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Antioch College alumni reunion— $9 million gift announced

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The revived Antioch College needs to articulate a powerful sense of mission, both to attract students and to attract major funding sources, according to President Mark Roosevelt at last Friday’s State of the College address, which took place during the annual college alumni reunion. And for the next several years, he sees developing that mission as his priority.

“What I owe you is to use the next three years to create that compelling story,” Roosevelt said to an overflow crowd of several hundred people at McGregor 113 on campus.

The college is not yet ready to apply for grants from major foundations, Roosevelt said, stating it will take more time for the college to identify and define its unique purpose.

“We have to know who we are deeply,” he said. “It’s the mission that will drive the dollars.”

In the meantime, he said, the alumni need to financially support the college. And he announced that the college’s 14-member board of trustees — formerly called the board pro tempore — has pledged $9 million to Antioch College over the next three years.

“These are people digging very deeply because of how much they love this college,” he said. “It’s a huge, huge step for the college.”

The $9 million is a significant step toward filling the college’s budget gap of $17 million over the next three years, Roosevelt said. Overall, in that time the college projects $27 million in expenses, with revenues of about $4.5 million from endowment income and $5.4 million from the annual fund, for a total of about $10 million in revenues.

Donations must provide the remaining $8 million, Roosevelt said.

“This is a great challenge to the rest of us,” he said of the board’s pledge. “The rest is doable. This task is daunting but doable.”

Sustainability focus

Environmental sustainability will be a focus of the revived college, Roosevelt said, stating that sustainability resonates with the college’s historic emphasis on social justice because the world’s poor are those suffering most from the environmental crisis.

“We older folks have to be sensitive because believe me, young people see a commitment to sustainability as a profound social justice issue,” he said, citing the large percentage of new Antioch College students who have already worked on organic farms or had other relevant experience.

Because the college is located in the Midwestern farmbelt, food will be one area of emphasis, he said, citing statistics that place the United States among third-world countries in terms of life expectancy of the poor, who have less access to healthy food.

“We begin with this premise: The way we live in America today is not sustainable. Antioch College must become a laboratory to discover better ways of living,” Roosevelt said.

The college also “needs to be much tougher on ourselves regarding living sustainably here,” Roosevelt said, stating that the college will be in a position to address this need within four to six months.

Along with a focus on sustainability, the new college will include a required core curriculum, individualized majors, global seminars that focus on issues related to food, water, energy and public policy, and an emphasis on language acquisition and competence in writing. The college’s historic three-pronged educational model of academics, work experience and community governance will be the structure that will hold these components, he said.

Against the grain

Fundamental to defining the college’s mission is answering the questions, “Who are we? Why is this worth doing?” Roosevelt said, stating that, “We’re going against the grain of almost everything in this country today.”

Most liberal arts colleges are struggling, and many have closed in recent decades.

“Nobody is starting a liberal arts college,” he said.

But the world’s problems are huge and complex, and solving them will require the sort of creative and critical thinking that students learn best in liberal arts colleges, he said.

“Liberal arts colleges produce a phenomenal number of leaders,” according to Roosevelt.

These colleges are expensive to maintain because they’re based on a model of intimacy, including small classes with high quality teaching, he said. And in recent years, leading liberal arts colleges have begun offering substantially more financial aid to students, a trend that Roosevelt believes will only increase, so that a tuition-based model of financial stability will become obsolete. Rather, he said, the colleges that will prosper will be those with the largest endowments.

“The rich are getting richer and everyone else is struggling,” he said, comparing the landscape in higher education with other aspects of American life.

Regarding economic stability at Antioch College, which has a small endowment compared to most colleges, “We have to be extremely creative,” he said. “Even if we decided to do business the way we’ve always done it, that’s not an option.”

Thus, he said, it’s critical that the college articulate a vision that both draws students and financial support from donors and large funding sources, such as foundations.

“My commitment to you,” Roosevelt said to the alumni, is when they return to campus in three to five years, “you will be on the campus of one of America’s great liberal arts colleges.”

Alumni questions

Following Roosevelt’s presentation, alumni asked questions regarding the revived college’s relationship to the arts, community governance, and its relationship with former tenured faculty, among other topics.

Regarding the role of the arts in the new college, Roosevelt said, “The arts is a significant part of the equation.” One of the first six tenure-track positions will be in the arts, and while a choice on the recipient of that position has been made, the name of the new faculty member had not yet been made public. This week, the college announced that sculpture and performance artist Sara Black of Chicago will fill the position.

Alum Mark Greenfield of New York City expressed his disappointment that the college has not rehired former faculty, and that several former Nonstop students who applied were not accepted for the college’s first class next fall. Regarding Roosevelt’s statement that the college needs to do a better job retaining students than in the past, “When you talk about retention and don’t retain the faculty that’s already here and the students that are already here, it’s hard to trust,” Greenfield said.

Regarding the situation with former faculty, “One of the most difficult things has been balancing multiple points of view,” Roosevelt said. “There have been some incredibly difficult decisions,” including the decision to conduct national searches for its first tenure-track faculty members. None of the tenure-track faculty members hired have been former Antioch tenured faculty.

But some former faculty, such as new Vice President for Academic Affairs Hassan Rahmanian and Director of Work Susan Ecklund-Leen, have been hired in new positions. Regarding the balance of new hires and former faculty overall, “It’s a balance we’ve tried to do with respect,” Roosevelt said.

Roosevelt announced that Reggie Stratton, formerly facilities director at Creative Memories in Yellow Springs, has been named the college’s new facilities manager. The college will soon announce its remaining two tenure-track faculty members, he said, and searches for a dean of community life and director of admissions are ongoing.


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