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AAUP plans to investigate closure of Antioch College

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The American Association of University Professors, or AAUP, has communicated with Antioch University leaders that it plans to launch an investigation into questions concerning the closure of Antioch College.

The investigation will primarily focus on governance issues involved in the college’s closing, according to a letter sent Oct. 1 to Antioch University Chancellor Toni Murdock and Board Chair Art Zucker.

“We have agreed that our focus should be upon the governance issues raised by the university’s closing of a core component of the institution and, indeed, its founding college,” wrote AAUP associate secretary Anita Levy, Ph.D., who stated that additional issues to be investigated include whether Antioch University is operating in accordance with “basic principles of academic governance,” whether and in what form the college will continue, and “whether there was a realistic alternative to closing it when that was done.”

The AAUP is a 90-year-old national advocacy organization for university and college faculty. The organization “seeks to advance academic freedom and shared governance, to define fundamental professional values and standards for higher education, and to ensure higher education’s contribution to the common good,” according to its Web site,

In an interview this week, Levy stated that an AAUP investigation into a university governance issue is a “fairly rare” occurence. The organization receives about 1,000 complaints a year, she said, and most are individual complaints regarding academic freedom and tenure, of which the organization investigates about five cases annually. Investigations into governance issues are more rare, and the AAUP pursues about one investigation, or less, on governance issues each year, Levy said.

A specific concern regarding the closure of the college is that “the faculty did not appear to have been consulted,” according to Levy. She said that if so, that lack of faculty involvement violates the AAUP’s Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities, which states that faculty, trustees and administrators should all “have a voice” regarding budgetary concerns. Antioch College faculty have stated that they were not consulted, and in fact were taken by surprise when the university trustees announced in June 2007 that the college would close due to financial exigency.

The AAUP also will investigate concerns regarding due process for tenured faculty and the university leaders’ interpretation of financial exigency, the state of financial emergency that allows institutions to break contracts with tenured faculty. In question is whether the whole university was in imminent danger of financial exigency when university leaders announced the closure of the college, Levy said. The AAUP had previously sent two letters to Antioch University expressing these concerns.

Along with identifying possible violations of AAUP guidelines, the investigation seeks to look into the governance issues in order to promote the future health of Antioch University, Levy said.

“We are very happy that the AAUP has expressed interest in our circumstances and look forward to fully co-operating with their team when they come to campus,” said former Antioch College faculty member Susan Ecklund-Leen this week. “The AAUP does not act quickly, and it is very deliberate in its actions. We appreciate the amount of time they have spent researching this issue.”

The investigation includes the formation of an ad hoc committee composed of persons who have had no previous involvement with the particular matter” to conduct an inquiry and prepare a report, Levy wrote. The ad hoc members identified are Professor Diane C. Zannoni, chair of the economics department at Trinity College, Conn.; Professor Ronald G. Ehrenberg of the department of industrial and labor relations and economics of Cornell University; Professor Rudy Fichtenbaum of the economics department at Wright State University; and Professor Duane Storti of the department of mechanical engineering at the University of Washington, Seattle.

In response to the AAUP letter, Murdock this week said she would meet with other Antioch University campus presidents to formulate a response.

However, she said in an interview that four professional firms of financial and legal experts, hired separately over the past year by the university, the alumni board, the Antioch College Continuation Corporation and the current alumni effort to create an independent college, have already analyzed the financial data that led to the closing of the college, and that each team “concluded that financial exigency was necessary.”

Regarding the issues of governance, Murdock said, “I have no idea what they’re talking about there.” She is familiar with the AAUP’s statement on university governance, Murdock said, stating that former Antioch College President Steve Lawry, who she maintains was responsible for representing faculty, was involved in the decision-making process to close the college, and so the issue of faculty involvement “is a moot point.”

In a separate interview, Zucker also stated that Lawry was responsible for faculty involvement. “Whatever contact we had with the faculty was his responsibility,” Zucker said.

If the university is found to have violated AAUP guidelines, the finding will lead to a sanction of Antioch University. While the AAUP does not have legal authority, it is the recognized entity representing faculty in higher education, and has been formulating policies for the past 90 years, according to Levy.

“While we don’t have legal powers, we rely on a sense of fairness among faculty members and institutions,” Levy said. Should the university be sanctioned, “it puts the academic community on alert that this institution doesn’t follow AAUP procedures,” she said, a situation that may make the university less attractive to job-seeking academics.

An investigation into a complaint takes place after the AAUP senior staff makes the recommendation to the AAUP general secretary, who authorizes the formation of the committee, according to Levy. While the AAUP president is generally involved in the discussion, current AAUP President Cary Nelson, who is married to former Antioch University Trustee Paula Treichler, has recused himself from the issue, Levy said.

The ad hoc committee has not yet identified a date for a visit to Antioch University, according to the letter.

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