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Antioch College alive and independent again

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“I’ve waited a long time to say this,” Matthew Derr, chief transition officer for the Antioch College Continuation Corporation, said to hundreds of villagers on Friday afternoon. “Welcome to Antioch College.”

The event was the Sept. 4 signing ceremony that transformed Antioch College from a part of Antioch University to an independent liberal arts institution, and brought the college, which has been closed for a year, back to life.

Shortly before the ceremony, former Antioch University maintenance employee David Casenhiser handed Derr and Morgan two rings full of keys to the college. The two men set off on a walk across the college lawn that ended at the front door of Main Building, where they opened the door to shouts and applause from the crowd that followed them across the lawn.

“Now Yellow Springs is back to normal,” said longtime villager Barbara Mann, who said she attended the event because of the importance of the college to the community. She moved here decades ago partly because the village was the home of Antioch, she said.

“I was so sad when the college closed,” she said. “And I’m so grateful that it’s back.”

The signing event was the culmination of two years of effort by college alumni, faculty, staff and villagers to re-open the college.

“We’ve made the world of higher education richer today,” Derr said at the ceremony. “This morning there was one Antioch, and this afternoon there are two.”

Earlier in the afternoon, Derr, Antioch University leaders Toni Murdock and Art Zucker, ACCC chair Lee Morgan and the two groups’ lawyers had met in the Kettering Building to sign the papers that officially transferred the college back from the university to the ACCC. After an hour of signing, the transfer was complete, followed by the 5 p.m. public event on campus.

A little before 5, villagers began streaming down Livermore Street from all directions, ending up with a crowd of at least 350 that spilled out from beneath the event tent. Children played in the grass as adults — former college faculty and staff along with many community members — listened to statements by ACCC and university officials.

In his invocation, former Antioch College professor of religion Al Denman honored “the spirit that brings us together,” and “the overarching spirit that belongs to this place.” Speaking of the eons of changes to the land before the college began in 1853, Denman cited Antioch as, at its beginning, a “new kind of college, egalitarian and humanistic,” which led other colleges in, among other things, offering higher education to women and minorities.

After years of strife that led to the closing of the college last year, “The earth is warming up again,” Denman said. “The buildings are worn but stable and can still be seen from afar. Change is in the air.”

In introductory remarks, Rick Detweiler, the president of the Great Lakes Colleges Association, who served as mediator in the task force whose work led to the agreement to transfer the college, spoke of the difficulty of the process. The 14-month effort included, for himself, task force members Derr, Morgan and university trustees Dan Fallon and Jack Merselis, 66 conference calls that lasted an average of an hour and a half each, a dozen face-to-face meetings in Boston or New York, and thousands of e-mails.

Two rules shaped the task force discussions, Detweiler said: the group pledged to focus on the future rather than the past, and to use “non-adversarial” principles.

“Those principles are what took us forward,” he said.

The importance of Detweiler and GLCA support to the college revival can’t be overstated, according to Derr, who in his remarks said, “We would not be here today without Rick’s support.”

A host of other factors contributed to the college’s achieving independence, Derr said. In his thanks, he cited the college’s alumni board, whose “commitment to the college sustained us”; Nonstop Antioch “for the sustaining light they created in Yellow Springs”; the Antioch College faculty, staff, students and villagers; the ACCC board pro tem; the university leaders and task force members Fallon and Merselis.

“The college is our cause,” Derr said. “We need to keep it in our hearts.”

In her remarks, Antioch University Chancellor Murdock cited the contributions of Antioch University faculty, staff and students, who “are the heart and soul of the university.”

The rebirth of Antioch College is appropriate, Murdock said, because “what better example of the Antioch tradition than fighting for what you believe in, and this resulting in a renewed, independent Antioch College.”

The transfer of the college is a “bittersweet” event for the university, according to Zucker, who emphasized the important relationship between the village and the university. He also described the day’s events as the realization of the university board’s decision two years ago to close the college due to financial exigency.

But the difficulties of the past two years should not be ignored, ACCC Chair Morgan said in his remarks.

“The campus has suffered, people have suffered and the mission of Antioch College has suffered,” he said.

But now the alumni have the “opportunity to reinvent and re-open the college,” based on its three components of scholarship, real-world work and community, he said. Morgan also called on the college and the Yellow Springs community to continue the newly collaborative relationship that marked the past two years.

In his benediction, Denman pointed to the historical marker near Livermore Street that summarizes the contributions of Antioch College to higher education, and the transformations the college has experienced since its birth in 1853. In the future, Denman said, that description will include the current effort to re-invent the college as an independent liberal arts institution.

“What do you think it should say?” he asked the audience.

After the event ended and people began to scatter, longtime villager Joan Ackerman said that she’s always been proud to be from Yellow Springs because wherever she travels, people know the village as the home of Antioch College. It’s been difficult, she said, over the past two years to no longer describe the village that way.

“It’s wonderful to say it again,” she said.

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