Archive for July 12th, 2008

More vital readings relating to the murder of Antioch College

July 12th, 2008 | Category: Antioch

Last Thursday Paula Treichler’s piece “Antioch: Report From Ground Zero” appeared on Inside Higher Ed. I’m not going to cover piece by piece every last bit of coverage, relating to the meticulous obliteration of Antioch College, but articles such as Treichler’s are important, in that they come from a particular vantage point on the process.

As I pointed out in my own blog post, (They murdered our college, Mann,) Antioch’s destruction was not a result of a ‘natural death’ but rather an intentional process carried out by Chancellor Toni Murdock and members of the Board of Trustees.

They provided ever hopeful alumni plenty of ‘busy work,’ keeping them occupied, even as plans to destroy the college went forward unabated.

As but one example, Treichler’s article goes into some detail, about how the alumni were given the green light in their efforts to save Antioch College back in August of last year at the Cincinnati meeting to

“assemble a proper proposal with fund-raising targets and a business plan, the chancellor was directed to share all necessary financial data and to help.”

Yet immediately following that meeting Antioch University Chancellor Murdock essentially did everything in her power to ensure that course of action would only be met with failure (again quoting Treichler’s piece:)

Within days came frantic phone calls and emails from Yellow Springs: the chancellor had returned from Cincinnati to campus, fired Steve Lawry, and prohibited contact with alumni and donors. She also, via the minions, sent home staff members in Alumni Development and Institutional Advancement, changed the locks on their office doors, and put automatic reply messages on their computers: “I am out of the office ‘til after Labor Day!” In other words, the chancellor took the steps that would most immediately and directly impede communication, development, and fund-raising activities, precisely the activities most urgently needed to complete the plan and save the college.

Thus all existing tools and personnel necessary to the task at hand were being cut out from under us, intentionally.

The struggle to save Antioch College is a saga of similar circumstances. Yet each twist and turn kept ever hopeful alumni in a flurry of activity, constantly based upon the idea that such twists and turns were all done ‘in good faith’, when clearly they were not.

Had a ‘good faith’ effort gone into saving the College, at bare minimum alumni would have been contacted PRIOR to the public announcement of the College’s impending closure back in 2007. Instead, alumni were left to learn of the impending demise of our college from media reports. There was no final effort to contact us about any kind of an emergency appeal, as the decision had already been made.

I suppose I was one of the few people who understood that we were not dealing with an administration working ‘in good faith’ back at the annual reunion meeting in 2007. Further, I also understood that trying to “committee our way back out of all this” (to use a turn of phrase I first wrote in relation to the Antioch situation to the alumni chat list last June) and treating it as any kind of “business as usual” were also only going to exacerbate the problem.

The time for ‘good faith’ ended when the decision to close the college without so much as discussing it with the alumni was announced to the media. That was why, two weeks after the initial announcement over reunion ‘07, I was one of the few people pushing Murdock, the Board, and then President Lawry to stop stalling and attempting to fill time and space with non-answers at the one and only apperance they were going to make over the course of reunion where Alums had signed up to ask them questions. There were multiple pages of Alumni who had signed up to ask questions in that session, yet instead of doing what they could to get to as many questions as possible, the various ‘authorities’ made every effort to not be held to account for their decision by alumni. They stalled. They got through less than ten questions.

Which was why, after the majority of the session had been burned, in some cases through Board repetition of nonsequiturs, I “interrupted”:

“We came here from all across the United States at our own expense,” shouted one from the back rows. “We want answers!”

(You can see some of the full context in this June 23, 2007 NYT piece, “It’s Anger, Not Nostalgia at this Antioch Reunion” . The article also goes on to reiterate Lawry’s distain for Antiochians and Antioch itself, likening it to a “political re-education”. Lawry, despite how some would paint him, was no friend to the College either. )

To this day, those answers have never come. What few drips and drabs of information about the process taking place so often behind locked doors has come out through resources like the Antioch Papers which Chancellor Murdock did everything to cut its authors access to College related information, (again quoting the Treichler piece:)

When the chancellor learned that many of the confidential documents posted on the Antioch Papers Web site had not been leaked by insiders but legitimately acquired by members of the public from Antiochiana, the institution’s archive, where board materials were routinely sent for storage, she changed the archives’ locks and restricted its hours and access to the public, including the alumni who have donated many of its holdings.

Far from making assumptions about alleged good intentions, Antiochians needed to understand that the proverbial gloves had ALREADY come off, and that from the moment of the announcement of the closure forward, this was one circumstance where assuming the worst until evidence to the contrary was produced was the more logical stance.

Unfortunately, to this very day, I still see far too many people giving Murdock and her ilk the benefit of the doubt, holding out hope, and still thinking they are dealing with a person who can be reasoned with, or ‘educated.’ All of which assumes a willingness to listen on her part, something we not only have no evidence of, no unfortunately, we have quite a growing pile of (stinking and steaming) evidence to the contrary.

Ultimately, the alumni efforts may possibly someday potentially be ‘allowed’ to finally get a hold of the broken campus buildings, but only now that they are crumbling. The economics of reopening; bringing the buildings up to current codes, (no more grandfathering), getting everything up to ADA standards, etc is not only far more than a task the University wants to take on, it would now be a daunting task for an effort such as non-stop or the Village of Yellow Springs itself to take on.

Far more likely, is that the University will follow some version of the advice given by the Stanley Consultants, (the group hired on by the University to make a recommendation on what to do with the now mostly mothballed campus, see the sidebar on this Yellow Springs News article.) You can find more on Stanley Consultants and their report concerning their recommendations for the campus on this search of the Antioch Papers website. A micro summary, to quote the YS article sidebar sounds like this:

The Stanley group recommended that the university reduce the number of operating buildings by about 50 percent. They also evaluated the physical condition of all facilities, and recommended that a number of buildings be replaced or torn down, including Mills Hall, the gym, Pennell Hall, Weston Hall, the Glen Helen building, the theater building, the art building, the photography house, the student union and Antioch Inn.

(You can find a copy of the campus map in PDF format here.)

(Stanley Consultants are also major private contractors in the Iraq reconstruction business, to the tune of 1.2 billion. Even minimal googling will turn up articles such as this, Engineering firm reaping rewards from Iraq war about Stanley’s disaster capitalism endevours.)

No, the decision to kill the campus and the college was made prior to the public announcement, prior to the ‘07 reunion, and despite constantly holding out ephemeral hopes, from the point the decision was made forward the effort to kill the College/kill the Campus has maintained its trajectory.

Every effort since that initial decision point has either been work designed to keep Alumni busy or merely a running down of alternatives, while attempting to work with people who are not acting in good faith. Actions speak louder than words and as we can see from the actions taken by University Chancellor Murdock, alumni’s sincere efforts were being thwarted at every turn.

Even over Reunion ‘07, listening to those on campus, staff members with the Record (the student paper) and others on campus, such as the those in the development office it was clear, there was no ’saving throw’ being made to keep the college intact on the part of Murdock.

At that reunion, despite all hand waving to the contrary, money was clearly not the issue. Something else was going on. Allow me to quote a post I made to the Alumni-chat list back on 6/23/07:

When you have an alum asking a stage full of the many members of the board of trustees, the president of the college, the president of the board of the alumni, and the chancellor, to give him one good reason to trust them and write a check to this (”I brought my checkbook!”) and WANTING to give the institution money and not one of the people on the stage can give the fellow a straight answer- you’ve really got to wonder.

I’ve worked as a professional fundraiser, and let me tell you, if an alum is standing there with a checkbook wanting to GIVE MONEY asking for a reason, if the people on the other end of that can’t BETWEEN THEM spit out a coherent, reasonable, immediate answer, then honestly what are they doing there?

Worse, ten minutes spent walking around the campus told me all I needed to know. Eventually I’d like to get to a longer post about the way the physical facilities were choked off left to rot and deprived of the maintainance necessary.

Clearly that contempt for the historic and architecturally significant campus continues to this day, as evidenced by the University’s crass disregard in it’s mothballing of most of the campus. For details be sure to see Closing of Antioch College campus— Shutdown prompts safety concerns Yellow Springs News 7/3/08)

I’ve also found a second article that offers some clarification on the mothballing in relation to fire codes, and perhaps a significant solution, perhaps Yellow Springs itself can wrest the campus away from the University utilizing Ohio’s eminent domain law:

Council concerned over shutdown Yellow Springs News 7/10/08

Council should consider using eminent domain to claim the campus and save it from deterioration, said Tony Dallas, who presented Council with a petition from villagers urging Council to do so.

“We are concerned that Antioch University does not have the desire, expertise or financial resources to act as a responsible corporate citizen in the Village of Yellow Springs,” the petition states.

According to the petition, under Ohio law a property can be taken through eminent domain if a situation “substantially impairs or arrests the sound growth of the political subdivision,” “constitutes an economic or social liability,” “retards the provision of housing accommodations,” or “is a menance to the public health, safety, morals or welfare” of a community.

According to Dallas, if citizens of a community agree that “any one of these is relevant, the groundwork for discussing eminent domain is in place.” The petition was signed by 31 persons, and the signatures were gathered in an hour, Dallas said.

As a one time Villager myself, on the one hand, I’d LOVE to see the Village rescue the poor abused (at the hands of the University) campus. Doubly so as I understand what a crucial role facilities like the gym have played for the Village (see Community effort seeks to save Antioch’s Curl gym Yellow Springs News 6/12/08.) On the other hand, even all that said, the Village would certainly be taking on a great deal to do so.

Meanwhile, in a June 19th ‘08 article in the Yellow Springs News, Faculty and staff vacate Antioch College campus this week we learn both about the plight of the Antioch College Professors and how the vast majority of them have chosen to stay on to teach with the Non-stop (Antioch) effort:

For reasons having to do with their contracts ending without the severance or sabbatical generally afforded to tenured professors, about nine faculty members are leaving the college for new jobs, Bloch said. And according to film and communications professor Anne Bohlen, at least 21 tenured faculty members have chosen to join the Nonstop Antioch effort to continue the kind of education they offered during their years at the college. Others are simply retiring, some before their chosen time, to begin new adventures.

I think it’s becoming more and more clear that the way forward, just as I predicted back in June of ‘07 is to build a separate entity, one which will remain in Yellow Springs and stay true to the ideals and as closely as possible to the day to day life that was Antioch College.

Due to Antioch University’s threats of legal action, the (Antioch College) faculty (now forced to simply call themselves The college faculty, the faculty of the college in Yellow Springs, OH and Nonstop (Antioch) now calling itself Nonstop Liberal Arts Institute or NLAI continue on.

Nonstop also has a Wiki all its own.

This dual pronged approach, that of the faculty turning to legal recourse (as they have standing), and of building a distinct entity going forward, hiring as many displaced Antioch College people as possible is precisely what I advocated back in June ‘07.

Unfortunately, to get through to the point at which these two are well underway, we’ve first had to endure a long hard year of people learning the very unpleasant lay of the land. Murdock and the University have robbed us of our College, our name, the jobs of Faculty and Staff, they’ve union busted, strangled off tenure, forced others into early retirement, put far too many people through an emotional roller coaster of raised and then dashed hopes, screwed their own Antioch College students, and ultimately, been as destructive as possible.

One can only hope that other campuses of Antioch University are paying attention.

The University may have made off with our history, our name, and our reputation, but trust me, after this, they will never have the ‘hearts and minds’ of those they fucked over so thoroughly.

When speaking of the nonstop effort over this past year’s reunion (to end by once more quoting Treichler’s “Report from Ground Zero”):

Longtime Antioch faculty member Hassan Rachmanian captured the spirit of the effort when he told the Kelly Hall audience that the university administration “may have taken the college’s body but we have its soul.