Faculty and staff vacate Antioch College campus this week
- Published: June 19, 2008
The laboratory where Antioch College geology professor Peter Townsend taught for 37 years was a mess of beakers, textbooks and research last week scattered half in and half out of the boxes scheduled to leave the science building. Up in the south tower of Main Building where the literary scholars perch, professor Jean Gregorek and faculty member emeritus Marianne Whelchel weren’t faring much better, wading through stacks of plays, poetry, literary anthologies and reams of student papers. With none of the fanfare often reserved for the departure of dedicated employees, about 100 faculty, staff and administrators swept out the last of their belongings to prepare for the shuttering of the college this week. Most of their contracts will end on June 30, with some health benefits extending until August of this year.
According to Suzette Castonguay, director of human resources for Antioch University, only the library, the Kettering Building and the maintenance office will remain operational on campus to house approximately 30 college and university employees who will continue to work after June. Located in the library will be three library staff members, two for the Antioch Review and about eight faculty and staff for co-op and Antioch Education Abroad, who will help the nearly 50 students scheduled to complete their Antioch College degrees by December, according to Andrzej Bloch, interim president of the college. Two staff members from the registrar’s office, two from the business office and a few from human resources will move to the Kettering Building, which will continue to house the Ph.D. Program in Leadership and Change, and the offices of the chancellor and vice chancellor, student loans and payroll, which service the entire university system, Castonguay said.
For reasons having to do with their contracts ending without the severance or sabbatical generally afforded to tenured professors, about nine faculty members are leaving the college for new jobs, Bloch said. And according to film and communications professor Anne Bohlen, at least 21 tenured faculty members have chosen to join the Nonstop Antioch effort to continue the kind of education they offered during their years at the college. Others are simply retiring, some before their chosen time, to begin new adventures.
As they cleaned out their offices, faculty and staff members recalled their time at the college as both turbulent and exhilarating. And all who were interviewed said that the passion of the students and the campus’s commitment to community and social justice were the reasons that compelled them to stay here.
Why they came
When Hassan Nejad first came to Antioch in 1981 and saw the boarded up buildings and low enrollment, he almost turned around and left. But the apartment he and his family had left in California was already rented, and Antioch was one of few institutions that wasn’t biased by the recent hostage crisis with his native country, Iran. Now he is grateful that they stayed.
As a professor of political science and international relations, Nejad said what really kept him here were his students. “I value the students’ passion for learning and independent judgement and for keeping me actively involved in my field by asking good questions,” he said.
Antioch also presented unique fiscal and managerial challenges, which Nejad chose to tackle as chair of the faculty in the early 90s, and then as dean of faculty and executive vice-president of the college under then-president Bob Devine. Together they proposed a five-year recruiting and renovation plan, which he believes had the potential, had it been adequately funded, to help the college recover, he said.
Psychology and sociology professor Chris Smith also considered leaving her second year at Antioch because of the problems presented by the lack of technology and the sometimes negative, dogmatic campus climate. But after five years, she also saw Antioch’s strengths in its ability to draw students who are intellectually curious and culturally and politically aware.
“Antioch, at its best, is the most amazing experience one can have as a professor,” Smith said.
Antioch College was the only school math professor Eli Nettles applied to when she was looking for a job eight years ago. She knew of it growing up in Piqua, and the self-defined majors and the passion of the students put Antioch on a plane unparallel to any other. “And I wasn’t disappointed,” she said of her time here.
The volatile issues she has been challenged to face, even as a faculty member, regarding privilege, race, class, and gender identity have taught both her and her husband, John Nettles, who directed the academic support center. “I look at things differently than I would at a different place,” she said. “I’ve loved Antioch, and I know this will be one of the top places I’ve taught when I look back on my career.”
Those qualities are also the reason co-op faculty member Tom Haugsby, who is retiring this year, chose to spend 33 years at Antioch. He identified deeply as a faculty member, he said, who coordinated job opportunities for students and then challenged their interpretations of those experiences. He was honored to be present for the insight students gained by making strategic use of the work opportunity to learn about themselves and the larger world, he said.
One student who had floundered a bit at Antioch and was a heavy alcohol user grew through the co-op, working in modest capacities in the food business and then in an urban high school with gang issues. Through his experiences and some personal care and attention, that student went on to become a scholar and a writer.
“Students at Antioch learn that they can make a difference and be an adult — that there is a place in the world for you, and that you are a person of substance with a contribution to make, someone to be depended on,” he said.
Antioch’s commitment to make the world better, encapsulated in its famous dictum, “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity,” is one that “nags at you,” Haugsby said.
“Some become famous, and others labor in obscurity, but they do it,” he said. “I am grateful to work in a place where you’re constantly asking yourself, ‘Can we do this better?’”
Freedom of a small place
As a small school that, especially in the past 10 to 20 years, has had departments of one, Antioch’s flexibility and independence has enabled faculty to build creative and progressive curriculums that have taken them all over the map.
In the geology department, Townsend took students during the summer three-week block courses on treks to Ontario, beginning at Sault Ste. Marie on Lake Superior and heading inland along the Ottawa and St. Lawrence river valleys, to look for igneous and metamorphic rocks such as granite and slate. They also went to eastern Ohio and the West Virginia hills to study sedimentary rocks and sandstone.
And instead of publishing for professional development, which is next to impossible for undergraduate students because of the refinement of scientific fields, Townsend partnered with students on environmental consulting projects for citizen’s groups. He also testified in court cases, including Bessie Williams vs. the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency in the early 90s, which forced the OEPA to retroactively enforce ground water protection rules for every air permit issued in the state and is considered one of the biggest environmental successes in Ohio, he said.
In the literature department, both Gregorek and Whelchel found during their time at Antioch that the school had a strong commitment to expanding the literary canon to include African-American, feminist and multicultural studies. As an Americanist, Whelchel was able to design courses using letters, diaries and oral histories as primary resources to reconstruct the lives of local farm women who survived the Depression, for example.
As a historicist with a focus on British and post-colonial literature and theory, Gregorek was able to apply current political and cultural perspectives on race, gender and sexuality to reassess both old works being discovered and new works being produced. Challenging students to see how racism may have affected Mark Twain’s works, for exampe, made a field defined by aesthetics as much as by social movement a very dynamic one to teach, she said.
Because of its historic commitment to community, according to Haugsby, Antioch always encouraged faculty and staff to contribute through their own professional development. In this way, long-time campus members were able to evolve the way that J.D. Dawson, who began as a math professor, did when he went from co-op to the dean of students office and ultimately became a fundraiser and long-time university board member. Peg Brown, who started out in the registrar’s office, became a member of the institutional research team because of an environment that instilled confidence and provided opportunities for growth, Haugsby said.
“The idea that one could see one’s life in many dimensions and learn how to develop those dimensions to benefit the university has been one of my most satisfying experiences here,” Haugsby said.
Choices for the future
Though the openness to new ideas in the past has been limited by the decision to close the college, members of the Antioch community, in traditional style, have found a way to create options for their future. One of those is through the Nonstop Antioch effort, which for tenured faculty member Anne Bohlen, presents the best opportunity to continue the teaching agreement she feels the college failed to honor when it broke the tenure agreement with all the faculty this spring.
Bohlen has taught film and communications at Antioch for over 16 years, and at 60, she anticipates difficulty finding another job without moving away from her community in Yellow Springs.
“Tenure is a mutual contract, you’ve agreed to invest in the institution, and they’ve agreed to invest in you,” she said. “And if you’ve had tenure for 10 years or more, you haven’t been looking, and it’s hard to get another job.”
Gregorek, who has taught at Antioch for 14 years, feels the same way. For her, joining Nonstop is a way to continue her relationship with a college whose progressive values she strongly believes in.
“I’m angry that the university made the decision to close this institution, and I want to be part of keeping it alive,” she said. “It is a risk. But you have to do what you’re heart tells you — especially in light of Horace Mann’s dictum — you have to fight for what you believe in.”
Others on campus have chosen, for various reasons, to look elsewhere. Eli Nettles found that as associate dean of faculty at Antioch, navigating the sensitive divide between faculty and administration created more tension than she signed up for when she chose to teach math. Though her experiences teaching at Antioch were some of the best she’s ever had, she is relieved to be joining the math department at Nashville State Community College next year where her husband has family and where he can play music.
Though he had hoped to end a long career at Antioch, Nejad now plans to finish out as dean of the School of American and International Studies at Ramapo College of New Jersey, a public liberal arts school with 6,000 students and one of four in the nation committed to the social justice and interdisciplinary learning that distinguished Antioch College.
With nine years in the economics department, faculty member Janice Kinghorn will start teaching at Miami University in the fall. And Chris Smith is leaving for a more stable position at a state school as assistant professor of psychology and human development at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay.
Still others who are leaving campus are simply retiring or leaving without specific plans. Anna Hogarty, who began working in the behavior research lab in 1965 and finished as an administrative aid in the president’s office with over 20 years of service to the college, will take some time off in northern Ontario and reassess future plans when she returns.
Adding insult to injury at the end of a long career, Haugsby has felt “sadness, disappointment and rage” at the university’s recent decision not to honor a retirement agreement Haugsby said was ratified in 2005. The arrangement included a relinquishment of his tenure to allow him and his wife Linda Hall to purchase a farm in Ohio to raise chickens, sheep and try living among the Amish. The Haugsbys have already sold their home in Yellow Springs and still plan to pursue the dream they’ve had since they met in high school, but the conflict has added more bitterness to his experience with Antioch, he said.
With a new proposal by the Antioch College Alumni Association to make the college independent of the university in the works, the future of the institution is still uncertain. But the absence of the faculty, staff, administrators and students who have already left because of the decision to close the school means that no matter what decisions are made, the college is forever more a changed place.