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In uncertain times, Nonstop holds on to vision and ideals

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Launched a year ago with a little cash, lots of moxie, and an abundance of passion, the Nonstop Liberal Arts Institute is wrapping up its first year soon. According to recent interviews with Nonstop faculty, staff and students, the Nonstop effort has been intense, exhausting and sometimes frustrating. But it’s also been hugely rewarding.

“We made something happen,” said Nonstop leader Hassan Rahmanian. “It was an idea that no one thought last May could go even a month. You see its growth, its energy, its new ideas.”

Nonstop will celebrate its achievements this weekend. The community is invited to attend commencement this Saturday, May 9, at 11 a.m., on the Bryan Community Center lawn.

A collaborative effort by former Antioch College faculty, staff, students and alumni to carry on Antioch’s values and traditions after the college was closed last June, Nonstop was a risk from the get-go. Because the project had no campus, no endowment, and no accreditation, it wasn’t clear that any students would actually show up when classes began in September.

But they did. About 17 traditionally aged students, mainly those who attended Antioch the previous year, joined the effort, and that number increased to about 27 in winter quarter, as students who had been on Antioch Education Abroad came on board. Professors reconfigured their classes to appeal to villagers as well, and almost 100 joined in. All in all, Nonstop this year served 124 traditional and nontraditional students in classes and workshops, according to registrar Donna Evans.

“That’s a lot of people. We reached out and did well,” Evans said. “With some recruitment efforts, what could we do?”

The effort took place on a shoestring, after the alumni board’s College Revival Fund pledged $1 million to launch Nonstop last year. Overall, the 11-month project came in under its $1.4 million budget, leaders said.

In its classes and workshops, Nonstop did much more than continue the traditions of Antioch, organizers believe. It succeeded in renewing the connection between the college and the Yellow Springs community that had been in decline for years. It did so by offering classes and workshops that appealed to villagers, along with its ambitious series of community events, Nonstop Presents!

“Nonstop has done wonders in reestablishing the relationship between the village and Antioch,” said Evans, who had worked in the college registrar’s office for 19 years. “If nothing else, those bridges built are beneficial.”

Nonstop also made inroads in strengthening the relationship between the college and its alumni, many of whom had felt disenfranchised for years partly due to a lack of contact, according to organizers. In contrast, Nonstop reached out and invited alumni to participate by offering workshops or programs.

Nonstop has succeeded in these endeavors with a new leadership structure. Along with the traditional Antioch College self-governance groups of Adcil, Excil and Comcil, Nonstop has been guided by a three-member leadership team composed of Rahmanian, Chris Hill and Susan Ecklund-Leen.

“The way we organized ourselves is a contribution to liberal arts education,” Rahmanian said. “We showed you can manage a project collectively.”

The value of Nonstop goes beyond having successfully sustained the Antioch College traditions and educational experience for students, according to student Jeanne Kay.

“Nonstop had an enormous symbolic importance,” said Kay. “Nationally, we were a beacon of resistance in the struggle against the corporatization of higher education. We showed that a college is not about resources and buildings. It’s about the faculty, students and the community.”

Waiting, redux

Nonstop has attracted considerable interest from those in higher education, organizers said. Faculty members gave a presentation on the endeavor at the Art Institute of Chicago and also gave a talk at “Reworking the University,” a conference on higher education at the University of Minnesota in April.

While many in higher education have shown interest in Nonstop, participants have felt a seeming lack of interest from those who matter the most: the alumni who are currently working to revive the college.

Nonstop sees itself as holding the institutional memory and traditions of the historic Antioch, and as such, is a bridge to the college that the Antioch College Continuation Corporation, or AC3, is working to revive. Along with maintaining the college’s unique values, culture and traditions over the past year, Nonstop has always had an eye toward helping the reopened college, leaders said. The project’s new IT system, created by alum Tim Noble, was designed to work for the college as well, as were many parts of the new Nonstop headquarters, and alumni and students worked hard to save thousands of books that are now housed in the Nonstop library, among other efforts.

Bottom line, Nonstop faculty and staff expected to be a valued part of the new Antioch College.

But so far, there is no indication that will happen, Nonstop participants say. While Nonstop faculty gave a presentation to the AC3 board pro tempore when the board visited Yellow Springs in March, Nonstop has heard nothing since then.

“There is no gesture of inclusion for Nonstop at this point,” Hill said.

After throwing their considerable energies and expertise into Nonstop, an effort that virtually all acknowledge as exhausting, participants now find themselves with no clear future, even if the efforts to save the college succeed.

“It’s extremely disappointing that such a powerful project that is keeping the college traditions alive is not embraced with excitement,” Rahmanian said.

In a recent interview, AC3 Chair Lee Morgan stated that the board pro tempore will be happy to discuss the role of Nonstop after its members reach their goal of an independent college, which includes raising $15 million and reaching many complex agreements with Antioch University. That effort, begun last summer, was initially expected to finish last fall. In January 2009 the deadline was extended to the end of April, and several weeks ago, it was extended again until the end of June.

Nonstop leaders understand that the AC3 pro tem board has a huge task to complete, and can’t now make commitments, Hill said. But Nonstop has not yet received any indication of interest from the AC3, they said. It’s hard to keep moving forward in the midst of so much uncertainty, and Nonstop funding runs out in June.

Whatever happens with Nonstop, Rahmanian won’t be a part of it, as he recently decided to take another job, partly due to the AC3’s lack of support for Nonstop, he said. Other faculty and staff are looking for work as well, according to Hill, who said others, like herself, have been too busy with Nonstop to do so.

But though most Nonstop community members feel discouraged, many have no plans to give up, organizers say.

“It’s a huge challenge but we feel it’s important to continue,” said faculty member Dennie Eagleson. “We built something. It’s hard to walk away.”

A task force of Nonstop community and alumni board members are now working on a proposal to the AC3 board pro tempore, according to Hill. The proposal is still being drafted, but will include ideas for possible collaborative projects between Nonstop and the Yellow Springs community, with an eye to attracting federal stimulus funding.

Whatever the path, Nonstop participants feel strongly that they should be a critical part of a revived Antioch College. The story of Nonstop — of faculty, students and staff passionate enough about a college to keep it going even after the college has closed — is a unique and a compelling one, Hill believes, a story that would enable a new Antioch to attract more students and move forward more quickly. And it would also help the new Antioch College if Yellow Springs were kept in the public eye as a place where educational innovation continues.

Among the 10 Nonstop faculty, staff and students recently interviewed, one thing seemed clear: each had no regrets at being a part of Nonstop.

“I’m so glad we persisted, that we had the energy and imagination to do what we did,” said Eagleson. “I’m continually inspired by my colleagues and the Nonstop leadership, with the persistance of their vision against the tremendous and constant obstacles and uncertainties. And I’m grateful for the students’ persistance and love for the ideals of Antioch, and their dedication in this adventure.”

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