Last week's announcement that Antioch University's board was open to considering a plan to avoid suspending the operations of Antioch College brought uncharacteristic peace to a campus where many students, professors and alumni distrust the central university administration and board. The distrust is back.
On Friday, the university's chancellor, Toni Murdock, announced that Steven W. Lawry was stepping down immediately as president of Antioch College. Lawry had earlier announced plans to leave at the end of year. No reason was given for his immediate departure, nor did the announcement indicate who made the decision that he would leave immediately.
While several press accounts and statements from Antioch officials over the weekend implied that the decision was Lawry's, multiple knowledgeable sources said that Murdock forced Lawry to leave because she was angry over his public calls for reform of the college's governance. Relations have so deteriorated that Lawry -- the Antioch official who has the trust of alumni, student and faculty leaders -- has been barred from campus or from contacting alumni. (The latter ban will apparently be discussed at meetings this week because it conflicts with statements from university leaders that Lawry would be working with alumni leaders to come up with a plan to keep the college operating.)
Antioch University's board announced in June that it would suspend operations of Antioch College, the liberal arts institution based in Yellow Springs, Ohio, that was founded by Horace Mann, at the end of the coming academic year. Since then, supporters of keeping the college operating have been deeply critical of the university's board and administration. That anger subsided a bit with last week's news about the board being willing to consider plans for keeping the college open, but the anger appears to be returning in force.
Many again doubt the commitment of the board to keeping the college open. Rumors also were flying around the campus and alumni networks over the weekend that the central administration was taking over the college's fund raising operations. Locks were reportedly changed on some offices and e-mail access changed. One of the major points of dispute between alumni and the university administration is who will control fund raising. Many fear that the college will not be able to raise money if potential donors feel the funds could end up helping other parts of the university.
Mary Lou LaPierre, vice chancellor and chief spokeswoman for the university administration, is usually quick to rebut various rumors about the university. But on Lawry's reported dismissal, she said she didn't know. She added, though, that "given our current situation and the need to provide our new and continuing students with a rich academic residential year, the chancellor has put in place a team to achieve that goal." On fund raising, she said that the board and administration "intend to collaborate in an unprecedented way" with alumni leaders.
Lawry declined to comment on his departure, except to say: "I've had a wonderful experience at Antioch. We've strengthened the college's academic offerings. Our intellectual and social environment better embraces a diversity of perspectives. I leave feeling very supported by the Antioch College communty."
Rick Daily, treasurer of the Antioch College Alumni Board of Directors, said in an interview Monday that Lawry's dismissal was "unnecessary" and "counterproductive." At a time that the university needs to build the confidence of college supporters, he said "this didn't help build confidence."
"Steve was a very valuable guy for us," Daily said. "He's passionate about the college, about the need for a revised governance structure, where Antioch College will be self-governing within the university. We need that passion."
Daily, who will be on campus this week negotiating with university officials, said he did not understand why Lawry was barred from campus. Daily said he was still hopeful that the board would agree to keep the college running, but he stressed that he didn't think the board had moved away from its original take on the issues. "They are committed to shutting the college down. That's their plan, and all they've agreed to do is talk to us."