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Leadership shift at Midwest

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The day-to-day operations of Antioch University Midwest are under a new leader, since President Michael Fishbein, while still maintaining his title, is no longer on the premises. Dr. Ellen Hall, who was recently named provost of Midwest, is now responsible for running the school.

The changes, which began at the end of February, are part of an effort by Antioch University called Project Turnaround. The effort aims to help Midwest climb out of current financial problems linked to a combination of declining enrollment and increasing debt, among other goals.

In response to questions about the leadership shift, AU Communications Director Lynda Sirk said last week that there had been no change, as Hall had previously handled the daily operations of the school and Fishbein is still president while working on a special accreditation project with AU Chancellor Toni Murdock. However, five Midwest employees, who all asked to remain anonymous due to job security, said that the leadership changes, and Project Turnaround, were announced at a recent Midwest community meeting. At the meeting, it was stated that Fishbein’s keys had been taken away and he would not be returning to the campus.

In a phone interview last week, Fishbein said, “I am president of Midwest, and am working on a special project.” He declined to answer further questions, except to state that his contract is up in summer 2013. Murdock and AU Board of Governors Chair Larry Stone, through Sirk, declined to be interviewed for this article, stating that because the issue involves personnel matters, it is not appropriate to speak publicly.

Hall had been at Midwest for about a year, as vice president of academic affairs, before being named provost recently. She has been a college administrator since 1975, and was president of Converse College in Spartanburg, S.C. She also spent 11 years as vice president of academic affairs and dean at Wells College in Aurora, N.Y.

“She’s very experienced, she’s capable, and people feel comfortable with her,” said one employee, who asked to remain anonymous.

In an e-mail, Hall wrote, “I am very pleased to be at Antioch University Midwest. Here we have a board of trustees committed to the success of AUM, highly qualified and innovative faculty, students who are inspiring in the ways they balance their lives, their work and their dreams to acquire an education. It is a place with great strengths and promise.”

Fishbein followed Barbara Gellman Danley, who left in 2008, as president. He was hired in March 2009 after serving as provost at Daniel Webster College in Nashua, N.H., and formally inaugurated in summer 2010. When Fishbein arrived in the village, he identified as a goal achieving “modest growth” in enrollment, which had been flat for several years. He sought to accomplish this growth by adding new programs, and during his tenure the school added undergraduate majors in sustainability, creative writing, and health and wellness.

However, enrollment continued to decline during Fishbein’s time on campus, according to Midwest Board of Trustees Chair Phil Parker.

“Enrollment has been a challenge,” Parker said in an interview last week. Many institutions of higher education are facing a similar challenge, he said, linking the situation to the recession. In the case of Midwest, many businesses and schools that formerly reimbursed employees for getting more education may have stopped doing so due to budget constraints. Also, the federal government has cut back on student loans and grants.

According to Parker, Antioch University has committed to providing Midwest with additional personnel to help turn around the enrollment problem.

While many colleges and universities are struggling with enrollment issues, Midwest faces the additional burden of increasing payments on the performance bonds the school received to build its new campus, which was completed in 2007, according to several employees.

The bond issue was approved by the Ohio Higher Education Facilities Commission for Antioch Midwest (then McGregor) based on projections that enrollment would increase 10 percent yearly, according to a 2008 News article on the school’s financial situation. However, while the school enjoyed that rate of increase for at least a year before receiving the loan, enrollment remained flat for several years following, and then began to decline. Sirk and Midwest Registrar Darlene Robertson did not respond to a request for current enrollment figures.

The university received a $12 million bond issue for the new 94,000 square foot Midwest campus, which was completed in 2007. According to figures provided by Sirk several years ago, Midwest began paying the bond back in 2007 with yearly payments of $262,051 for the first three years, after which the payments were intended to include principal and increase. Sirk declined to give the amount that Midwest is currently paying.

In an e-mail, Hall this week stated, “As with many institutions today, Antioch University Midwest faces numerous challenges. We are looking at our curricula and our systems to find ways to establish and adopt best practices for the continued success of our students as they balance their complex lives and acquire their education. I am not at liberty to discuss details at this time. Project Turnaround is our name for the process of reviewing all that we do.”

In 2003 Gellman Danley began advocating building a new campus for Midwest rather than stay in the school’s original location as part of the Antioch College campus. When she spoke publicly about the possibility of the school leaving Yellow Springs, the local economic development group Community Resources rallied to raise money to help Midwest build a new campus, using $300,000 from the Village’s Revolving Economic Loan Fund and $100,000 from Yellow Springs Community Foundation to purchase the land on the western edge of the village, with the bulk of the building financed by the performance bonds. The building was the anchor in the Center for Business and Education, which is projected to be ready for business occupants in about another year. Gellman Danley left Midwest for a new job in 2008, about a year after the new campus was constructed.


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