Hassan Rahmanian

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Nonstop is a complex and yet simple concept and enterprise. In order to make it happen we need to keep it simple, but in order to fully appreciate it we need to understand its complexity. That’s very Antiochian. Like any other complex phenomenon, Nonstop has many diverse facets. To more fully capture the complexity of Nonstop allow me to add few more facets of Nonstop to what Susan and Chris have already spoken to. The facets I would like to talk about are less visible and, thus, more abstract. Please bear with me.

But before doing that, I would like to thank the Alumni Association for recognizing what this community has gone through this last year since the BoT’s decision to suspend the College. We have experienced scores of mental abuses and insults aimed at breaking our will and taking away our strengths. Even in the corporate world, it is a common practice to devise appropriate procedures in order to minimize the pain and severance to the people who are affected by plant closing or layoffs. It’s ironic that at Antioch, where Douglas McGregor, the author of The Human Side of Organization, was one of its presidents, we practice the opposite.

The first facet of Nonstop is that it is a state of mind with an emancipatory power; emancipation from the yoke of suspension. The suspension will go into effect in less than two weeks, but our sense and experience of suspension began last June and has continued since. Suspension places you in a waiting mode, a mindset of putting off action, and a state of mindlessness. A mentality of suspension puts you in a state of between-ness with a void which opens a gap between the past and the future and no space left for the present. Sometimes the future is promised to be a return to a desired past. Allow me to bring a personal perspective to this. My over thirty years living in America has been a constant state of suspension by living between two states of being, two identities: one of being in exile yearning for a return to home; and the other of being an immigrant who chose a new home. In my exile mode I live in a nostalgic past that might come true in the future but in my immigrant mode I live in the present striving to build a future which might carry on some of the past. There is a Japanese concept called ma, the art of living in-between, the pause that fills the gap, the silence that makes the voice, the energy that makes the empty full. The creation of Nonstop emerges from this condition of between-ness. To me, that’s how Nonstop has become an existential, educational, and political state of mind and action. It gave our agency back to us.

The second facet of Nonstop is its immense potential for creativity. Nonstop places the faculty on their first co-op job. If we believe that our Co-operative Education Program teaches students to welcome challenge, take risks and–when finding themselves in unfamiliar settings and seemingly impossible situations–to forge creative solutions that transform potential misfortune into an educational experience, then Nonstop is that opportunity, or in the words of Dennie Eagleson, professor of photography, “opportunity in adversity.” Our nomadic condition opens new terrains, and with it new educational and experiential adventures, in an unfamiliar public-private landscape. This is an opportunity for academic experimentation, for testing educational boundaries, for seeking pedagogical innovations, and building new relationships across disciplines, between communities, and among the participants in this learning experience. Tell me–if this is not Antiochian, what is it? Like Susan, I have had many encounters with my colleagues teaching at colleges in the area asking about Nonstop, and the first reaction I get of course is a skeptical look and a lot of curiosity. But as they learn more about Nonstop, their frequent comment is “that sounds really cool, good luck!” They find the idea and action fascinating and full of possibility. Eight of these colleagues have already expressed their willingness to teach a course for Nonstop at no cost. Our idealism is contagious.

The third facet of Nonstop is an educational vision which I see as ‘mythological.’ With Nonstop, our education becomes our action because it carries forward the soul, the seed, the essence, and the fire of what Antioch does the best in liberal arts education. We stole the fire that belongs to us. Nonstop provides a vessel in which to carry on the essence of Antioch education to a new destination, an independent, emancipated Antioch College. Nonstop is not replacing Antioch, it is keeping its DNA alive. Nonstop has given us the true ownership of our education and our curriculum, the one asset that the University could not appropriate and take it away from us. They got the body–we got the soul. As we nourish the soul we do everything necessary to get the body back.

The fourth facet of Nonstop is the movement that it has become; a movement to develop a nexus of commitments by those who care about Antioch and dare to help keep its education going. The main challenge of Nonstop is not so much of building a bridge between the past and the future but rather building bridges among these various constituencies and their commitments. Chris’s anecdotes powerfully exemplify some of the new connections which are being forged. These bridges help to create a clear vision that will charge their constituencies with particular missions, and these, taken as a whole, form a commission and a ‘co-mission.’ It’s here that Toni and Company fail to understand that appointment of a commission of consultants and so-called professionals cannot create a vision, and hardly generates energies that turn into missions, as our experience of the “Renewal Commission” has shown us.

The fifth facets of Nonstop is its power of inventing and reinventing. Antioch has a solid place in the world of academia for its continuing innovations in higher education. Antioch keeps reinventing itself. In my twenty two years at Antioch, I have gone through five major curriculum changes and one calendar change. Nonstop is my sixth and most important engagement in reinventing our education. These changes have made us stronger and helped us to better appreciate our constants. Through many rounds of conversations with individual faculty and two faculty retreats, faculty who chose to join Nonstop have produced statements and proposed offerings that helped begin developing a curriculum that articulates the educational vision of Nonstop (you’ll here more on that tomorrow). The faculty who have committed themselves to the Nonstop educational enterprise bring a wealth of experience not only in teaching and advising but also in organizing and leadership tasks. Let’s not forget that the faculty at Antioch spends more hours serving on different committees than faculty at other colleges. Committees charged with administrative functions rather than fixed administrative offices are the primary structure to the functioning of the enterprise. The faculty are the weavers of the fabric of the future of the enterprise.

Finally, Nonstop has a virtual mode of organization–this means that it involves a lot of organizing with very little organizational fixture or permanent hierarchy. As such the main organizing elements of Nonstop are invisible. Nonstop is organized through what I call the “T’s of Organization.” It highlights the principles of ‘Talk,’ ‘Text,’ ‘Tasks,’ and ‘Trust.’ In organizing Nonstop we Talk: in conversations, in discussion, in meetings, and in consultations; through talking with each other we develop ideas, find solutions, build relations, and organize our actions. Our Talk has produced many Texts which become objects to reflect on, to criticize, and to build on; the text of our curriculum, for example, is an outcome of many hours of Talk. Our Talk and Text help us articulate and define Tasks before us; Tasks which are then divided amongst us and that guide our further actions towards making Nonstop happen. Every organization has a tendency to divide labor, differentiate functions, and rank authority in the form of hierarchy. These divisions usually result in forming closely guarded territory or turf which tends to become difficult to cross. In the organization of Nonstop we attempt to break these boundaries and barriers. Instead of relying on a concept of turf to protect our individual interests or fields, we try to build Trust. Nonstop in its very conception is heavy in relationship making–among all the faculty, between learners and educators, between our curriculum and the Yellow Springs community, and with our loyal alumni. This Trust is the real foundation for making Nonstop an enterprising and new kind of educational collective.

The Faculty and the Curriculum of Nonstop

Following our presentation of Nonstop yesterday, we are here today to unveil our Nonstop Curriculum for this fall and share with you the context and rationale for it. The Curriculum is an outcome of many rounds of individual and collective conversations with the faculty who provided the Executive Collective and the Curriculum Committee with perspectives, ideas, and information for its construction.

As a bold educational project to reject the conditions of suspension and to keep Antioch alive, Nonstop set out to build a faculty who would commit themselves to the challenges of the task and to construct a curriculum envisioning an independent, liberated Antioch College. The Faculty became the weavers of the fabric of the future; that fabric is our curriculum. In this project, the faculty is no longer simply a list of names of individuals who would agree to teach courses and the curriculum is no longer a simple list of courses and offerings. So we began to Talk in many individual conversations and several group discussions and retreats. In this process, seven of our colleagues sought teaching or administrative opportunities in other academic institutions and chose to exit; six colleagues chose to retire, some of whom made themselves available if needed; one colleague chose to shift from faculty position to an administrative position. Of the remaining faculty, nearly all have committed themselves fully to Nonstop–taking on both teaching and organizing responsibilities–and have become the core to building the enterprise. From extensive conversations with our colleagues, it became very clear that the faculty who have decided to stay with Nonstop had a choice, and they preferred to stay with Nonstop; this was not an act of desperation but that of determination and love of Antioch. It’s a mission for them to carry forward the Nonstop project.

In addition to the 19 faculty who are with Nonstop in full-time or part-time commitments, as I reported yesterday, eight faculty members at other local colleges expressed their willingness to teach for Nonstop for free. Several emeriti faculty have offered their help; they include Al Denman, Steve Schwerner, Harold Wright, Victor Garcia, Stan Bernstein, and Victor Ayoub. And of course, a large number of alumni have already responded to a “need help” announcement by Rowan Kaiser, and expressed their willingness to contribute to the curriculum.

To build a new faculty out of the destruction of the suspension, we had to build confidence and trust in ourselves and in each other. What make this new faculty particularly strong are the relationships that we are making with each other and a collective vision that we have begun to articulate. During our talks we have tried to achieve the following: (i) to overcome the mentality of suspension and replace the waiting mode with an acting mode, to become active again; (ii) to make a shift from ordinary to extraordinary, to think creatively and unorthodoxly, out-of-the-box, to feel comfortable with risks involved (for example, we have to picture yourself teaching in a coffee shop, the Senior Center, the Library); (iii) to regain a sense of ownership and to set the fire; and (iv) to build new relations and commitments with other constituencies, the alumni and the people of Yellow Springs. We asked the faculty to articulate their visions of Nonstop and how they locate themselves in it. These individual statements and biographies became the building blocks of a collective biography, a text of which is in progress.

From these statements and reflections on our practice and legacy, a set of agreed-upon values emerged: (i) we adhere to principles of excellence and rigor while exploring new educational frontiers, (ii) our offerings provide intersections and collaborations between disciplines, experiences, pedagogies, audiences, and learners; (iii) our offerings are both learner-centered and community-situated and link private and public educational domains; (iv) our offerings provide flexibility and choice through diverse modalities and venues as well as open enrollment; and (v) our Antiochian view of work and its relation to learning makes our liberal arts progressive and for life–our philosophy is that there is noend to education.

The core of our liberal arts curriculum is a revised concept of literacy. Our education should help students gain preparation for engagement into contemporary discourses by enhancing their abilities to read– to read text, numbers, and images–and to interpret, to think critically and creatively, to make, to act, to express, and to imagine in a world dominated by technology, media, and politics. This notion of literacy brings the traditional depth and breadth issue to a new light; we are not working toward the goal of mere ‘competencies’ but an ideal of practical, usable understanding and of progress to a deeper and more enhanced level. Our version of the liberal arts appreciates the unique contributions of different disciplines in building such literacies but at the same time attempts to challenge the subjectivity and rigidity of traditional disciplinary boundaries.