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College leaders give update

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Antioch College leaders are inviting villagers to meet with them and hear an update on progress at the new college on Wednesday, April 21, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the First Presyterian Church.

Interim President Matthew Derr will speak on the development of the college’s new curriculum and alumnus John Feinberg, who is the campus preservation planner, will speak on facilities. Questions and comments are encouraged.

With the event, leaders want to make clear the importance of the college’s relationship with the Yellow Springs community.

“The village is critical to the college’s future,” Derr said in an interview last week. “The college has a debt to the community.”

While the college will not be ready for new students until fall 2011, Antioch is moving ahead with hosting intellectual and cultural events this year, after it became independent from Antioch University in September. College leaders hope to contribute to village life in a variety of ways, including hosting events such as the Community Dance Concert this weekend, art exhibits at Herndon Gallery and the ongoing symposia on critical issues sponsored by the Arthur Morgan Fellows.

“We’re not waiting,” Derr said. “We want to provide space for the community sooner rather than later.”

Organizers of the new college seek a close bond between the college and the community, Derr said. Along with hosting local cultural and intellectual events, they envision work-study opportunities for incoming students that more closely involve students with village life, Derr said, Students in their first and second years will also be required to work on campus, both as a means to strengthening community and to keep up facilities.

The program’s first two years will focus on a core liberal arts curriculum, he said, that encompasses traditional components including the sciences, social sciences, arts and humanities. During that time, students will also prepare for study in a non-English speaking culture, where students will spend a segment of their third and last year. During the third year, they will also focus on their specific major field.

The most obvious difference between the old Antioch College and the new one is that the new college will pioneer an undergraduate degree that can be completed in three calendar years. While a three-year degree is currently a hot topic in higher education, the new Antioch is the first college to actually implement it.

“We’re talking about a fundamentally re-organized liberal arts education,” he said.

Motivating the change is the desire to make a liberal arts degree affordable in a way that it currently is not, Derr said.

“This provides greater access to a high caliber liberal arts education,” he said. “We believe that by lowering their debt, students can move into their professional life or graduate school more swiftly.”

College organizers are also currently evaluating the college’s traditional focus on work/study, as championed by former Antioch President Arthur Morgan. The emphasis on work will continue, Derr said, although leaders are experimenting with ways to make the best use of technology to enhance the process.

Derr is adamant that a greater use of technology will not replace the individual relationship between student and teacher, but will find ways to make that relationship work better.

“We believe that the relationships that students and teachers have in small classes cannot be sustained online,” he said, although technology can perhaps aid some parts of that communication. “We continually ask ourselves, ‘What would Arthur Morgan do if he had access to technology, and how would co-op be different?’”

The new directions for Antioch grew from a very busy fall when the college’s Arthur Morgan Fellows criss-crossed the country talking to alumni groups and soliciting new ideas. Mainly, Derr said, the alumni wanted to talk about the learning experience.

“They care about the buildings, but these are Antiochians,” he said. “They wanted to talk about curriculum.”

Those gatherings were indicative of the renewed interest in the college from many college alumni, according to Derr, who said that while a core group became involved to help create an independent college, a much larger group has emerged now that independence has been achieved. Fundraising is going well, he said, and the search for a new president is underway.

Derr shied away from setting a timeline for that search.

“The focus is on finding a visionary president,” he said. “It will take as long as we need.”

One person who is not in the running is Derr himself, who said he is delighted to be serving in his current position but not seeking the head job.

“I see my role as seeing the transition through,” he said, adding that after a new president is hired he wants to do what the Antioch College board wants him to do, and that he is not “presuming whether I’ll stay or go.”

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