Death by Political Correctness
Who killed Antioch College?
Nov 12, 2007, Vol. 13, No. 09 • By CHARLOTTE ALLEN
A group of Antioch College's chronically lethargic alumni says it has rushed to raise $18 million in donations and pledges in a last-ditch plan to save the college, and at an emergency meeting of the university's trustees in Yellow Springs on October 25 presented a $100 million business plan (based on an aggressive five-year fundraising drive) designed to cure their alma mater's deficit, keep its doors open, and revive its attractiveness to high-school seniors. The trustees had been expected to issue a decision on October 27 whether to accept or reject the alumni plan, but they declined to do so, leaving Antioch College in an even more precarious state, given that autumn is the time when colleges and universities do their most aggressive recruiting and prospective high-school graduates start filling out their college application forms. Discussions among trustees and alumni were continuing on November 2, as this article went to press.
Antioch College's declining fortunes and uncertain future are reflected everywhere you look on the Yellow Springs campus, which gives the impression of having been swept some years ago by a sudden and devastating plague. Campus plantings are mostly dead, dying, or choked with weeds (most of the maintenance staff was dismissed soon after the closing was announced in June, although a plumber and electrician who have yet to be laid off still manage to mow the lawns). The crumbling sidewalks leading from deserted Antioch building to deserted Antioch building resemble the ruins of Roman roads, with grass sprouting lushly from their numerous cracks, and the murky windows of an abandoned greenhouse display rows of withered plants. An inviting cluster of wooden benches outside a classroom building seats . . . no one at all. The fact that Antioch, nearly alone among U.S. private and public colleges, forbids journalists to roam the grounds or enter buildings without an officially designated escort adds to the general air of isolation and contamination. (Antioch says the minders are a holdover from the Saturday Night Live era, when reporters and television crews from all over the world flooded the campus in search of amusing sexual anecdotes, disrupting academic life.)
Antioch College no longer even has a president. The last holder of that office, Steven Lawry, a former Ford Foundation executive who assumed the helm in 2006, tendered his resignation as of December 2007 and then abruptly went on administrative leave at the end of August. Neither Lawry, contacted by telephone, nor anyone still at Antioch would comment on his hasty departure, but news stories in Inside Higher Education and the Chronicle of Higher Education suggest that Lawry, although popular with faculty and alumni, was for all intents and purposes fired by the university--and also banned permanently from the Yellow Springs campus--after a heated argument with Murdock that seemed to stem from his efforts to bypass the university hierarchy and contact the trustees on his own. One key plank of the alumni proposal to save Antioch College is to give the college its own board of trustees with the power to hire and fire presidents. Antioch College has not had its own board since Antioch University was formed in 1978 in a merger of the college with the adult-education campuses.
An archaeologist called upon to estimate just when the plague swept through--that is, when the college reached its peak of flourishing and then abruptly stopped--might come up with, say, the year 1965, judging from the vintage mid-century look of the brick-and-plate-glass "newer" buildings. Indeed, the college did then enjoy a sustained and impressive growth spurt and a frenzy of construction. The school, which had never enrolled more than 1,000 students in its history, nearly doubled in size from 1954 to 1964, and it continued to grow after that, reaching its all-time peak undergraduate population of 2,470 in 1972.