Emissions Report 2012
Antioch Reunion 2012 marked the 20th anniversary of my graduation from my alma mater. I had been looking forward to seeing many of my former classmates. While I am in touch with quite a few via Facebook, there is nothing like getting together with other Antiochians in person. It would've also been nice to see some of my former faculty; however, most of them have been sent packing since 2009, since the first two presidents of the New Antioch have refused to offer them the right of first refusal for their old jobs, despite the AAUP's recommendations. Maybe the majority of my former classmates have bristled at the betrayal of the former faculty, or have gotten tired of hearing that the Antioch of recent decades could never measure-up to the Antioch of the Golden Years of the 1950s and 60s. Maybe they're just busy with other things. Maybe they have come to believe the current administration's persistent claims of being a non-successor institution, and have decided that New Antioch has nothing to do with them.
Most of the Antiochians in attendance at Reunion this year were graduates of the 1950s and 60s. Perhaps that isn't surprising, since they were the largest cohort of alumni in the College's history. What is surprising to me is that, as a group, they seem to either not know or not care that the current administration's plan to save the college is almost exactly the same as the former University Chancellor's plan to kill it.
The New Antioch's "Master Plan" as presented by its architects is to restore North Hall and Antioch Hall (a.k.a. Main Building). The library will be squeezed into the top two floors of Antioch Hall. McGregor Hall and the Science Building, we were told, would be the only two classroom buildings required on campus (the art program would be moved into the science building). The Gym and the Foundry Theater would be retained, as would West Hall and the Units (a.k.a. Hadley Case Commons). But Olive Kettering Library, Spalt (a.k.a. Corry), Mills, Fels, and the Student Union would be demolished. A third dorm at an unspecified location would have to be built to accommodate the enrollment target of 650 (roughly the same enrollment as the "unsustainable" 80s and 90s). West of Livermore Street, between Livermore St. and Xenia Avenue, the architects have indicated some property intended to be developed as retirement housing. President Roosevelt stressed that the plan was not written in stone, and could still be amended. The buildings slated for demolition were represented with dotted lines around them, but imagine for yourself how much space there would be available for real estate development if the educational program of the College required only five core buildings.
The alibi for this reduction in the size of the educational facilities of the college is to "reduce the carbon footprint" of the college, in the name of the environmentalist chimera of sustainability. Well, fine. But doesn't it bother anyone that the college/retirement village plan is the same as that announced by Toni Murdock at Reunion 2007, and outlined by Antioch University's Leadership Council in their Summary of Recommendations for the Suspension of Operations at Antioch College? Or that the University's alibi for closing the College in the first place was low enrollment and unsustainability, although the number proposed for enrollment is actually less than the Antioch College enrollment figures of the 1990s (when the "magic number" for enrollment was presumed to be 800 students)?
Reducing the carbon emission footprint of Antioch College may be an admirable goal, but it's tilting at windmills. It will take systemic change on a huge scale to significantly impact climate change, and little Antioch College's reduced carbon footprint won't matter one whit if our nation doesn't reduce all of its emissions, or if China doesn't. But reducing the carbon footprint is a good marketing ploy for idealistic students, and an even better one for aging hippies inching toward retirement age: spend your twilight years secure in the knowledge that you aren't hurting the planet. I'm not at all convinced, though, that reducing the educational facilities of Antioch College is the way to improve its educational mission, or that intentionally limiting the size of the future student body is the path toward sustainability of the institution in the future (re: alumni giving). Antioch's most significant footprint has been in educating students to become engaged citizens and agents of social change. Do we need more of those, or fewer?
Of course, a smaller college campus needs fewer student tuition dollars to support it. But if that is the logic driving the decision-making, then what is happening at Antioch isn't a rebirth, but rather a corporate downsizing (although corporations now prefer the term "right-sizing," because it makes it appear as if there is some additional criteria or justification). Even "downsizing" is not really an accurate term, though. Antioch College wasn't just downsized; the ENTIRE COMMUNITY of students, staff, and faculty was jettisoned in 2007, and then again by people claiming to save it in 2009. And then those Powers That Be, ignoring the standards and practices of legitimate educational institutions, selectively hired a few former faculty members back (without the restoration of their tenure, and in some cases in diminished roles). I was told that those former faculty who wanted library privileges afforded them had to apply for the status of "Resident Scholar." I wonder what the criteria were for accepting or rejecting the applicants. I wonder why the New Antioch (which never addressed the Alumni Board task force recommendations for incorporating the former faculty and their collective wisdom in planning for the New College) seems so bent on demeaning and humiliating the faculty who educated generations of recent Antiochians.
How do I feel about Antioch College? I feel like I watched my community get mugged by Antioch University, and then I rushed to its defense. And then, when the police arrived, they mugged the community again, blamed the community for having been mugged in the first place, and locked the community out of its home. Should I stop defending my community?
Those of us who keep harping on the poor treatment of the former faculty are often told that we are living in the past. I'm sorry that some folks find the discourse tiresome. But you know what? There is no reason to expect that people will stop complaining about an injustice when nothing has been done to correct that injustice. How long was Nelson Mandela in prison? Did people just change their minds over time, and gradually come to support apartheid?
On Friday morning, at the Master Plan presentation, I heard some applause when the topic of retirement housing came up. Really, is that a proper undertaking for an educational enterprise? On Saturday morning, I attended the Dawson Award presentation to the Alumni Work Project Crew. Now, I don't want to be misunderstood as bashing the Work Project. I think it is wonderful that alumni volunteer to help mitigate years of deferred maintenance to the physical plant. Members of the Work Project liken themselves to as close to a fraternity or sorority as Antioch has, but as I sat and listened to song after song, I began to think it was closer to the truth that Work Project is more like Summer Camp: projects are completed, communal meals are enjoyed, legend and lore are shared, songs are written and sung. Camp is great, but who here is living in the past? More to the point: as I sat and listened to the older alumni talk about Work Project, it seemed increasingly clear to me that they identified Antioch as being composed of its buildings; in restoring the campus buildings, they are restoring Antioch. As I have said on numerous occasions: a building has never educated anyone. When I think about Antioch, I think of it as (1) an educational model, and (2) a community of practice.
The saddest part of Reunion 2012, for me, was the confirmation of a suspicion: there really are generational differences between Golden Age alumni and more recent graduates of Antioch. I think this is basically a difference between having been educated in Modernist and Postmodernist paradigms and cultural circumstances. Despite their characteristically Antiochian individualism, the Golden Agers (or at least, those present) seem comfortable with the notion of Leadership, whereas Antiochians of my generation are more comfortable with the notion of Process (in both cases, the question is, what guarantees a good outcome for the Institution?). The Modernist/Postmodernist split also helps explain differing attitudes toward public discourse: Unanimity and universality are important values in Modernity; dissent and diversity (of opinion) are more highly valued in postmodern, poststructuralist, and postcolonial contexts. Again, the question is about which mode guarantees a better outcome for the institution. Those of us educated in a postmodern paradigm see unanimity and universality as stifling and marginalizing of real, incommensurable differences. We understand that the airing of diverse and even dissenting opinions is a requirement of deliberative, democratic processes, and does not represent a threat to either community or institution (in fact, inclusion of dissent into the decision-making process strengthens the institution and community). Over the course of the weekend, I heard several students joke about the emphasis on "positivity" at the New College; while that is probably good news for older alumni who are wary about identity politics, to me it seems like a dangerous limitation to place on public discourse (is all news happy news?). Would we have tolerated a requirement of positivity in discourse had one been issued by the Bush administration?
Later on Saturday morning, I asked a panel on Current Antioch if they had any plans to heal the institutional rift with the recent past. The panel moderator suggested that healing would have to begin with forgiveness (which I thought was another "blame the victim" answer), and that any question or discussion that was insufficiently positive was a hindrance to the progress of the institution. The point I was trying to make was this: if New Antioch persists in disparaging my faculty, my classmates, and my educational experience as "inferior" to that of the Golden Age alumni, then my generation is unlikely to step up and give money when the Golden Age alumni, inevitably, go the way of all things. By ignoring the need for some kind of reconciliation on the faculty/community issue, New Antioch is guaranteeing a financial crisis in its future.
Or maybe sooner. On Saturday night, Mark Roosevelt stressed the fact that the College needs more money. Mr. Roosevelt said that it was time for alumni to stop "hedging their bets" and to go "All-In" for Antioch. He identified four major donors without whom the College would not be operating today, and urged the rest of us to give, give, give, and get more of our friends to give. He appears to want us to love Antioch unconditionally. He used what he described as the current buzzwords in philanthropy: Audacity, Fearlessness, Ownership. Evidently, Mr. Roosevelt and I have different understandings of the meaning of "ownership." A sense of "ownership" is not engendered by being evicted from one's home.
Maybe Antioch does not really need its recent alumni. Maybe, in the calculus performed by the secretive Board of Trustees (who knows what they think, when they don't publish the minutes of their meetings?), the demographic bulge of the aging baby-boomers is enough to get Antioch College in the black, financially. Maybe they are the target market for the eco-sexy, small footprint retirement community. Maybe there's enough of them for New Antioch to be comfortable dispensing with those of us who have yet to ripen as low-hanging fruit, especially since there are fewer of us to begin with and the economy has not been kind to us. But that is not really the impression that Mr. Roosevelt gave on Saturday night. He wants us, all of us, to be "all in."
In his address, Mr. Roosevelt said that Antioch's identity was as the place that integrates academics and co-op. He didn't say anything about the third leg of the Antioch tripod, Community Governance, or anything about Antioch's legacy of Social Justice (let us not forget that Antioch started with Horace Mann, and not with Arthur Morgan). Perhaps he is worried that the emphasis on these aspects of Antioch's legacy and curriculum interfere with "positivity."
The requirement for "Positivity" plus the requirement to be "All-in" equals "Love it or leave it." Well, I'm sorry, but if I'm being asked to Love Antioch or Leave It, then I'm leaving. As long as New Antioch raises its middle digit to me, my community, and the quality of my education, it can expect a response in kind. Additionally, I do not believe that legitimate institutions of higher education cavalierly ignore AAUP standards, let wealthy donors determine who is or isn't on the faculty, or turn their campus into a retirement village. I also don't think that this supposedly "independent" Antioch should be implementing the University's old plan, or should need to ask the University's permission to make changes to the "assets" (which the University evidently expects to own again in the future).
So, I figure one of three things will happen: (1) the New Antioch will fail its accreditation, and ownership of the recently-refurbished property will revert to the University, as per the existing agreement; (2) New Antioch will succeed until 15-20 years from now, when the Golden Age alumni have succumbed to mortality and we more recent alums, long alienated, refuse to provide the necessary financial support; at which point ownership of the College property will revert to the University; or (3) New Antioch will succeed on the dubious merits of its plan to enlist Golden Age alumni in its retirement village, without any need for my participation.
Fine. New Antioch, you have finally convinced me that you are the non-successor institution you claim to be. My community continues to exist, in exile. You know where to reach us when you're ready to apologize. Until then, please consider me all-out.
- Dan C. Shoemaker, Ph.D.
Antioch College Class of 1992