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AAUP: college closing not necessary

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Last weekend the American Association of University Professors, or AAUP, officially voted to sanction Antioch University for infringements of governance standards for actions related to the closing of Antioch College. Among other findings, the investigative team concluded that the closing of the college was unnecessary, as the university failed to complete due diligence in pursuing alternatives to declaring financial exigency for the college and shuttering the doors to its historic residential campus.

An independent investigating committee of the AAUP, which is the national advocacy group for college professors, voted last month to recommend the sanction, and over the weekend over 300 faculty who gathered at the organization’s annual meeting voted to make the sanction official. The university joins three other institutions on the sanctioned list, including Lindenwood College in Missouri, Elmira College in New York and Miami Dade College in Florida.

In response this week, Antioch University Chancellor Toni Murdock said that the AAUP report contained 140 errors and was “flawed.” The university posted a 50-page response to the report on its Web site last fall, addressing the errors and asserting that the university based its decisions on the college’s budgetary crisis, which in the end imperiled the entire university system.

The AAUP began its investigation of the university in the spring of 2009, after Antioch College faculty lodged complaints regarding the university’s decision to close Antioch College in June 2008. The faculty organization issued a report of its findings last fall, summarizing the university’s failure to follow through with its own bylaws on shared governance, especially with regard to college faculty.

The vote this week, according to AAUP Associate Secretary Anita Levy, means that the university does not comply with AAUP recommended standards for faculty involvement in the leadership of the institution and its five campuses. The listing may be a warning for faculty who are looking for jobs and for students who care that faculty voices be afforded appropriate weight in the governance of their institution, Levy said. The AAUP will endeavor to work with Antioch University to help correct their governance issues, if the university leaders are willing, Levy said.

Beyond criticizing the university’s past decisions, the AAUP report also asserts that the “Antioch University administration has demonstrated a strong inclination toward secrecy…and top-down command and control of communication.” The document included as examples gag orders on faculty not to talk to the press about plans for the new McGregor building, and also testimony from former College President Steve Lawry that he was pressured to sign a statement agreeing that advocating for an independent board of trustees for the college would be grounds for his dismissal. He refused to sign.

The report concludes with a warning: “Without developing a tenure system and strong system of shared governance in which the faculty have the freedom to express their viewpoints without fear of repercussion, what is envisioned [a robust, collaborative academic institution] is highly unlikely to be achieved.”

Murdock dismissed the AAUP’s move as inconsequential to the university, whose reputation she perceives as still strong.

“I’m not concerned about the reputation of the university — enrollments are stable and growing, and we’re excited about our new structure,” she said, adding that university leaders have long been in the process of evaluating faculty’s role in the governance of the school.

As chairman of the Antioch University Board of Governors, Art Zucker said on Tuesday that he was “terribly disappointed” with the AAUP report, which he felt was “unfair to the university” and prejudiced by the president of the AAUP, Cary Nelson, who is married to a former Antioch University board member. Nelson had recused himself from the investigation.

Zucker also said that the university and 60 faculty members will meet on June 25 to begin to create a shared governance structure with the faculty. The university will be responsive to the AAUP on this issue as well, he said.

“The future of the institution is dependent on the continued involvement and competency of our excellent faculty,” he said. “It’s time for people to look forward.”

The AAUP report also encouraged the Antioch College Continuation Corporation to reinstate the faculty whose contracts were wrongly terminated with the college closing. The report urges the college in its new incarnation to uphold the standards of tenure and shared governance that have been part of the college’s mission since its inception.

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