Negotiations continue between AC3 and board of trustees
- Published: February 28, 2008
In response to last week’s press release stating that Antioch College will close in June, the Antioch College Alumni Board announced a renewed commitment to its ongoing efforts to keep the college open.
“The Board of Trustees’ announcement, released as the Antioch College Continuation Corporation was in the midst of good-faith negotiations with the Board, was ill-timed,” said Alumni Board President Nancy Crow in a press release on Tuesday.
According to the board’s vice-president, Ellen Borgersen, the alumni are considering a variety of next steps, including legal remedies and direct action.
“The announcement appears designed to break the resolve of the many dedicated alumni who support an open, independent Antioch College,” she said. “This strategy has completely backfired. We will not let it die.”
The alumni board will meet in Yellow Springs this weekend, Feb. 29 to March 2. The agenda includes an open discussion of strategy, and will determine next steps. For more information, visit www.antiochians.org .
The weekend’s events include a panel discussion at 9 a.m. Friday and a community dinner at 5:30 p.m. Friday night at the Antioch Inn, at which Crow will speak.
Negotiations are continuing between the Antioch Continuation Corporation, or AC3, and the Antioch University board of trustees, according to both AC3 and board spokespersons this week. And while each passing week makes more challenging the AC3 goal of achieving independence for the college and keeping it open, that goal remains firmly in the sights of AC3 organizers, AC3 cochair Eric Bates said.
“We are still in negotiations and trying to reach an agreement with the university to allow the college to continue operating,” Bates said in an interview Monday. “We are more convinced than ever that we have the resources and the expertise to make that happen.”
Confusion about the state of negotiations between the AC3 and Antioch University trustees arose after Antioch University officials on Friday sent out press releases stating that, during their meeting in Los Angeles last week, the trustees had “reconfirmed the college’s suspension” and that the college would close in June.
According to the release, the trustees and the AC3 “ran out of time to reach an agreement.”
However, the press release came as news to the AC3, who in their own statement that day said that nothing had changed regarding the negotiations.
“The decision to make that announcement was a unilateral one made by the university,” Bates said. “It doesn’t strike me as very helpful.”
Antioch University Trustee Paula Treichler said this week that at the end of the three-day trustees meeting last week, the trustees urged Antioch Chancellor Toni Murdock to resume negotiations with the AC3 in order to reach an agreement.
“I am extremely disappointed,” Treichler said of the board meeting’s outcome. “Some of us urged a different direction. We will be watching closely to see what the chancellor and her team do. We will expect regular reports on progress.”
All parties agree that the more time that passes before an agreement is reached, the more difficult it will be for the college to remain open next year.
Last week’s regular meeting of the Antioch University Board of Trustees was the deadline originally set for an agreement between the AC3 and the trustees when the AC3 formed in December with the goal of receiving ownership of the college and making it an independent liberal arts college. All parties agree this week that that agreement has not yet been reached.
But there is disagreement on several other issues, including the reason for the university-released press statement that seemed to prematurely announce the college’s closure.
At an Antioch College community meeting Friday afternoon, Interim President Andrzej Bloch said the university released the press statement Friday even though the trustees’ meeting had not yet ended — it ran Thursday through Saturday — because the trustees had by Thursday evening finished their discussion on Antioch College and there was no reason to wait. Bloch had flown home from Los Angeles Thursday night to inform the Antioch College community of the trustees’ action.
In response to questions Friday, Bloch said that the trustees had not actually voted on the decision to close the college, but that the topic had been discussed.
In an interview this week, Murdock said there was “not a vote because there was nothing to vote on. The college has always been under suspension.”
But the press statement implied an official action had been taken that had not been taken, and that has led to a misperception that the college’s fate is sealed, a misperception that could impede continued negotiating efforts, according to Steve Schwerner of the AC3.
“Most of America now thinks the college will close,” he said.
Along with releasing the press statement, on Friday the Antioch College and Yellow Springs communities were suddenly alerted to an important meeting on campus. At that meeting, Bloch announced that the trustees had reaffirmed the college’s suspension, although negotiations would continue. He encouraged Antioch students and faculty to begin making other plans for next year.
But during the Friday meeting, Schwerner, who was attending, received a phone call saying the trustees planned to meet again regarding Antioch the following day and that no official decision had been made. Schwerner announced the phone call’s content at the meeting.
Why no agreement?
The AC3 in December formed a corporation that seeks independence for the college. At the same time, the board of trustees charged Murdock with exploring the possibility of transferring the ownership of the college to the AC3. If deemed feasible, an agreement was to be reached at the trustees’ February meeting. However, if the transfer did not occur, the two parties agreed that the college would close as originally scheduled.
The AC3 delivered a letter of intent to the trustees at the end of January. Since then, negotiations have continued, although the university administration and the AC3 on Friday gave conflicting views on the negotiation’s progress.
According to Bloch on Friday, significant progress has been made and he has seen the two sides “move closer.” However, Schwerner said he had seen little progress in the negotiations.
This week Bates said he could not comment on the sticking points in the negotiations because both sides were pledged to confidentiality.
“We’re waiting to hear what the board wants us to do next,” he said.
According to Bloch on Friday, an agreement was not reached by the board meeting because the AC3 did not provide a written business plan to the trustees by a Feb. 15 deadline.
In response, Bates said, the AC3 “has a detailed written business plan that demonstrates our capacity to continue operations of the college that was prepared and available.”
The AC3 sought to present the business plan in person to the trustees in Los Angeles last week; however, the board’s executive committee turned the request down.
On Friday, Bloch said that the AC3 request was turned down for two reasons. First, he said, “a direct presentation to the board was outside the agreed upon process” that the AC3 and the trustees had decided on. And secondly, “a business plan is not something you present as a PowerPoint presentation.” Rather, he said, the plan needed to be presented in writing so that it could be analyzed by experts.
The AC3 has so far only met with the university’s negotiating team, which consists of Murdock, Board President Art Zucker, University CFO Tom Faecke and two university lawyers. The AC3 had never agreed to forego meeting with the entire board, Bates said.
“We think that a fully formed and involved board is important in a decision of this magnitude,” he said.
According to Murdock this week, the AC3 request to meet with the board was rejected because, “We had a process set up and they had agreed to the process. They were ahead of themselves.”
The complexity of the talks contributed to the AC3 being turned down, according to Murdock, who said that the AC3’s meeting with the board would undermine clarity.
“It’s too complex at this stage to be throwing things at the board piecemeal,” she said.
Asked if any board members wanted to meet with the AC3, Murdock said she did not know.
Zucker was unavailable for comment this week, according to university spokesperson Mary Lou LaPierre.
According to a trustee, the sentiment of the board became more open to the AC3 efforts during the board meeting, and had the university sent out the press release at the end of the meeting Saturday rather than Friday, it would have been more positive.
The university negotiating team has been “asked to respond to the AC3’s last letter and keep the conversation going,” Murdock said.
Asked at what point it would be too late to reach an agreement to keep the college open this year, Murdock said, “We’re concerned that we have reached that deadline. We’re going to have to move fast to continue.”
There is not yet a specific time planned for the next meeting between the AC3 and the university negotiating team, Murdock said on Tuesday.