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Leaks From Antioch

August 16, 2007

Critics of the decision to suspend the operations of Antioch College unveiled a new tool Wednesday: a Web site of documents, many of them leaked, about Antioch University management.

The Antioch Papers Web site contains documents sent to some alumni who have been critical of the university administration. The documents include materials prepared for the university board, materials prepared by the university chancellor, and reports about governance and the possible future of the college.

Organizers of the site say that the documents counter the university administration's contention that the college has been in a free-fall for years. In fact, the organizers say, the documents suggest that as recently as seven or eight years ago the college was building momentum, that the central administration is trying to build up the campuses away from Yellow Springs at the expense of the historic residential program that is now being suspended, and that the central administration wants to minimize the faculty role in governance.

As with many leaked documents, there can be a danger in drawing too firm a conclusion from some of the statements. A subsequent document, unleaked, could disavow the views expressed in one that was leaked, or provide more context. But there are certainly statements that the trustees and administration probably would prefer not to have been made public -- and that may add to the distrust of many students, alumni and professors for the central administration.

There is the suggestion, for example, that if faculty members are rehired for a revived Antioch College, that would take place without tenure. And there is a section in a governance document that seeks to justify minimizing faculty contact with trustees. (While plenty of faculty members nationally have little contact with trustees, Antioch has long prided itself on participatory governance in which professors play a central role.)

Mary Lou LaPierre, vice chancellor and chief spokeswoman for the university administration, said that she could not comment on the documents because of a lawsuit filed this week by professors seeking to block the university from suspending the college's operations. The documents could be evidence in the suit, LaPierre said. Asked generally about the views of those who produced the Web site, LaPierre said that those views "have been their contentions for some time," even without the documents. She said that those views were incorrect, but that she could not go into detail because of the pending suit. (Prior to the suit, the chancellor of the university offered this defense of recent decisions.)

A largely anonymous collective is gathering more documents for the Web site. Tim Noble, a 2002 alumnus, agreed to speak for attribution as he registered the domain name. He said that the documents show different things. Self-studies prepared for accreditors show that the college was turning itself around in the 1990s, and data cite increases in enrollments, retention rates and various measures of student satisfaction.

The board has described Antioch College as being "in gradual decline since the 1970s," Noble said, justifying its decision to suspend operations. But he said that it is the current priorities of the board that have created the problems. "They made a mess and they are denying responsibility for that mess."

The details provided about the future of the college also should concern people who care about it, he said. While the college is generally discussed in the documents as one Antioch campus among many, Noble said that in itself was wrong. "The college is the source of what Antioch is," he said. And the college has stood for "inclusive and representative decision making," while the current administration thinks otherwise, he said.

A few examples: A timeline prepared for the board about how Antioch College might be revived after it suspends operations calls for the first new faculty members to be hired in 2010. (All faculty will lose their jobs after the coming academic year.) While few details are provided about who would be hired or in what fields or what capacity, one detail is clear: The document specifies that they would not have tenure. That is significant because Antioch College is the only division of Antioch that has tenured faculty members, so its elimination would effectively eliminate tenure for the university system.

Aside from the question of tenure, the documents suggest that the administration is not anxious for professors to play too active a role in governance. In a report prepared last year by Toni Murdock, chancellor of the university, on the governance of Antioch, she wrote that "one might question whether there should be any communication between trustees and disgruntled faculty." While noting that professors have a legitimate role in questions of curriculum and academic programs and selecting academic officials, Murdock wrote that "potential controversy surfaces" when faculty members attempt "to influence board members through direct contact and participation."

She went on to cite "generally accepted analysis" that faculties are made up of spectators (60 percent), apathetics (30 percent), activists (10 percent). With this breakdown, she wrote, professors are unlikely to enjoy "participatory democracy" because they will be represented by the 10 percent who are activists. "Does the faculty really want 10 percent of its members to speak for all of them?" she asked. Leaving aside the question of whether those percentages of faculty are generally correct, many at Antioch say that they do not apply to the college, where there is a much stronger tradition of professors taking governance seriously.

Murdock's recommendation was that professors be encouraged "to focus on trustees as potential resources rather than as adversaries." Given that professors sued the board this week, it seems likely that they won't be swayed by the memo.

 

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