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In surprise move, trustees seek autonomy for college

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In an unexpected move last week, the Antioch University Board of Trustees passed a resolution calling for the Antioch College Alumni Association to create a process aimed at establishing an independent Antioch College. The action came on Saturday, at the end of the trustees’ regular meeting that took place last week at Antioch New England in Keene, New Hampshire.

“There is a historic opportunity here to rebuild an important national institution,” said Trustee Dan Fallon in an interview on Tuesday. “This is not a time for cynics, doubters or skeptics.”

The trustees’ resolution varies significantly from previous board statements, according to Board Chair Art Zucker on Tuesday, because the trustees acknowledge the need for an independent college, and because the trustees, rather than imposing a process, asked the alumni group to define the process to reach that goal.

“This is a dramatically different set of conditions,” he said.

While some college supporters did express doubts about the board’s action after a year of failed attempts to reach agreement to keep the college open, many college alumni leaders this week expressed willingness to marshall their energies for the effort, once again, to save the college.

“The Antioch College Alumni Association stands ready to continue Antioch College as a residential undergraduate four-year liberal arts program with shared governance and a tenured faculty,” said Alumni Board President Nancy Crow in a press release. “We thank the University Board of Trustees for making the decision to turn the process over to the elected representatives of the College alumni. By doing so, they have ended ten months of anguish.”

Alumni leader Matthew Derr of Massachusetts, who gave a presentation to the trustees shortly before they approved the resolution on Saturday, stated that it behooves the alumni to take action soon due to the difficulties of the past year’s efforts.

“We’re trying to build a process by which this moves forward quickly,” Derr said in an interview Monday. “We’ve been on an emotional roller coaster since last June. We’re aware that the clock is ticking and a lot of people are watching closely and with anxiety. It won’t take long to determine if we’re of a common mind.”

Overall, Derr said of the trustees’ action, “Whatever the motivations, I believe they’re ready to move forward.”

The trustees’ action came two weeks before the annual college alumni reunion, which will take place on the Antioch College campus from June 19–22. Since the announcement Saturday, the phones of those working with alumni have been ringing off the hook, according to Aimee Maruyama of the College Revival Fund.

“People want to trust and make it work,” according to Maruyama, who described her own response as “cautiously optimistic.”

Trustees’ statement

The one-page resolution by the trustees, released on June 8, states that, “Whereas, the Trustees have determined that Antioch College can best be brought to health, vigor, vitality and longterm sustainability through governance by an independent board of trustees,” and “Whereas, the Trustees stand ready to collaborate with the Antioch College Alumni Association to achieve these objectives. Now, therefore, be it resolved, that the Trustees request the Association create the necessary process, plans, and resources for the development of an independent four-year, residential liberal arts college in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and a business plan for the transfer of assets from the University, and to present those plans to the Trustees for their consideration and approval and that the Association present its timetable for implementing this request to the Trustees.”

The resolution came almost a year to the day after the university trustees announced in June 2007 that due to a state of financial exigency, the college would suspend operations in June 2008, with the possibility of re-opening four years later.

Several weeks following the June 2007 announcement, the alumni met in Yellow Springs and rallied to save the college. Their first effort, by the Antioch College Alumni Association, resulted in the raising of $18 million and a November agreement with the trustees to keep the college open. However, that agreement fell short of establishing autonomy for the college, and major donors balked, so the deal fell through.

In December, a group of former trustees and major donors formed the Antioch College Continuation Corporation, or AC3, with the intention of negotiating with the university to separate the college from the Antioch University system. However, negotiations between the AC3 and the board’s negotiating team ultimately failed in May, when the trustees rejected the AC3’s final offer to restructure the university board in exchange for $14.5 million for the college and other university campuses.

According to Fallon and Zucker this week, the June 8 resolution was not sparked by a specific event but rather grew from the board’s continued desire to find a positive outcome for the college. The trustees have since January recognized that Antioch College needs to be independent from the university, he said.

“During the course of our discussions it’s become increasingly clear that the best solution for the college is to have its own independent board of trustees,” Fallon said, stating of the current situation that, “The circumstances are not comparable” with previous unsuccessful negotiating efforts.

Regarding negotiations with the AC3, the AC3’s proposal was “a take it or leave it proposition of a fixed kind with little wiggle room,” Fallon said, which the board ultimately could not accept.

However, at this point, the board is open to all possibilities, he said, including efforts by the AC3, which has been inactive since May, to reconstitute itself and work with the alumni. He also stated that the trustees are not asking the alumni group to start over

“Elements of all the plans have been useful,” Fallon said of the previous business plans prepared by alumni. “We’re not rejecting anything.”
According to Zucker, the board has not “defined a dollar amount” regarding transferring the college’s assets from the university to the college.

Those who see the board’s recent action as a way to diminish the anger of countless alumni who will soon converge on Yellow Springs are wrong, Fallon said.

“This is not about political posturing,” he said. “The board did not take the reunion into consideration last June” when it announced the college’s closure, and it did not do so this June either. Rather, he said, the recent board action is an honest attempt to create a vital Antioch College.

“It’s a new day,” Fallon said. “We are inviting the alumni association to come forward.”

Rumors that at Keene the board voted down Chancellor Toni Murdock’s 2012 plan to reopen the college in four years are not accurate, according to Fallon.

One alumni who expressed caution about the resolution this week was Laura Markham of New York City, a member of the AC3. While she is “thrilled and excited about the possibility of alumni successfully negotiating an independent college,” Markham said, she feels concerned because “I haven’t heard anyone talk about what constitutes the college.”

In the AC3’s negotiations with the trustees, university officials wanted to keep college assets such as WYSO, Glen Helen and Antioch Education Abroad, which had been in existence before the university system began, Markham said.

“We ran into a lot of stumbling blocks,” she said.

AC3 co-chair Eric Bates declined to comment on the resolution.

In a statement Monday in the Dayton Business Journal, university spokesperson Lynda Sirk said that the board’s resolution would not affect plans to close the college facilities by June 30, which are moving ahead, and that the college is likely to remain closed this coming year. However, in an interview Monday, Sirk said that she “can’t say there is no change” in plans to close college facilities in the light of the board’s resolution Saturday.

“Right now the plan is to judiciously move forward” with the closing, she said, because the board has not addressed the facilities issue since making the resolution.

“Those conversations haven’t happened yet,” she said.

Faculty members, who had had until June 9 to vacate their offices, were given a week’s extension due to the board’s action.

YS contingent to Keene

On Monday, Antioch faculty, students and staff met at a community meeting on campus to hear reports from a local group that traveled to the board meeting in Keene.

Villager Tony Dallas, Antioch College alumni Laura Fathauer, Johnny Estes and Chelsea Martens, and student Jeanne Kay attended the Keene event. While there, they attended an open meeting of the board regarding plans for closing the college facilities, and also met for a three-hour discussion of the college situation with Antioch New England students and staff, according to Martens. Several New England area college alumni also attended the meeting.

“We thought it was important they knew we were not going away, and that we have strategies on many fronts,” Dallas said.

The group presented the board with a petition, organized by the Antioch College Action Network, or ACAN, which asked for the resignations of Antioch University Chancellor Toni Murdock and Zucker. The petition was signed by 870 alumni.

According to alumni leader Matthew Derr in a separate interview, he and two other alumni leaders were allowed to make a short presentation to the board on Saturday morning. They requested that the board take a re-vote on the AC3 proposal that had been voted down in May, he said, and had a brief question and answer session with the trustees. However, the alumni representatives were stunned when the board later released the resolution that had been passed in a closed session following the presentation.

After the trustees passed the resolution and ended their meeting, Fallon came out to speak with the Yellow Springs contingent, according to Dallas.

“He said the board doesn’t know the path out, and they made the resolution as open as possible to give the alumni the authority” to come up with a process, Dallas said.

The group feels hopeful about the board’s action, they said.

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