Antioch College begins search process—Faculty issue is complex
- Published: November 25, 2010
Taking significant steps toward welcoming its first class of new students next fall, the revived Antioch College finds itself facing perhaps its most uncomfortable challenge since gaining independence from Antioch University: deciding who should teach those new students.
The challenge includes many facets: what, if anything, is the revitalized college’s obligation to its former tenured faculty? Beyond any obligation, is it in the college’s best interest to rehire experienced faculty, or to start over with new faces? Overall, the question involves who or what, exactly, carries the “Antioch DNA” and, if the revived college values that DNA, how to best ensure its continuation.
Tensions among some alumni regarding the college’s obligation to former faculty escalated recently after college leaders announced that they are beginning national searches for faculty positions, an action that made clear the college’s decision to not automatically reinstate, or give priority to, former tenured faculty.
That decision sparked an alumni-led petition signed so far by more than 400 people urging the board pro tem, the college’s governing body, to give former tenured faculty members the “right of first refusal” on job positions, partly due to what petition organizers perceive as the college’s ethical obligation, and partly because they believe this choice is best for the school.
Many of the petition signers are college alumni from recent decades, and the issue to some extent pits younger alums against those who are older. According to Antioch College Board Pro Tem President Lee Morgan, many older alumni hold the opposite opinion, that former faculty should not have preference. And partly because the older alumni have the deepest pockets, their views are important to a school struggling with huge financial needs.
“Donors would not give if our process favored former faculty ahead of those turned up in a national search,” Morgan said in a recent interview.
The underlying question is whether the revived college is indeed a new, independent entity, accordng to Interim President Matthew Derr. College leaders believe that it is, as demonstrated by the college being required to go through the difficult process of becoming newly accredited.
“We cannot reinstate or reappoint people who were hired by Antioch University,” Derr said in a recent interview. “The college has an obligation to develop a hiring process that is its own. The only thing we’re arguing about is whether the college has a right to do its own hiring.”
That process must be rooted in fairness and transparency, Derr said, and a national search for positions is the way to ensure that fairness.
Last month, the college alumni board, which is different than the board pro tem, appointed a task force to make recommendations to the board pro tem on how best to address the issue of former tenured faculty.
According to New York City attorney Judith Church, a ’75 alumna and a task force member, in an interview last week, “This has been a passionate, difficult issue for many alumni.”
A significant aspect of the controversy is the college’s obligation to former tenured Antioch College faculty. Academic tenure may be awarded to a college professor after an extensive multi-year process that involves five to seven years of teaching at an institution, followed by a rigorous peer review. If tenure is granted, the professor has lifetime job security.
“Tenure is there to protect academic freedom, so that faculty members can speak their minds, can challenge their administrations, and can promote unpopular ideas,” according to Cary Nelson, an Antioch alum who is the president of the American Association of University Professors, or AAUP, which is the national advocacy organization for academics.
The AAUP, at the request of former Antioch College faculty, conducted an investigation into the closing of Antioch College. Its final report, which was approved by its 40,000 members and published last summer, imposed sanctions on Antioch University due to governance infractions. The report also called on the new Antioch College to reinstate the tenure of former faculty members, where appropriate.
Antioch College leaders traveled to the AAUP offices in Washington, D.C. last summer to discuss the situation of former faculty, according to Derr, who said the college initiated the meeting. College leaders stated their position that the college is not a successor organization to the former Antioch College, and therefore is not obligated to fulfill the AAUP requirement to reinstate tenured former faculty. However, the AAUP remained firm that it supports reinstatement of tenured faculty, according to AAUP General Secretary Anita Levy in a recent interview.
“They have a different perspective,” Derr said of the meeting with the AAUP.
College leaders and the AAUP agree that the revived Antioch does not have a legal obligation to rehire former faculty. Rather, the obligation is professional and ethical, according to the AAUP and alumni.
“No one is arguing that the college is legally obligated to do this,” said Ed Koziarski, one of the organizers of the online alumni petition. “We’re arguing that it’s the right thing to do.”
In question are the six new tenure track positions recently announced by the college to launch its new curriculum. Neither the AAUP nor former faculty suggest that the new college should reinstate all former tenured faculty, of which there are about 17 who have remained in the area and not taken other jobs. Fourteen of those former faculty members formed the Ad Hoc Former Tenured Faculty Committee, which has repeatedly requested an audience with the college board pro tem to discuss the issue. (In September, they met with Derr and a board representative.) The ad hoc group and the AAUP request that the college reinstate former faculty for those positions for which they are qualified.
Antioch College has traditionally considered tenure to be sacrosanct, and that commitment to tenure continues, according to Derr.
“We’re fighting the same fight as the AAUP,” said Derr. “We’re not trying to avoid tenure.”
But if that is the case, the college should be following the AAUP recommendations that they at least give preference to former faculty who are qualified for the new job positions, according to former faculty member Chris Hill.
“They get around this by saying, ‘we believe in tenure, just not tenure for you,’” stated Hill. “This is a fairly troubling position to take.”
Questions on first jobs
Since the announcement of the college’s first six tenure-track positions, it’s become clear to the former faculty that their opportunity to be a part of the new Antioch College has considerably diminished. Of the first six positions — philosophy, Spanish, 3-D art (sculpture and drawing), inorganic chemistry, cultural anthropology and literature — only two former tenured faculty, those in philosophy and literature, are qualified to apply.
According to Interim President Derr, the six positions advertised were chosen due to their importance to the new curriculum, which was announced last week and can be found online at www.antiochcollege.org.
After being charged with fleshing out general concept papers for the new curriculum, the Morgan Fellows drew up a list of the positions they thought were essential to have filled when the first students arrived. However, according to Morgan Fellows Jean Gregorek and Anne Bohlen, the list of initial faculty hires differs from the one they suggested.
According to Derr, former Earlham College Provost Len Clark, the accrediting consultant, made recommendations on the first six faculty positions based on the needs of the curriculum, after consulting with the Morgan Fellows.
To some advocates for former faculty, the initial list of job openings appears as a blatant attempt to cut former faculty out of the new college. For instance, the new curriculum includes three areas of arts education: performance art, media arts and 3-D art, or sculpture and drawing. Seven of the former tenured Antioch faculty specialize in either media or performance art, but the initial arts position the college is advertising is in 3-D art, the one area in which no former faculty member is qualified.
The choice seems especially baffling since former tenured faculty Louise Smith, a theater professional, and Jill Becker, a dancer, have suggested that they could share a single position, thereby offering students more arts options, according to Cary Nelson.
Responding to this concern, Derr stated that the 3-D arts position is considered the position with the most general arts knowledge, and that the person in that job, as with all of the initial six openings, “needs a broader range of skills” than someone in media or performance arts would have.
However, former faculty should not interpret the initial six positions as the only ones available in the near future, according to Derr, who said more faculty positions could open up within six months or a year.
Derr also emphasized that he hopes the former college faculty apply for jobs in their fields. All job descriptions for the new positions state that familiarity with Antioch’s unique educational model will be “highly valued” in applicants, and that indicates that former faculty’s experience with Antioch will give those who apply an advantage, he said, stating that he has assumed that qualified former faculty would apply.
“I hold the former faculty in high regard on both a personal and professional level,” he said.
Concerns over search
As tenured academics, former faculty were all hired through national search processes, and have participated in those of their colleagues, according to Gregorek and Bohlen. The ad hoc faculty group believes the college’s former faculty could bring valuable expertise to the search process, which is normally largely conducted by an institution’s faculty.
However, because there are no current faculty at Antioch College, the search process will be conducted instead by retired faculty and alumni, who will review applications, with final decisions being made after the January arrival of Mark Roosevelt, the new college president.
“This is a very unusual search process,” said consultant Tom Kirk, the retired Earlham College head librarian who is forming the search groups, referring to the lack of faculty involvement.
AAUP President Cary Nelson stated a variety of concerns regarding the search process. Because many of those on the committees are long retired, they may no longer be aware of recent developments in their discipline that would be useful in judging candidates, he said. Also, search committees function best when participants know each other and meet face to face, but these searches will rely on electronic communication and meetings over the phone.
“This is the single worst academic process I’ve ever seen,” said Nelson.
But college leaders have worked hard to create a process that is effective and equitable, according to Derr, who in a previous job at Earlham knew both Clark and Kirk. It seemed important to have people directing the process who have no stake in the outcome, he said, and he respects both men as fair and open-minded.
“In this moment of history, we’re only trying to put together a process that this board can feel confident about,” Derr said. “We face a lot of ethical concerns, and one is to a fair and open process.”
Fair to whom?
But some former faculty members question the college leaders’ notion of fairness.
“My question is, why be fair to strangers?” said former tenured faculty Gregorek, who is one of the college’s three Morgan Fellows (Fellow Beverly Rodgers recently left for another job). “Why be unfair to those who kept the college going the last 25 years?”
Former faculty were instrumental in bringing the college back to life, they believe, first by creating Nonstop Institute, which continued Antioch’s traditions and classes even without a campus, and by filing a faculty lawsuit that helped to keep pressure on Antioch University to negotiate.
And before the college closed, the faculty, most of whom are long-term, worked many years for pay below that of their colleagues in peer institutions. Many put a huge effort into jump-starting a curriculum overhaul imposed by the Antioch University board.
“We all feel betrayed,” said Gregorek, referring to the ad hoc group of former faculty. “We fought this long, hard fight to save the college, and when we won, we were thrown off the boat.”
Some alumni seem to blame the faculty for the college decline, according to former faculty member Hill, who said she believes such alumni are not well-informed. For instance, in the last instance of re-accreditation before the college closed, the North Central Association of Colleges, or NCA, in 2002 renewed accreditation, stating that even in the face of deteriorating facilities, “This is a place where administrators, faculty and staff appear to be extraordinarily committed to implementing the Antioch mission and academic excellence…”
“You see the desire to get rid of the problems of the recent past. But they’re looking in the wrong place for the reasons the college declined,” Hill said. “Those people on the board are not giving careful consideration to the NCA or AAUP report and instead are listening to opinions that are not well informed by the facts on the ground.”
In response to these concerns, Derr stated that the board pro tem has never instructed him to not rehire former faculty. Rather, he said, he has received clear instruction to conduct a process that encourages fairness and diversity.
An equally significant issue to former faculty and some alumni is how the revived college will prosper without at least some former faculty to help ensure the continuation of Antioch College values and educational practices, which many alumni believe are unique in the world of higher education. And added to the mix will be a new president, Mark Roosevelt, who comes with no experience in higher education administration.
“The key thing is to get people to think of how the new institution with no upper-class students and no experienced faculty members would function,” AAUP President Nelson said.“In the end there will be more new faculty than old ones, but to jump-start, they need some people who know what the resources are.”
One aspect of this concern is the relative uniqueness of the Antioch College educational model, and the ease with which new hires learn it, according to several long-term former faculty.
For longtime chemistry professor Stan Bernstein, who now sits on a search committee, the relationship between teacher and student is a critical aspect of that uniqueness, and sometimes those coming from traditional institutions have trouble adjusting.
“The Antioch way is not immediately obvious to others,” he said.
Ed Koziarski, one of the alumni organizers of the online petition in support of former faculty, also points to the teacher/student relationship as critical to the Antioch DNA.
“The heart of an Antioch education is the intense, trusting collaborative, challenging relationship that faculty form with students. These relationships generate the fierce loyalty that you see in alumni toward their professors,” according to Koziarski, a 1997 graduate, in a recent e-mail. “ In order to deliver what is unique about an Antioch education, the college needs to reopen with a core of professors who are already adept in this teaching style…”
However, the “Antioch DNA” resides in the college’s educational model, not in individuals, according to Board Pro Tem President Morgan.
“Every generation of alumni believe their faculty carried the Antioch DNA,” he said.
The Antioch College educational model can be taught to those who haven’t used it before, Morgan said, stating that the college will hire a dean of faculty who will be instrumental in helping to guide new hires.
In his fund raising travels across the country, Morgan runs into many alumni who oppose rehiring former faculty, he said.
“The alumni agenda is the future, not the past,” he said.
Judith Church of the alumni board task force acknowledges that she’s not intimately familiar with the practices in academia. But a process that’s open and fair to all comers seems to her to offer the best outcome for the new college.
“This gives the college the opportunity to see who’s out there, and also attract a more diverse pool,” she said. “The college could find itself with interesting and compelling candidates, and if we don’t look, we won’t know.”
Some alumni believe the most pragmatic path will be a mixture of seasoned faculty with those who bring fresh perspectives.
In the alumni board task force charged with studying the faculty issue,“We have a sentiment that for the college some combination of new faculty and former faculty” would be beneficial, Church said.
It’s important not to give any single group, even faculty, too much weight in determining the direction of the new college, according to faculty emeritus Al Denman, a member of a task force charged with helping to lay the groundwork for another unique aspect of Antioch College, its community governance.
The upcoming process of launching the revived Antioch will be “complex and dynamic” with more than 70 voices — those of faculty, administrators, students and staff — contributing to its creation, according to Denman. While the presence of some former faculty in the new staff would probably be “advantageous” to the new college, it’s not clear if their presence as current faculty would be more beneficial than having those individuals contribute as former faculty, in the same way that many retired faculty are now doing.
“Will Antioch values suffer without the presence of former faculty in the new facility? I don’t know the answer to that,” Denman said. “There will be so many participants present in the defining of that future.”