Alumni celebrate their new college
- Published: October 8, 2009
“This is not the time for small steps,” said Antioch College Chief Transition Officer Matthew Derr to college alumni last Friday, during the State of the College address at the alumni reunion.
Derr and other alumni leaders addressed about 500 alumni from across the country who came to Yellow Springs for the weekend reunion. The event was a celebration of the revival of Antioch College as an independent liberal arts institution, a deal finalized Sept. 4 when alumni leaders received the keys to the college from leaders of Antioch University.
For the college to succeed, it must not only be sustained but transformed, Derr said, calling the college revival “one of the great opportunities in American higher education.”
While the specifics of that transformation are not yet clear, the recently-hired faculty and staff will spend the next several months conferring with alumni in an effort to identify how Antioch College can best meet the needs of the 21st century, according to Derr. One possible approach is bringing together the college’s historic focus on human rights and social justice with environmental concerns.
“Can we bring the richness of the liberal arts focus to critical areas of human needs such as water, food and energy?” Derr said.
College leaders are also considering ways to use technology to enrich the Antioch College experience of co-op education, he said.
Derr emphasized that the renewed Antioch will adhere to its historic three-pronged learning model that includes, along with academic rigor, real world work experience and community -governance.
“We know that co-op works,” Derr said of the work/study program, stating that while many colleges require students to complete internships, Antioch is the only school that fully incorporates work into the curriculum.
“It falls to us to define clearly what makes co-operative education important,” Derr said, stating that the revived Antioch College co-op experience will likely assume a more global focus.
The new college board will soon launch a presidential search, according to board chair Lee Morgan, who also spoke at the gathering. The search committee, to be chaired by former Antioch College Continuation Corporation Co-Chair Francis Horowitz of New York City, is in the process of identifying search firms and will soon define the criteria sought in a new president. The process will likely take about a year, Morgan said.
The college revival is the result of two years of intense effort by Antioch alumni, who organized to save the college soon after the June 2007 Antioch University announcement that the college would close. While two initial alumni efforts that year fell short of achieving independence, the third, and ultimately successful, effort began with a “stunning reversal” at the June 2008 university trustees meeting in Keene, N.H., according to alumni board president Nancy Crow. During that meeting, after the Antioch University Chancellor Toni Murdock presented her vision for a new college to open in 2012, the trustees instead “acknowledged that the future of the college lay with the committed and passionate alumni,” Crow said, and invited alumni to submit a proposal and process to achieve college independence. That year-long process of task force negotiations between alumni and university leaders led to the Sept. 4 agreement.
“We are once again ready to continue to win victories for humanity,” Crow said.
Over the weekend alumni raised about $250,000 for the college from a silent auction and a Saturday fundraising event. College leaders emphasized that alumni financial support is critical to the success of a five-year campaign to raise $50 million. On Friday alumni leaders rang the Main Building bells to cheers from villagers, faculty and staff and alumni. Several alumni leaders were recognized over the weekend, as was Nonstop Antioch, whose members were honored Saturday morning with the dedication of a new plaque on the front of Main Building.
The placement of the plaque at the front of the building “will encourage people for generations to come to think of the tenacity of this community,” Derr said at the dedication.
Progress on campus
Even after the alumni departed on Sunday, things were still bustling on campus. This month workers are scurrying to ready South Hall for its newest use: housing the new staff that has recently been hired after the Sept. 4 college rebirth.
Since that time Derr and his co-workers have had makeshift offices on the second floor of the Olive Kettering Library on campus. It’s been exciting to have new energy in the library, but their presence perhaps doesn’t suit the building’s purpose, Derr said in an interview last week.
“That will really feel like home,” he said of the move to South Hall. “We were making too much noise for a library.”
The initial college staff numbers around 35, including seven fundraisers, several administrative assistants, several grounds-keepers, a volunteer coordinator and the staff of Glen Helen and the Antioch Review. That number also includes four recently-hired Arthur Morgan Fellows, faculty members who will work this year to help plan the college curriculum.
In past interviews, Derr has said that the ACCC expects to have a staff of about 60 within three years.
The four fellows already hired — two more will be hired soon — are former Antioch College faculty members Jeanne Gregorek, who taught literature, Beverly Rodgers, anthropology, Scott Warren, philosophy, and Anne Bohlen, who taught film. Organizers are looking for teachers with expertise in math and science for the other two slots, Derr said.
Those involved in hiring new faculty included Derr; alum Cary Nelson, who is president of the American Association of University Professors, or AAUP; and several college pro tem board members.
The group hired former college faculty as Morgan Fellows because they bring to the job a deep understanding of the Antioch College mission, Derr said.
“There is no group in the country that has a more thorough understanding of the relationship between work and liberal arts,” Derr said of the new Morgan Fellows. “And they have a deep passion for the college,” he said.
At this point, according to Derr, everyone hired is working on a one-year renewable contract.
The Morgan Fellows have a twofold responsibility this year. First, they will travel across the country this fall to meet with alumni to engage in dialogue regarding the new Antioch college curriculum in light of the status and needs of contemporary higher education. Beginning in January, they will work on developing that curriculum.
Along with developing curriculum, the Morgan Fellows will this year organize and host a series of symposiums on a variety of topics that will bring together alumni, Yellow Springs community members and the college community, according to Derr.
Buildings better than expected
Now that the hiring is mainly complete for this year, college leaders are turning their attention to the campus. Because the campus was closed and unheated for a year, the buildings are generally in worse shape than they were a year ago. Over the winter pipes burst in both South Hall and Main Building, flooding both structures.
But the overall news on the condition of the buildings is good, according to Derr, who has been working closely with alum John Feinberg, a historic preservation specialist. While ACCC leaders initially thought that several buildings might need to be razed, only two now are being questioned: the student union and possibly the theater building. Some buildings which were expected to require demolition, such as the art building, are now expected to be preserved.
The more optimistic assessment of campus buildings resulted from consulting with historic preservation specialists rather than engineers, Derr said. Previous building assessments came from engineering consulting firms hired by both Antioch University and the Antioch College Continuation Corporation. Engineers are more likely to advocate tearing buildings down rather than preserving them, and preservationists start from the perspective of trying to save the structures, Derr said.
Still, one of the biggest challenges at this point is shaping the campus to fit the smaller student body, which is projected to start in fall 2011 with around 200 students. Within a few years, organizers hope to raise that number to 600, Derr said.
“Our goal is to create a campus appropriate to the student body,” Derr said.
That small size could mean using only one building, such as the 64,000 square foot science building, as the main classroom building when new students arrive in 2011. It could also mean entering into partnerships with the village to use the campus to meet local needs, such as offering studios for artists or space for emerging entrepreneurs.
Other Village/college collaborative possibilities include building or renovating faculty housing on campus and a community/college collaboration around refurbishing the Curl gymnasium, according to Derr.
“We’ve only just scratched the surface of what’s possible with the Village,” he said.
The college leaders are already addressing the needs of roofs, gutters and drainage on campus, Derr said.
“We’re trying to take care of the more serious threats first,” he said.
South Hall suffered largely cosmetic damage from last winter’s flooding, and current work includes repair of dry wall and carpeting. The damage to Main Building was more substantial, both from the flood and from the longterm effects of moisture from faulty gutters and foliage, according to Derr, who said repair to that building could take a year.
Each morning Derr rises at 5 a.m. and gets to the office at 7. He walks around campus to check on progress and starts meetings at 8 a.m., checking in frequently with the Morgan Fellows and other staff members. He also has regular contact with the college board members, who last weekend changed their name from the Antioch College Continuation Corporation to Antioch College.
The staff at the newly-revived college finds that small tasks sometimes fall through the cracks, Derr said, such as his recent realization that someone needs to deliver mail to the campus offices. But overall, he said, he is grateful and astonished most days when he realizes that the two-year alumni struggle to save the college actually worked. A fundraiser for a private school in Boston just two years ago, Derr now finds himself living with his cat Mo in the president’s house on campus and playing a pivotal role in reviving Antioch College.
“Occasionally I do have to pinch myself,” Derr said in his talk to alumni on Friday. “But it really did happen.”