Revolution #101, September 16, 2007
Struggle Continues Against Threatened Closing of Antioch College
by a former Antioch student who attended the college during the late 1960s and early 1970s
An outpouring of opposition has brought about a real chance for the reversal of the threat to close Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio.
As we wrote in "Who Is Afraid of Antioch College and Why Are They Trying to Shut it Down?": “Antioch is well known—and, in the halls of power, hated—for a progressive, open-minded approach to education. Its academic program combines classroom learning with work experience and community involvement. Founded by progressive Christians as a secular college in 1852 in Yellow Springs, Ohio, Antioch from the beginning sought to include Black people and women among students and faculty. A saying by founder Horace Mann became the school’s watchword: 'Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity'…
“…The move to close Antioch is part of the assault on the rebellious legacy of the 1960s—and part of attempts to shut down critical thinking and dissent on campuses today.” (Revolution #98, August 19, 2007, revcom.us/a/098/antioch-en.html)
In June, the Board of Trustees (BoT) of Antioch University came out with a surprise announcement that because Antioch College was in such financial crisis, the only option was closing the college at the end of the 2007–2008 school year. On August 27, the BoT sounded a tactical retreat and gave the Alumni Board two months to produce a viable financial plan to keep Antioch College open. The Alumni Board, the organization of college alumni, recently presented a counterproposal to the BoT's announcement.
The chair of the BoT and the Chancellor of the University System had stated several times that the closure decision was “irreversible.” The trustees also claimed they “hoped” to reopen the college in 2012 but have presented no plans to make that happen. The Antioch College community understands that even if the College were to reopen in 2012 under the trustees’ control, it would be an empty shell, stripped of the soul that has made it a unique institution. An important partial victory has been won, even though the BoT has not rescinded their announced "suspension" of College operations.
Alumni, Faculty, Students and Others Mobilize
What led to this turnaround?
At a meeting called by the Antioch University BoT on August 25 in Cincinnati, Ohio, over 150 people—alumni, faculty, staff, students and Yellow Springs residents and civic leaders—packed a hotel ballroom to show support for keeping Antioch open. Over 30 people spoke, and with the exception of one alumnus who supported closure, the passionate and articulate speakers brought proof that right is on their side and that Antioch stands for something they hold dear. The next day, the BoT heard from former BoT members who have come out against the death sentence for Antioch.
Among those speaking out on August 25 were several first-year students who had been on campus for only two days. They all stated they had come to Antioch in the face of the closure announcement because even one year at Antioch is an experience they could not walk away from. Over 70 new students enrolled at Antioch this fall, more than had been projected, and there have already been 11,000 inquiries from prospective students for the 2008 academic year! Prof. Hassan Rahmanian told of how he had arrived in the U.S. in the 1980s as an exile from his native Iran. He made his way to Antioch and has been on the faculty 22 years. Rahmanian poetically admonished the BoT: "As an educator I love the spiritual and intellectual intoxication that the students give me… I left my home and couldn't go back. Antioch became my home. Don't take away my home." Prof. Pat Mische spoke about the importance of tenure for professors that would be lost if the college were closed: "We need academic freedom. Faculty can't be afraid to lose their jobs if they speak the truth and call on students to speak the truth." Community Manager Rory Adams-Cheatham told the BoT that the fact that many small colleges have been forced to close in the last 5 years should not be used to rationalize the damage that would be done by closing Antioch: "This makes it even more important to save Antioch College. We're not just fighting for Antioch College, but for the institutions of tenured faculty, for unionized staff, for liberal arts education."
The BoT called the meeting in an attempt to pacify a national mobilization of alumni that began in late June and to chill out the overwhelming outrage amongst faculty, students, staff and people of the Village of Yellow Springs. Over the past two and a half months, alumni have initiated over 20 new alumni chapters and raised more than $8 million in donations and pledges for a fund dedicated to reviving Antioch College. In mid August, the Antioch faculty filed a lawsuit against the BoT, asking for a permanent injunction against the closing of the College.
Since the 1980s, Antioch College has been governed by the Board of Trustees of the relatively recent graduate-level Antioch University system. One of the main reasons for the financial crisis of the undergraduate College has been a diversion of resources to the University, which has just opened a new $30-million building in Yellow Springs, while College buildings are given little or no priority for upgrading. Not only has financial independence (including fundraising initiative) been denied to the College, but the authority over academic and work/study programs has suffered as well. Recently, the University drastically cut staff in both the development and admissions offices of the College and, in 2003, imposed a “Renewal Plan” that forced unwanted changes in academic and co-op (Antioch College’s work experience component) programs. All that is part of why the Alumni Board proposal centers on establishing a separate and independent governance system for Antioch College.
Behind the Attack on Antioch College
In the period since the closure announcement, a number of alumni, faculty and progressive investigators have developed a zest for "digging up the dirt" on who runs Antioch and what they have done to create this crisis. One element of this has been the appearance on the Internet of leaked documents from the trustees and the University administration revealing internal discussion about such things as eliminating tenure for professors in a “new” Antioch College and the model of other small colleges that have closed and been turned into retirement communities. Reports indicate that in some cases College facilities were unjustifiably shown in official financial calculations to be declining in value twice as much as University facilities. Prof. Peter Townsend, a lead plaintiff in the faculty lawsuit to stop the closure of the college, told Revolution that in the past few years "faculty didn't see what was happening beyond the individual events which were seen as 'stupid moves' [by the University administration and trustees.]. Now they see the overall trend of deliberate neglect."
The financial deterioration of the College has a close relationship to the political priorities of the University administration and trustees. Among other things, it has come to light that one former and two present members of the BoT have intimate ties to U.S. government intelligence and military contractors and industries (see “Antioch Trustees and the Military-Intelligence Connection” in Revolution #98, revcom.us/a/098/antioch-military-en.html). Related to this, businesses and civic leaders in the Yellow Springs area are being lobbied by the military and related industrial interests to participate in the local region’s “Base Re-Alignment Consolidation” (BRAC). BRAC is a major initiative to restructure the economy in the Dayton/Yellow Springs area to become fully dependent on developing war-related industry, centered around the huge Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. In July, Congress voted to allocate $50 million to over a dozen firms in the area that are carrying out research for high-tech military application (see Dayton Daily News, July 16, 2007, ). According to the Yellow Springs News of August 16, 2007 (ysnews.com), a "Center for Business and Education" (CBE) has been established in Yellow Springs to develop an industrial park and "The CBE’s educational component, Antioch University McGregor, is scheduled to finish its new building in September and will move its classes from the Antioch College campus at that time."
This is a setup in which the momentum and lure of the expansion of capitalism, all in the service of the machinery of war and death which itself is designed to enforce capitalist expansion worldwide, is a blatant obstacle to emancipation of humanity and to serving the real needs of people. And it has run up against the existence of the Antioch College community, whose historic values are based on a progressive approach to education and serving humanity.
All this exposure has stung the trustee board and propelled forward a growing movement. The inspiring resistance to the threat to close Antioch is important not only for Antioch, but for campuses around the country. There is a heavy cloud hanging over academia today because of the reactionary clampdown on critical thinking and dissent. The recent firing of University of Colorado Prof. Ward Churchill and the denial of tenure to Professorss Norman Finkelstein and Mehrene Larudee at DePaul University in Chicago drive home the danger of the reactionary movement to silence professors who carry out the kind of scholarship and teaching that invites people to question the official narratives of U.S. history. (see article "Purge of Professors Accelerates Suppression of Critical Thinking" in Revolution #99, revcom.us/a/099/professors-purged-en.html)
Many around the country have begun to see that if Antioch were shut down, it would open the floodgates much wider to this reactionary assault. What’s needed now, at Antioch and on every campus, is an even wider and more determined resistance to the assault on critical thinking and dissent. And this also cries out for a revolutionary movement based on the goal of a liberated socialist society that fosters critical thinking, encourages dissent and unleashes the people in their millions to do away with the material basis for the exploitation of humans by other humans (see the special supplement "Resist the Nazification of the American University—Wanted on Campus: Critical Thinking, Dissent…and A Revolutionary Movement" in Revolution #99).
Follow the continuing coverage of the struggle to save Antioch and to defend critical thinking and dissent on campuses nationwide in the pages of Revolution and on Revolution Online. There is further information available at these web sites: antiochians.org (the Antioch Alumni Board); antiochfaculty.org (the Antioch faculty); theantiochpapers.org (featuring important documents in the development of the whole crisis); and recordonline.org (The Antioch Record, the student newspaper).
Antioch students are holding a teach-in Friday, Saturday and Sunday, September 14-16, at the College campus in Yellow Springs, Ohio to inform new and returning students and to mobilize more into the fight to save Antioch.
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