University presidents played key role in rejection of ACCC
- Published: June 5, 2008
When the Antioch Univerity Board of Trustees on May 8 rejected the Antioch College Continuation Corporation’s proposal to save the college, a significant factor was the opposition to the proposal from the presidents of the university’s other five campuses, according to former trustee Paula Treichler in an interview last week. Treichler, an advocate for saving the college who felt pressured to step off the board shortly before the May 8 vote, stated that the role of the campus presidents in the board’s deliberation seemed at times inappropriate and manipulative.
“They were brought in at strategic times to put pressure on the trustees to favor the university over the college, when there was no one to speak for the college,” Treichler said.
The campus presidents’ opposition to the plan was strongly stated during board conference calls both by the presidents themselves and by Antioch University Chancellor Toni Murdock, who said that if the trustees accepted the ACCC’s plan, it was likely that all or most of the campus presidents would resign, Treichler said. Those trustees who opposed the ACCC’s proposal cited the campus presidents’ concerns as a reason, she said.
Given the extent of the concerns, ACCC members were troubled that they were not able to speak directly with the campus presidents, according to ACCC co-chair Eric Bates.
“We were prepared to fly out to each of the campuses and talk with them,” Bates said this week. “We were eager to meet with them and address their concerns.”
However, the ACCC was not allowed to speak to the presidents, he said. The presidents and the university chancellor comprise the University Leadership Council, or ULC.
“Whatever the ULC’s position on the proposal, one can say they were ill informed since they had not had the opportunity to have a discussion with the authors of the proposal,” Bates said.
Even more troubling was that the ACCC’s attempts to address the presidents’ concerns seemed to be misinterpreted and to contribute to the distrust between the groups, according to ACCC co-chair Frances Horowitz, who is president emeritus of the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.
“Every time we attempted to address the needs of the ULC it got twisted and thrown back into our face,” Horowitz said. “I do honestly believe the justifiable concerns of the ULC were turned into fears and we were made out to be demons. The process by which that happened was quite poisonous and destructive.”
Last week Antioch University spokesperson Lynda Sirk said that the campus presidents did meet with the ACCC. Asked to be specific about who and when, Sirk said she would not do so because it would “not be appropriate to engage in a ‘he said, she said’ dialogue” with the ACCC.
Murdock and Board President Art Zucker were unavailable for comment, Sirk said on Friday.
The university presidents are David Caruso of Antioch University New England, Neal King of Antioch University Los Angeles, Michael Mulnix of Antioch University Santa Barbara, Cassandra Manuelito-Kerkvliet of Antioch University Seattle and Barbara Gellman-Danley of Antioch University McGregor.
All the presidents but Gellman-Danley are relatively new in their jobs, having been hired in the past several years, and all but Gellman-Danley were hired by Murdock, according to Treichler.
Attempts to talk with ULC members last week about their concerns were unsuccessful. Reached by phone, King of Los Angeles said that he was “not individually authorized to speak,” and Alexandre said she could not speak unless Murdock authorized her to do so. Other campus presidents did not return calls seeking comment.
A request to Murdock to allow the presidents to speak was turned down, according to Sirk on Friday.
The ACCC offer proposed $8.5 million for the college and $6 million for the other university campuses, in exchange for a reconfiguration of the university’s board of directors, with eight trustees chosen by the current trustees, eight chosen by the ACCC, and four agreed to by both groups.
The ACCC is composed of nine alumni, most of whom are either former university trustees or major donors. ACCC members are Bates, Horowitz, Laura Markham, David Goodman, Catherine Jordan, Lee Morgan, Terry Herndon, Barbara Winslow and Steve Schwerner.
According to Treichler, not long before the trustees voted on the ACCC proposal April 28, they received a statement opposing the proposal from the campus presidents, which stated that a reconfigured board would favor the college at the expense of the university, and could create panic among the campus’ faculty and students.
“We are very concerned that such an unprecedented action will cause accreditors (regional and professional), regulators (OBR), current and prospective students, and the University’s employees to lose confidence in the institution’s ability to manage its affairs and in its future viability. Such a severe loss of confidence could result in an exodus of campus senior leadership, faculty and staff, and students that could quickly lead to the collapse of the University,” according to the confidential document.
The ACCC proposal “lacks the specifics necessary to make it a binding agreement and it therefore leaves the specification of its intent to those with whom the agreement is made and who, in the future, will control the Board,” the document states. “We are also very concerned that, in their legal analysis of this proposal, the board’s attorneys raise very serious questions about the proposal in terms of the Trustees’ fiduciary obligations to act in the best interest of the whole corporation.”
The statement is signed by Alexandre, Caruso, Gellman-Danley, King, Manuelito-Kerkvliet, and Mulnix.
On April 28 the trustees narrowly approved the ACCC proposal, a vote which was not made public at the time, according to Treichler, who said the proposal passed after emeritus trustee Lillian Lovelace assured the trustees that she would speak with the campus presidents to address their concerns.
The board took a second vote on May 8 and rejected the ACCC proposal. The reason for the second vote was an ACCC-suggested change in the board composition, a suggestion the ACCC considered to be minor since the trustees had already approved the proposal. The ACCC was stunned when the trustees then voted against the proposal, Bates said in an earlier interview.
According to Triechler, less than 24 hours before the final May 8 vote, the trustees received a four-page document from university attorneys raising questions about whether the trustees were fulfilling their fiduciary responsibility if they accepted the ACCC proposal.
“Generally, the duty of loyalty requires loyalty to the corporation’s overall interests, the whole entity, and not to any constituent part of the entity, even if the Trustee may have some relationship or allegiance to the consituent part,” the document states. “We are concerned that during some of the more recent Board calls the discussions have not involved the statutorily required consideration of the purposes of the corporation or the discretionary considerations, including the consideration of the interests of all employees, suppliers, creditors and students, the economy, the community and societal considerations, or the long term and short term best interests of the corporation. Rather, the discussions have tended to focus almost entirely on ‘saving’ the College, without due consideration of the impact of any decision on the University as a whole, its mission and purpose and the longterm, as well as the shortterm, effects of the decision.”
The attorneys’ questions were not shared with the ACCC before the May 8 vote because they were “internal documents,” according to Zucker in a previous interview. The lawyers’ questions can be accessed at www.TheAntiochPapers.org.
University attorney David Weaver stated last week that he would not comment on the document. In an earlier interview, Murdock stated that she did not ask the attorneys to submit the document to the trustees, but rather they did so on their own accord.
No contact with ACCC
When the ACCC members became aware of the campus presidents’ concerns, they wanted to meet with them, according to ACCC co-chair Francis Horowitz in an interview this week. Initially, the presidents were to be included when the ACCC met for the first time with the trustees in Columbus in April, but at the last minute the presidents were not included, even though they were meeting at a separate location in Columbus at the time.
In a later phone call with Antioch University Los Angeles President Neal King, according to Horowitz, King told her that the campus presidents had been told the ACCC did not wish to meet with them.
Aware of the presidents’ concerns, the ACCC’s final proposal contained elements that they hoped would alleviate those concerns, according to Horowitz. That proposal included a promise of $6 million for the university campuses, to be paid $1 million a year, and the formation of a new board committee aimed at addressing the “financial and academic needs” of the university campuses, which the ACCC intended as a sign of their seriousness in addressing the needs of all of the campuses.
However, the ULC April 28 document cites this component of the ACCC proposal as a reason for their mistrust of the ACCC. “Our concern is that this [the committee] would marginalize the importance of the nonresidential campuses and result in a Board with contending factions,” the document states.
The ACCC members felt frustrated that their attempts to reach the presidents seemed to be misinterpreted, according to Horowitz.
Asked about her position on the ACCC proposal last week, Antioch University McGregor President Barbara Gellman-Danley said of McGregor, “We didn’t take sides. We were classy.” When asked to speak to her signature on the statement from campus presidents opposing the ACCC offer, Gellman-Danley said that she could not comment on the document because it was not in front of her.
Focus on confidentiality
Treichler went off the board before the second vote on the ACCC proposal because she felt she had no other choice, she said last week. Zucker was upset that information from the board’s April 28 conference call had leaked, and stated that unless the person responsible for the leak stepped off the board, there would be no vote. Treichler believed that the ACCC proposal would then be doomed, so she stepped off the board on May 8 before the second vote.
Treichler had responded to a phone call from an Antioch College student shortly after the April 28 board conference call and she told the student that there had been a good outcome for the ACCC in an attempt to reassure her, she said. Others then became aware of that conversation.
An Antioch College alumni, Treichler was raised in Yellow Springs. Her father taught for Antioch and her mother, Jessie Treichler, was an administrator who brought minority students to campus, including Coretta Scott, who later became Coretta Scott King.
The university leaders place great emphasis on confidentiality, according to Treichler, who said that at the beginning of each conference call trustees were asked to recite individual oaths agreeing to confidentiality.