Antioch faces myriad challenges
- Published: February 3, 2011
The revived Antioch College is moving forward toward its goal of welcoming its first class of new students next fall, according to new President Mark Roosevelt at last Saturday’s meeting of the college’s pro tempore board of trustees. Along with its ongoing work on facilities and search for first-year faculty, the college recently underwent what looks to be a successful first step toward achieving accreditation.
“There’s tons more opportunities and excitement ahead of us than anything else,” Roosevelt said in a Saturday afternoon session open to the public.
However, the challenges facing the new college are huge, and the college’s staff, alumni and Yellow Springs community need to work together to surmount them, he said.
“We’re in a situation where we need to be about collaborative problem-solving,” he said. “We need to have a ‘whatever it takes’ attitude toward our work, and be willing to cross traditional boundaries.”
The issue of how the former Antioch College faculty should be included in the new college loomed large at the meeting. The former faculty issue is “the hottest of hot button” issues for college alumni, according to Alumni Board member Joe Foley, who gave a report on conclusions from a task force on the question. The controversy is “tragic,” Foley said, stating that, “We have to get beyond this to our main agenda.”
In a passionate plea, faculty emeritus Al Denman, who chairs a task force on community governance, called for “fast action and collaboration between the board and the task force,” to address the “injustice” of leaders not adequately including former tenured faculty members in the new college. Denman also asked the pro tem board to define its relationship to the Antioch College community.
“We feel the future of Antioch College is in great danger if you don’t get these problems solved,” Denman said of the task force. In a later statement, Denman said he was speaking for himself only.
However, it’s not the role of the board to take a stand on the former faculty question since the board doesn’t involve itself in personnel issues, according to Board Chair Lee Morgan.
“We’re ducking it,” Morgan said of the faculty issue, stating that Roosevelt is the one to make decisions regarding hiring.
Status of faculty search
The issue of former faculty is timely because the college has already launched its search process for new faculty members. Also, the college will likely soon submit a preliminary information form, or PIF, to the North Central Association, the accrediting agency, according to consultant and former Earlham College Provost Len Clark, who is overseeing the accreditation process. Clark stated that after the PIF is submitted, it will be difficult to make substantive changes.
Currently, the college plans to hire six tenure-track faculty members for next year, along with five positions with one-year contracts and three adjunct positions. Four of the six tenure track positions are currently being advertised and two will be soon, according to consultant and former Earlham College Librarian Tom Kirk, who is overseeing the hiring process. The tenure track positions are in philosophy, literature, 3-D art (sculpture), Spanish, anthropology and chemistry; the one-year positions are in history, psychology, math and biology; and adjunct positions are in performance art, media art and Portugese.
Response to the advertised positions currently ranges from 50 applications for the chemistry position to 200 applications for philosophy, according to Kirk.
The question regarding the appropriate role of former faculty includes the college’s ethical obligations to formerly tenured faculty members, and what college leaders and alumni perceive as the best way forward for the newly independent school. When Antioch University closed Antioch College in 2008, it was able to let go of tenured faculty members due to its declaration of financial exigency for the college. About 30 former faculty lost their jobs, and about 20 remain in the area, 14 of whom have formed the Antioch College Former Faculty Task Force.
The American Association of University Professors, or AAUP, the national advocacy organization for academics, has called on Antioch College leaders to reinstate former tenured faculty in positions for which they are qualified. Other supporters of former faculty state that the college has an ethical obligation to reinstate former faculty, and could be sanctioned by the AAUP if it does not. Supporters also emphasize that the new college would benefit from the experience of former faculty with their unique Antioch College educational model.
Those who support an open hiring process that does not give priority to former faculty say that it is in the college’s best interest to seek as broad a range of applicants for new faculty positions as possible. Some also worry that the new college, if it does not pursue an open nationwide search, could face legal problems by not following affirmative action guidelines. These people argue that former faculty are welcome to apply for the new faculty positions.
The issue became more controversial last fall when the first tenure-track positions were announced, and only two of those positions — philosophy and literature — are in areas of former faculty members’ expertise. One of those qualified for the tenure track positions has stated that she will not apply for the position if the college doesn’t adhere to AAUP recommendations.
In his report on the alumni board task force report, Alumni Board member Foley stated that board members’ research concluded that the college would face neither AAUP sanctions nor legal problems if it hires or does not hire former faculty.
“It does come back to moral and ethical decisions, not things imposed by outside forces,” Foley said.
The alumni board report, which can be found online at www.antiochcollege.org, does not reach a single conclusion regarding the course the new college should take, Foley said. Rather, it offers a series of narratives describing how alumni of different perspectives see the issue. While there is disagreement over what’s best for the college, the alums did agree that the hiring process “should be as close as possible to the standard in higher education,” which utilizes current faculty in hiring new faculty, Foley said. He also stated his own opinion, after a long career as an academic at Ohio State University, that no other decision is more critical than faculty hiring.
“This is the most important thing we do,” he said of hiring. “If we get it right, it doesn’t matter if we get other things wrong. And if we get it wrong, it doesn’t matter what else we get right.”
The task force on community governance has worked hard to create an orientation program and ongoing support for new Antioch College students that acquaints them with the school’s unique governing structure, according to task force member Jennifer Berman in a report to the board.
“We are very concerned with empowering students so that they know how to become leaders,” Berman said.
Orientation next fall for the incoming class of 25 students will include a five-day “Outward Bound” experience, using the resources of Glen Helen to help students know and trust each other, Berman said. Emphasis on community-building “will be an ongoing process,” she said, with every Wednesday set aside for community-building activities. Some of these may include weekly community meetings and small affinity groups that discuss campus issues.
Students will gradually assume leadership positions as they become comfortable doing so, Berman said.
First step to accreditation
Feedback from a visit to campus last week from an Ohio Board of Regents, or OBR, peer review team seemed positive, according to Len Clark, the consultant who is overseeing the college’s accreditation process.
Within several weeks the college will receive an official report of the visit, which could include the team’s suggestions for changes, which are optional, or recommendations, which would be mandatory changes that could slow down the college’s progress to its opening in the fall.
“We have an informal sense from the enthusiasm of the group that we’re not likely to receive any recommendations that will deter us,” Clark said. “We feel relatively good about the visit.”
However, Clark made clear that the OBR visit is only a first step toward accreditation. Specifically, the OBR team’s task is to determine whether Antioch College should be allowed to grant degrees. If the team gives Antioch a favorable review, the college is then allowed to apply for accreditation from the North Central Association, or NCA, the accrediting agency. The college’s preliminary application form for accreditation will then be sent to two reviewers, who will determine whether the college is ready to be considered for candidacy. If the reviewers give a thumbs up, an NCA team will visit the campus, perhaps next November after classes have begun, Clark said. If the site visit goes well, the college can be admitted for candidacy, a process that will include further site visits.
In a sort of catch-22, a college cannot be granted accreditation until it graduates its first class, so that the college’s first group of students risk going through a four-year program without getting official credit. However, if all goes well and the college achieves accreditation within 12 months of that first graduation, those students will receive retroactive credit. Attaining accreditation status is especially important because the college cannot receive federal financial aid without it, Clark said.