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Drive Starts to Preserve 'Non-Stop Antioch'

March 4, 2008

Antioch University's announcement last week that its board had "reconfirmed" plans to shutter Antioch College at the end of this academic year has prompted a flurry of activity to prevent that from happening.

Most notably, alumni and professors are working on plans for the faculty to continue to teach students -- even if that takes place without the university's endorsement. Plans being discussed would have classes held in various locations in Yellow Springs, Ohio, so that there would be no stoppage of Antioch instruction. Alumni announced that they have raised $1 million to support such efforts, called "Non-Stop Antioch."

For a college's faculty to simply pack up offices and take their classes off campus is not exactly common practice, and organizers are at work figuring out issues related to accreditation and state licensure.

Joe Foley, an alumnus active in the discussions, said that "every conceivable approach" was being considered. While some students and faculty members report that university administrators have dismissed these discussions as doomed to fail because of accreditation issues, Foley stressed that the issue of accreditation was "being taken very seriously," and that plans were being developed to deal with it. He acknowledged that one approach might be for Antioch College's participating faculty to somehow affiliate temporarily with another college with accreditation, but he stressed that many options remained on the table.

The best scenario, in the view of those planning Non-Stop Antioch, would be to avoid the need for leaving the campus. Negotiations are continuing between Antioch University's board and a group of college alumni called the Antioch College Continuation Corporation. The latter group wants to negotiate the transfer of the undergraduate college -- which university officials say they can't manage in light of falling enrollments and tight budgets -- to become a free-standing institution. Antioch University would then consist of the institution's distance education unit and regional campuses across the country.

The university had earlier announced that officials hoped these negotiations would eliminate the need to suspend operations of the college. But last week's announcement set off a chain reaction as alumni, professors and students who had been holding off on challenging the university's leaders resumed doing so.

Robert Devine, a former president of the college who is well respected by many professors and alumni, sent a stinging e-mail message -- since circulated among college defenders -- calling for Andrzej Bloch, the interim president, to step down. Bloch was sent by the university board back to campus last week to tell people that the campus would suspend operations -- a message that continues to infuriate many on the campus who believe the university board is not negotiating in good faith.

Devine wrote to Bloch that "you served as an errand boy for the university in delivering a message of dubious origin and of dubious meaning, and then refused to clarify, elaborate or interpret. Once again, your pronouncements served to confuse and demoralize the community, and created turmoil rather than providing clarity and leadership."

Continuing, Devine wrote that "your role has consistently involved obfuscating, distorting and misrepresenting the situation. The communications linkage with the university and the board has been all but dysfunctional. Over and over again you have muddied the waters, and have been an obstructionist with regard to efforts to keep the college open."

A spokeswoman for Antioch University said that neither Bloch nor other university officials would be responding to the call for his resignation or the critique of his performance.

Last week's news -- in addition to ending the cease fire of sorts that had been in place between supporters of the college and the university's leaders -- has focused more attention on the scenario most feared by students, professors and alumni: a possible failure of the negotiations, resulting in the suspension of college operations. While university officials have said since they first announced suspension plans last June that the suspension would be only for a few years, many Antioch loyalists believe this could be deadly. With professors all out of a job, and students forced to leave, they fear that the disruption would be severe. In addition, the college's defenders don't trust the university to rebuild a college that reflects its historic ideals.

As negotiations faltered, one of Antioch's student publications -- The Blaze -- started to talk up the idea of "Antioch in Exile" as a way to keep the college going.

With a different name, that is in essence what the Antioch Alumni Board is now proposing.

Mary Lou LaPierre, vice chancellor and chief spokeswoman for the university administration, said that the alumni plans to keep Antioch going were so "hypothetical" that it "would be inappropriate" for the university to comment on them.

But Scott Warren, a faculty member who teaches philosophy and political science, said that the plan to keep the college running has generated considerable excitement. "The great majority of us are committed to it," he said. Also under discussion, Warren added, was reviving a faculty lawsuit against the university -- an action that professors withdrew when negotiations on the college appeared to be moving forward.

Warren added that although professors and students would like any temporary college to be accredited, that should not be viewed as an impossible hurdle. "We know that's going to be an issue. It might be that we'd have to operate without accreditation for a while," he said. "But the faculty are not only committed to that, we've had students saying they don't care. they are willing to go for a period of uncertainty."

"The university keeps throwing accreditation in our face as a huge insurmountable obstacle," Warren said. "But our attitude is that what we do is teach and what students do is learn. That's what really matters."

 

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