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Alumni pledge to keep Antioch College going, independent

The Antioch College Alumni Board came out fighting at last weekend’s meeting in Yellow Springs, throwing its collective weight — the group represents 18,000 college alumni — behind efforts to keep Antioch College open regardless of the outcome of the ongoing negotiations between the Antioch College Continuation Corporation, or AC3, and the Antioch University Board of Trustees.

“In response to the Antioch University Board of Trustees’ unilateral announcement that the College would be closed on June 30, 2008, alumni met with students, staff, faculty and townspeople to plan for “Non-stop Antioch,” said Alumni Board President Nancy Crow in a statement released Monday. “We will not let it die.”

The three-day regularly-scheduled meeting brought to town about 25 alumni leaders from around the country. Energized by the university’s announcement Feb. 22 that the college will close this summer because time ran out on negotiations, the alumni board members committed to a very different scenario.

The alumni board members emphasized that their first hope is for a positive outcome to the ongoing negotiations, which seek to transfer ownership of the college from the university to the AC3 and make the college an independent liberal arts institution. But if the AC3 and university trustees do not reach an agreement, the college will continue regardless, the alumni said.

On Sunday morning, the board of the College Revival Fund, which is made up of alumni leaders, committed at least $1 million to the Non-stop Antioch effort.

“We are hopeful that the negotiations succeed. If they do, we’ll be ready to run the college on this campus without interruption,” said alumni board vice-president Ellen Borgersen in the press statement. “If they don’t, we’ll find someplace else in Yellow Springs to operate and we’ll fight to reclaim the campus and the college’s other assets from a University administration that seems bent on destroying everything Antioch has ever stood for.”

Over the weekend, the alumni board also directed its legal committee to “explore all legal avenues to protect the name, assets and reputation of Antioch College,” and resolved to support “any legal actions that might be brought by faculty, students, staff, donors and others with an interest in the survival of the college.”

Alumni board leaders also made plans for a nationwide direct action weekend March 15–16, and a national fundraising weekend April 5–6, along with a public relations effort to counter what the alumni see as negative publicity from the university.

Last weekend’s schedule featured many events that brought together the alumni, faculty, students and villagers to discuss the fate of the college. That collaboration helped to fuel the alumni board’s determination to keep Antioch College alive, several alumni board members said.

The weekend’s significance, according to Catherine Jordan of the alumni board and the AC3, is that “the Antioch College alumni association is here in full force, energized and consistent in its support for keeping Antioch College open and healthy for the longterm future. I continue in my deep appreciation for the courageous work of faculty, staff, students and community members who are keeping our eyes on the prize. This is a hard and long fight and it is well worth fighting.”

Questions to AC3

On Friday morning alumni leaders directed questions to AC3 co-chair Eric Bates, via a conference call, regarding the status of the negotiations. While on Friday Bates reported that the AC3 was still waiting to hear from the university, he said on Monday morning of this week that the university negotiating team had contacted the AC3 and that negotiations will continue. He said he could not be more specific regarding the time frame.

On Friday Bates also responded to questions and concerns about recent actions which seemed to many alumni board members to undermine the AC3’s attempts to reach an agreement with the university.

In one such action, the university trustees executive committee rejected the AC3’s request to meet with the entire board during its February meeting to present its business plan. According to Antioch College Chief Operating Officer Andrzej Bloch at a recent meeting, the request was rejected because the AC3 had missed the Feb. 15 deadline for presenting a written business plan, and because meeting with the entire board would violate the guidelines for negotiations that the AC3 agreed to.

In his conference call Friday, Bates disagreed with Bloch’s statements. The AC3 had never agreed to a Feb. 15 business plan deadline, he said, but the group did have the plan ready in time to present it to the entire board.

“We had a business plan and we had one as scheduled,” he said. “The business plan is a red herring. It’s not why agreement has not been reached.”

By speaking about the negotiating process and the business plan, Bloch had violated the confidentiality agreement that both sides had agreed to, Bates said.

The AC3 also never agreed that its negotiations would not include meeting with the entire board of trustees, he said, stating that “having a fully informed and actively involved board of trustees is always important but especially during a time of crisis like this. The trustees are the ones who will make the ultimate decision. They need to play a more active role.”

The negotiating team for the AC3 is Bates, alumnus David Goodman and their attorneys. For the trustees, the negotiating team is University Chancellor Toni Murdock, Board of Trustee Chair Art Zucker, University Chief Financial Officer Tom Faecke and two attorneys. Out of the university negotiating team, only Zucker is a graduate of Antioch College, Bates said.

Bates stated that he could not comment on the content of the negotiations due to the confidentiality agreement.

Asked if he has hope that the negotiations will result in an agreement, Bates stated that he believes making the college independent is in the best interest of not only the college but also of the university.

“The hope is that self-interest will rule,” he said.

Support for faculty

Also on Friday morning, the alumni leaders met with college faculty and student leaders regarding the current situation on campus. While some recent university actions seemed to alumni aimed at getting rid of faculty and students, many faculty and students remain committed to staying, several said.

Most faculty don’t want to leave, according to faculty member Susan Ecklund-Leen, who reported the results of a recent survey that shows faculty are willing to make sacrifices to stay. For instance, she said, the majority of faculty said they would work part-time, or teach part-time along with working in an administrative capacity.

“The sentiment of the faculty is that we love this place and we love our students,” she said. “We want to be here.”

The events of the last year have been undeniably discouraging to faculty, according to faculty member Hassan Nejad, who said that “many faculty, students and staff feel we have been betrayed, feel we have been occupied, feel we have no voice. It feels that the values we have been taught here have been violated. We feel our identity, our pride and integrity have been taken away from us.”

But faculty remain committed to Antioch College because they believe in its mission, and the unique learning experience it offers, he said.

“We must keep this jewel of American higher education going,” he said.

Many students also want to stay, according to second-year student Jeanne Kay, who herself transferred to Bard College this winter but returned to Antioch after a short time. However, students are confused by the recent university press release that the college will close, along with letters recently sent to parents announcing the college’s closure next year, according to Community Manager Chelsea Martins.

The college suffers from its negative publicity, according to faculty member Scott Warren, who said that the university public relations office does not announce the achievements of faculty or students, including the three Antioch graduates last year who became Fulbright scholars.

“We’ve been having trouble getting the real story out,” Warren said. “Our PR machine is great only when the story is that the college is closing.”

Even though the publicity has been negative, students still want to come to Antioch, according to alumni board member Kristen Pett of the admissions committee, who said about 100 applications for new students next year have been received.

While alumni, faculty and students repeatedly stated that their first preference is that the negotiations between the AC3 and the trustees succeed, they said that many are seeking ways for the college to go on regardless. Some faculty and students have discussed a “Non-stop Antioch,” in which the college continues in the village, even if not on the campus.

There is precedence in Yellow Springs history for the college to reconfigure itself off campus and within the Yellow Springs community, according to faculty member Chris Hill.

“It’s not that we’re closing but that we’re expanding into the village,” she said. “This community has a history of providing sanctuary. We’re hoping to build bridges between community members and the college.”

Throughout the weekend, alumni board support grew for Non-stop Antioch.

“I think this is our mandate, to say that Antioch College is here to stay, no matter what happens,” Borgersen said to her fellow alumni board members on Friday.

At the board meeting Sunday morning for the College Revival Fund, the board agreed to commit at least $1 million to Non-stop Antioch.

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