Revolution #126, April 13, 2008
New Danger To Antioch College
The future of Antioch College is again in serious danger. Earlier this year, the Antioch University Board of Trustees (AUBoT) rejected a proposal by the Antioch College Continuation Corporation (AC3), a group of alumni, ex-trustees, and donors, to buy the college. After that offer was rejected, the AC3 offered to contribute $10 million directly to the University in return for ten seats on the 19-member University board. This offer was not accepted.
Antioch is a small private college in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Despite its smallness in physical size and enrollment, Antioch has stood for over 150 years as an outstanding center of progressive higher education. From the beginning of its founding by abolitionists, it has combined academics with work experience and community service. The College motto has been “Be afraid to die until you have won some small victory for humanity.”
In the 1960s and early 1970s, Antioch College was a hotbed of activism and radical thought. The radical movements of those days ebbed, but Antioch maintained a culture of resistance as well as a tradition of critical thought in its academic programs, along with its commitment to involve students in learning from hands-on experience in society.
The rejection by the Antioch University Board of Trustees of the alumni offer is viewed by many who had struggled and hoped for a new life for Antioch as a colossal act of betrayal. It increases the chances that Antioch College will be shut down.
Last June, the Antioch Board of Trustees made a surprise announcement that the College would close in June 2008. The Board cited falling enrollment, lack of financial endowments, and growing debts as the reason for its decision to close.
Since then, Antioch alumni have initiated a vigorous fundraising campaign that gathered at least $18 million in donations and pledges. The principal goal of the activity to keep Antioch alive has been to achieve complete independence in governance, financial control, and academic program from Antioch University. Ellen Borgersen, the vice president of the Antioch Alumni Association, said just before the AUBoT’s rejection that if negotiators succeed in winning independence for the College, “we’ll be ready to run the College on this campus without interruption. If they don’t, we’ll find someplace else in Yellow Springs to operate, and we’ll fight to reclaim the campus and the College’s other assets from a University administration that seems bent on destroying everything Antioch has ever stood for.” [antiochians.org/
The refusal of the Antioch Board of Trustees to accept the alumni offer to bail out the college poses the question more sharply of what is behind the move to close Antioch.
In recent years, Antioch University administrators have been blatantly hostile to the spirit of the Antioch community. One even accused the student body of fostering a “toxic culture.” But the attitudinal opposition and the financial neglect imposed on Antioch College by the AUBoT did not emerge in a vacuum. Until the as-yet-undisclosed conversations, documents, and consultations among the Trustees and their advisors are revealed, a more complete understanding cannot be had, but there are two related processes that have certainly influenced the AUBoT’s decisions. One is the current compulsions of capital that make soliciting endowments and funding for a small, liberal arts college very difficult. Intertwined with this is the current climate of suppression of critical thought and dissent on campuses.
And joined to this is the specific position of Antioch College. In the past decade, a powerful force for economic development in the Yellow Springs area has been the marriage of real estate and military industry and research. The “Base Realignment and Closure” (BRAC) procedures were initiated in 2005 by the Pentagon to streamline military expenses and to draw local industries into accelerating military research and development. Antioch is near the huge Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and also near the economically depressed city of Dayton. In 1994 the Dayton Development Corporation (DDC) was formed to figure out how to attract new capitalist investment and was recently given a shot in the arm by the BRAC. Congress last year voted to give $50 million in loans and startup money to over a dozen military research and industrial enterprises in the Wright-Patterson/Dayton/Yellow Springs corridor.
Antioch University (the corporate entity that owns, but is distinct from the College) has a separate branch in Yellow Springs called McGregor, which until recently has operated using College buildings. But late in 2007, McGregor opened a new $30 million building off campus, which has been described by its proponents as “the educational component” of a business and research park planned for that location. The rise of McGregor and its connection with the BRAC is seen by many as closely linked to the hostility toward Antioch College’s values and physical existence. [see blazenews.org/30/closing-antioch-college-cui-bono for further detailed investigation into the Antioch/BRAC connection]
Two current and one former member of the Antioch University Board of Trustees head up significant military research and industrial companies. How people like that ended up as board members at Antioch, of all places, is still a mystery. But this raises further questions about the relationship between the Antioch University board and BRAC. In any case, it is known that BRAC and the DDC have lobbied the Yellow Springs Village Council to join the military-industrial development plans. Yellow Springs businesses formed a group to attract such investment and to find ways for Yellow Springs to get in on the action.
These economic factors are creating pressure for the integration of Antioch and Yellow Springs into military research and development.
As we go to press, Antioch College students, faculty, staff, alumni, and residents of the small town of Yellow Springs, Ohio, are brainstorming and planning for “NonStop Antioch”—a slogan that has arisen with the movement to stop Antioch’s closure. According to a press release from the College Revival Fund, Inc. (one of the Antioch College alumni-directed fundraising efforts), “NonStop Antioch is what alumni, students, staff and faculty dubbed the movement to keep Antioch College alive and operating in Yellow Springs…It includes support for students, faculty and staff who have committed to staying in Yellow Springs to teach, learn, and keep the Antioch spirit alive. NonStop Antioch also includes plans for fundraising, direct action, and litigation.”
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