Nonstop is the spirit of Antioch

Apr 30th, 2009

By Joe Blundo, Columbus Dispatch — read the original editorial here.

YELLOW SPRINGS, Ohio — Two students and an underpaid philosophy professor sit at a kitchen table, studying existentialism and keeping the spirit of Antioch College alive.

“We’re the cockroaches after the nuclear war,” says the professor, Scott Warren.

He might have been understating the persistence of Antiochians.

When its parent institution closed the ailing college last year, alumni and faculty members raised $1.4 million, created office space in an old factory and established the Nonstop Liberal Arts Institute (nonstopinstitute.org).

True to its name, the institute has endured, despite precarious circumstances. When the spring term ends in May, it will have completed a school year of classes in churches, borrowed rooms and homes in this village about 60 miles southwest of Columbus.

Nonstop even has a library, stocked in part with books rescued from a Dumpster after the college closed.

Warren is earning far less than his Antioch salary, he said, “but I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun.”

Critics called Antioch a poorly maintained, academically lax institution with a contentious culture intolerant of anyone whose views weren’t far to the left. Enrollment, more than 2,000 at its peak, had slipped to about 200.

But when former media-arts professor Chris Hill speaks of the “DNA of Antioch,” she’s talking about something else: For much of its 155-year history, Antioch was known for freedom of thought, progressive social policies, inclusive governance and adventurous students who alternated semesters in the classroom with semesters of travel and work.

Nonstop was created to preserve that unique DNA, she said. It has 27 college-age students and 38 nontraditional students, many of them Yellow Springs residents. The school is unaccredited, so the courses may or may not transfer.

Classes meet in places such as the Dharma Center, a Buddhist meditation house — where, on a recent weekday, Warren was teaching “Black Existentialism” to Lincoln Alpern and Jessie Clark.

Alpern, 21, of Peekskill, N.Y., enrolled at Antioch and stayed on at Nonstop.

“It’s just possible I could get as rich a learning experience and social experience at another institution somewhere, but the chances of my being able to figure out which one are vanishingly small.”

Clark, 21, of Milwaukee and also a former Antioch student, said that, as a member of the institute’s executive council, she helps run the school. Few colleges, she added, provide such opportunity.

Both admit to missing campus life.

Uncertainty is the watchword at Nonstop these days. Antioch alumni are negotiating to take over the college from its parent, the Antioch University system, and reopen it. Nonstop must raise enough money to continue until that day arrives — if it arrives.

Jean Gregorek, a former Antioch associate professor of literature who teaches at Nonstop, acknowledges that the situation might rightly be termed bleak.

“On the other hand, it’s been looking bleak for two years. Part of me thinks you just have to keep fighting.”

Joe Blundo is a Dispatch columnist.

jblundo@dispatch.com