Monday, February 25, 2008

Death and Resurrection At Antioch

#364 Death And Resurrection At Antioch

They went to Los Angeles, 2200 miles west, to pull the plug. Antioch College has been on life support for many of its 155 years. And in one last insult, winter being a harsh time in Yellow Springs, Ohio, the people who call the shots decided they'd get some sun while pronouncing the school brain dead and executing it. The trustees could shower afterward (you'd want to, too) then head out for a night in Hollywood. Sun and sleaze. Nothing like it to clear the air after a murder.

Officially, they're going to close the undergraduate college for one school year and then, miraculously, re-invent it and resurrect it. About half the 200 students'll finish their degrees before the shut down and alleged re-start. The rest, and their "tenured" professors, will have to find classrooms elsewhere.

This is not to say that the entire university is going away -- yet. They still have campuses all over the place --- east coast to west -- and a degree-granting adult learning program which -- despite financial travails, has managed to find nice new modern (and expensive) quarters off the campus, which always has resembled the set of a haunted house movie, part stately, part Addams Family.

Antioch's pretty well known for a tiny school in the boonies. A lot of good people have attended. A lot of really good ideas have come out of those haunted houses. They're also slightly famous for some totally silly stuff. Like the sexual behavior code that is more like instructions for putting together a storage cabinet or a game of "Simon Says" and requires step by step, on-the-spot verbal permission as people progress though the stages of smooching, to make-out, to serious foreplay to actual sex. And like an on-campus fire department, complete with big, shiny red truck, cared for far more carefully than the school's physical plant or its finances.

Schools restructure all the time. Most can do it without missing an academic quarter or semester. Not these guys. Not even when alumni and friends pledge to put up the bucks to keep them going while they get their books in order.

This is the macro version of micro events that have been going on there forever. They keep trying new things, believing, correctly, that much of higher education is a sham and a shambles, and figuring out new ways to teach and learn. Some work, some don't. None stays around terribly long. But eventually, when you fiddle enough with bearing walls and foundation and plumbing and electrical wiring with no obvious plan, the house says "enough!" and starts to crumble.

That's what was happening until February 22, 2008, when the trustees in Hollywood confirmed their "temporary" shut-down, but with an added new wrinkle. (It is, after all, Antioch, where new wrinkles are a central operating principle.)

This new wrinkle is a game of chicken between the trustees and the people working to shut down the shut-down before it happens. The trustees tell the "outsiders," "You want too much control, so you can't play in our yard." The "outsiders" say "we think you've screwed up and we don't want you meddling while we clean up your mess." This is an academic politics-driven negotiating ploy and might or might not be resolved.

So, will there be a second coming? Stay tuned.

The school's motto from the get-go has been "Be ashamed to die before you have won some victory for humanity." This ain't that.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®
(Disclaimer: I'm an Antioch MA and proud to be. But less today than yesterday.)
©WJR 2008

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