Antioch College

Major funds are needed to restart Antioch College

 

At a time when it seems to many that nothing can be done until everything is done to revive Antioch College, core alumni negotiators urged simplicity and focus on the number one task: separation of the college from Antioch University. At a meeting on Friday, Aug. 8, on the front lawn of a new Nonstop Antioch house, Antioch College Alumni Board representatives Lee Morgan and Matthew Derr presented an update on the process of creating an independent college.

The college and university collaborative task force continues to work on a letter of intent for the creation of an independent college to present to the Antioch College Alumni Association and the university board of trustees by the end of the summer or early fall, Derr said. To get impartial, professional advice on the complex issues involved in the division of an institution of higher education, last week the task force met with and retained the services of George K. Baum & Company, an investment banking and municipal bond agency, and the legal counsel of Higher Education Practice Group of Bond, Schoeneck and King, a law firm that services colleges and universities.

The information the task force received explained a little about why the efforts of the past year have been so fraught with disagreement over how to create an independent college.

“The good news is that I believe the university wants to separate [itself] from the college — they’ve reached a conclusion that they can’t build an independent college,” Morgan said during Friday’s update. “The bad news is it’s complicated. Untangling the balance sheets, the debts and assets, is difficult.”

Task force members include alumni representatives Morgan and Derr, University trustees Dan Fallon and Jack Mersalis, and neutral facilitator Rick Detweiler, who is president of the Great Lakes Colleges Association and serves as an “honest broker” and spokesperson for the group.

Though Morgan said on Friday that he was optimistic about the ability of the university and the college to reach an agreement, the most difficult task for the college, he said, would be raising enough money to grow an accredited four-year institution with an endowment and a compelling academic program that will ensure its long-term sustainability. He quoted numbers in the “tens of millions,” but long-time college development officer Risa Grimes, who now works at the College Revival Fund office on Xenia Avenue to raise funds for the Nonstop college effort, later said that the college would need support in the range of $300 million in order reach the goals that college supporters have in mind.

“At the end of the day the question is are these alumni going to put up enough money to build the college we want to see?” Morgan said. “If we can do that, I think we can be successful.”

To raise that kind of money, the key will be to generate a vision for an institution with a purpose that compels alumni, innovators, Yellow Springs community members and supporters across the country to make that vision a reality, he said. Even the investment bankers, Morgan said, recommended that the challenge was not about money, but about defining the college’s purpose.

“What’s the unique, compelling vision we have to elicit money from the alumni?” he said. “It’s not about money, it’s about purpose. It’s bigger than any individuals, it’s bigger than Nonstop, it’s bigger than Yellow Springs.”

It was Morgan’s recommendation that the college begin operating on a financially independent basis as soon as January 2009 in order to maintain current status with the physical facilities, faculty, staff, accreditation opportunities and revival efforts. Though the accreditation agency, North Central Association, estimates it could take Antioch up to three years to become fully functional again, Morgan believes that waiting that long is “untenable.”

The college closed its doors this summer, as the university board of trustees predicted when it announced the college was in a state of financial exigency in June 2008. After a year of failed negotiations between the university board of trustees and the alumni to secure a separation agreement, the trustees finally approved a resolution on June 7 inviting alumni to present a plan for an independent college. Toward that end, the trustees and alumni leaders selected representatives to the task force and together, on July 17, charged the task force to write a letter of intent. Organizers have said that the plan must address future college real estate and assets, status of the college’s bond principal (which according to task force mediator Rick Detweiler could potentially refer to any debt the college has), the Antioch College name and future fundraising rights of both parties.

The nearly 50 college supporters who attended Friday’s informal meeting had concerns about what the “new” Antioch College would be. College alumnus Gerry Bello wanted assurance that once it was rebuilt, the college would look, act and feel exactly as it had in the past, with a commitment to community government and to issues of social justice.

“There’s a great concern about revising the college from the outside rather than the inside…because we’ve listened to our detractors rather than to our hearts,” he said.

Both Derr and Morgan cautioned that though college supporters and leaders by definition as Antioch alumni would maintain a commitment to traditional Antioch values like classroom, co-op and community, the new institution was more likely to prosper with expertise from inside and outside advisors.

“In the next year we need to engage the community as broadly as possible to get those answers, and we also need advice from outside our community,” Derr said, referring to those outside the Antioch community.”

Toward a new college

Several of those gathered on Friday also asked how they could act most effectively now to promote the college’s future. According to a recent Web update from the College Revival Fund office, the alumni association has established a committee to recommend 11 candidates for a “pro tem,” or temporary, board of trustees for Antioch College. The pro tem board members need to demonstrate to the banks that hold Antioch College’s debt that they have the “financial capacity to make an independent Antioch College a viable undertaking,” alumni board president Nancy Crow wrote in the College Revival update.

The pro tem appointments will become official after both the trustees and the alumni board approve the letter of intent to separate, after which the pro tem board will add to its ranks.

Perhaps the first exercise of the pro tem board of trustees will be to shift the mindset of supporters from “loving the college to getting them to invest in the college,” Derr said in response to questions on Friday regarding the new board. “Frankly people aren’t going to send money on nostalgia,” Morgan added.

According to Crow, the pro tem board will also lead the community effort to establish a governance system for the new college and a set of bylaws that will define its own length of office.

Supported by alumni association funds, a core of faculty and staff began the Nonstop college effort last year to continue the college beyond the campus walls after it closed. A group of almost 30 current and emeritus faculty from Antioch and surrounding colleges have designed a curriculum of courses under the new name Nonstop Liberal Arts Institute that will commence this fall in coffee shops, churches, homes and other Yellow Springs locations. The program for traditional college-age and adult students involves the academic pursuit of issues such as the centrality of food to the health of a community, and the innovative beginnings that motivate and produce great scientific minds. The course catalogue can be accessed at nonstopinstitute.org.

“This is not just to keep the faculty busy until a decision is made — we’ve been meeting intensively to develop a concept of sustainability for a new college,” long-time college faculty member Hassan Rahmanian said. “These conversations are more than just ‘I’m getting paid to teach classes’…we’re building a vision which should have a voice in the next round of conversations about what the college should be.”

With over 20 students registered so far, the Nonstop Institute is hoping for a total between 30 to 50 students, Rahmanian said. Nonstop began renting the house at 113 East Davis Street last week, for recruitment and academic support staff, and organizers are looking for another space for faculty and guest speakers.

The new recruitment staff includes former Antioch Community Manager Chelsea Martens and former Antioch College student Jeanne Kay. Nancy Wilburn and Joan Meadows will provide business and administrative support, while Sharon Malson and Donna Evans will provide academic and administrative support for Nonstop. Information technology specialist Tim Noble is also located in the Davis Street house.

Nonstop’s College Revival Fund office at 716 Xenia Avenue has also grown to a total of nine alumni relations and development staff members, including Grimes, Aimee Maruyama, Fred Kraus, Wendy Ernst and Cheri Robbins and new employees Eric Miller, Robin Heise and Steve Duffy, all former Antioch College employees.

On Friday, though they spoke of the future, Morgan and Derr were careful to bring the conversation back to their present focus of separating the college from the university first, and then looking at how to pull an independent college up out of the ashes by its bootstraps. They expected to have a clear understanding of the situation by the end of the summer.

“By the end of August, we hope to have a very good sense of where this is going,” Derr said. “What comes after that is harder, but right now the focus is on separation.”

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