A Response to “Antioch – Will It Flatline Once Again?”

Feb 2nd, 2009

Posted by Bob Devine — read the original blog posting here.

It’s a shame that Charlotte Allen did not have the benefit of an Antioch education. If she had, she would not be publishing thrice-repeated rumors, pedestrian opinions, inaccurate factoids, half truths, and back-fence gossip in what purports to be journalism, but is actually just another anti-intellectual drive-by.

By way of example:

a) Allen notes that, “Famous during the 1950s and 1960s for its top-notch academic programs whose graduates included Coretta Scott King, wife of the civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling, paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, and the Nobel Prize-winning physiologist Mario R. Capecchi,” but fails to note that Antioch also produced the leaders of The Putnam Funds, the Segal Company, Dayton Hudson department stores, as well as continuing to produce — right up until its closing, an extraordinary number of Fulbright scholars and McArthur genius awardees.

b) Allen cites one of the reasons for the closing of Antioch College as, “a draconian date-rape policy drafted by the Antioch “Womyn’s Center” (its actual spelling) that became the laughingstock of the nation after it was parodied on Saturday Night Live in 1973,” when in fact the policy actually boosted enrollment, and in pieces and in whole, the Antioch policy found its way into the sexual offense policies of more than 200 institutions across the country.

c) Another contributing factory Allen asserts, was “…the jettisoning of traditional arts and sciences majors in favor of a loosely structured program that essentially allowed students to take whatever courses they wanted.” That’s just downright false. The College maintained some very rigorous requirements for general education (including work in the arts, sciences, social sciences and humanities) and major field requirements as daunting as any undergraduate program. Our majors were interdisciplinary, which has, in case Charlotte hasn’t noticed, become the norm for quality undergraduate programs.

d) Yet another comfortable rumor repeated as fact is the assertion that contributing to the demise of the College was “the creation of a radically left-leaning and notoriously intolerant student culture (aided and abetted by some members of the Antioch faculty) that ostracized dissenters and turned off potential applicants.” Antioch College’s final President circulated several mythic stories about the toxic culture of the institution to all who would listen during the time before he was terminated. Turns out, in spite of how much people wanted to believe that toxic culture played a role in Antioch’s downfall, and how much they attracted the attention of Charlotte Allen and others, that they just weren’t true.

e) Allen notes that “its accreditation was on the verge of revocation, and its relations with its parent institution, Antioch University, were overtly hostile.” The accreditation was never on the verge of revocation, and in fact the last North Central Association review of Antioch commended the faculty of the College for the quality of the academic program and their commitment to delivering it with scarce resources. More on the strained relations with the University below.

f) Allen states that, “The university, which mostly operates adult-focused graduate programs taught by part-time instructors on five barebones campuses around the country, was subsidizing the struggling college to the tune of $3 million a year.” This might be what the University told Allen, but the University campuses are hardly “barebones”. Antioch McGregor just built a $13 million building in Yellow Springs, Seattle owns its own campus, Antioch New England has a thriving and well appointed campus in Keene, N.H., and the two southern California campuses are hardly sparse or struggling. The “adult” campuses were, until 5 years ago, required to provide “overhead” to subsidize the College, as franchises of the flagship institution. Antioch focused on building adult campuses during a period of time when peer institutions were building their endowments. The subsidies to the College — going back to 1985 — were intended to substitute for endowment, until such time that the College was able to build its endowment to the level of its peer institutions. In effect, the adult campuses WERE the endowment of Antioch College. In their adolescence, however, the adult campuses wanted to be released from their obligation to the elderly parent, and in fact, participated in the “smothering” of that parent in order to collect the annuity (campus, real estate, endowment, library, brand), to continue to grow, and to collateralize borrowing.

The actual contributing factors in the demise of Antioch College include:

-The University harassing until they left, or firing the last 3 presidents of the College;

-The University removing the CFO and seizing control of the operating finances of the College;

-The University mysteriously losing $5 million through an accounting error;

-The University withholding the College’s endowment growth;

-The University Board imposing a curriculum on the faculty — which cut enrollment in half in just two years — and guaranteeing funding for this labor-intensive “innovative” program for five years, but pulling the plug after two;

-The University Board’s giving to the College (as part of their stewardship and fiduciary responsibility) diminishing from approximately $1m a year to approximately $25K a year in just three years.

No, the demise of Antioch College was more of an Enron/Bear-Stearns/AIG/Merrill-Lynch kind of organizational failure, rather than a casualty of the demon PC. A friend once described Antioch as “the cockroach of modernism”, and as the anti-intellectual times fade away, it’s a pretty sure bet that Antioch will once again be on the landscape of higher education.