didn’t go to Antioch, I went to a school (Geneseo College) that, during my time there and shortly thereafter, refashioned itself as a great liberal arts college in the tradition that Antioch largely founded, the one that was followed by Reed, St Johns, and many others.

    I graduated at about the same time as the signers. We are probably the same age, and we must have many things in common. I wish you well in your effort to return Antioch to its former mission, charm, and honor.

  8. Lance Adams said

    Sounds like the enrollment was down because of lack of focus on education. A brief reading of any edition of the student paper would reveal a sick institution. Antioch will better serve humanity with shuddered doors IMHO. That opinion was formed reading the student newspaper to quote Chad Johnston
    “In the future, if you see someone from
    the media, try to make sure they get what
    they deserve: very little. Don’t let them tell
    the world who we are and what happens
    here.” Nice huh? Antioch had 2 students killed in Costa Rica and the media came in to cover it.Thats the context of an editorial snippet quoted. Now when someone can explain what the Antiochans and Chad thought needed hiding I may change my opinion. Until then like I said better shuddered……don’t let them tell world who we are…and what inane and insane causes we support…closer to the truth.

  9. digglahhh said

    I’m a bit confused by your response, Lance. Are you citing this quote as an example of your point, or is your point mainly driven by an isolated quote in a student newspaper? If the former, okay, though I’m not sure how that quote leads to the conclusion that the school doesn’t care about education… If the latter, please explain to me how you arrive at the notion that this dude represents the overarching beliefs of the students and faculty.

    Furthermore, what’s the big deal if the fellow doesn’t want to grant the media access they seems to desire? Having experienced our culture, do you think it is absurd to worry about the distorting and exploiting the lives, beliefs, and behavior of college students?

    You have no idea the deeper context of the quote. I wouldn’t trust the media to fairly and accurately represent my views on most things. Sounds like they don’t either. Actually, that looks like they were paying attention in class, and have learned something!

  10. Jonny No said

    Lance, I’ll tell you what they wanted to hide: They are hiding the fact that they are conducting independent research in an underground, multi-‘shuddered’ facility developing top-secret products; mostly educational children’s games that foster a healthy disrespect for production values. How unfortunate for you that the same token liberalism could not be applied to the arts of spelling and grammar, not to mention tact, logic, or general sense. Antioch’s legacy is part of an ongoing project to effectively develop a vaccine to the corporate-sponsored torture and rape of all organic life on the planet culminating in a stunning yet quite terrestrially fatal orgy of nuclear asphyxiation. No big deal or anything. Oh, and I hear brains are cheaper at walmart, fyi.

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