Antioch College May Shut its Books Forever

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The small iconic liberal arts college in Yellow Springs, Ohio, is a 156-year-old bastion of progressive freethinking and activism. This weekend's commencement may be its last.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

In Ohio, a small liberal arts college holds its commencement tomorrow, and it may be its last. One-hundred-fifty-six-year-old Antioch College, known for its progressive thinking and activism, may be graduating its last few students.

From Yellow Springs, Ohio, here's Aileen LeBlanc.

AILEEN LeBLANC: Antioch College sits on a beautiful, sprawling green campus with a castle-like main building and a history of graduating Nobel and Macarthur Prize winners and people like Coretta Scott King. Antioch University oversees five non-resident adult degree campuses, plus Antioch College, the mother ship. Significant financial troubles have plagued the college, leading the university to announce that it will suspend operations of Antioch College at the end of June.

Mr. RALPH KEYES (Author): The worst thing that could happen to Antioch College would be for it to continue operations on the current terms.

LeBLANC: Author and alumnus, Ralph Keyes.

Mr. KEYES: If Antioch stays open on the current terms, with the same cast of characters and the same ideology and the same approach and somehow hopes that things will take a turn for the better, I think that's goofy.

LeBLANC: The college stands proudly as a progressive place, with a reputation of breeding beatnik, toxic, hippy, gay, New Age, vegan weirdoes. Though some of these monikers are embraced with pride here, student Julian Sharp says that Antioch's reputation is something of an exaggeration.

Mr. JULIAN SHARP (Student, Antioch College): It seem really difficult, I think, being here this year, because you've seen the university administration deface Antioch College in the media. Whether they're talking about the curriculum at Antioch College or the type of students that attend this college, it's so misinformed and it serves to perpetuate a negative image of the college and -towards the goal of getting rid of the college, from the university perspective.

LeBLANC: There have been seven Antioch College presidents in the past 12 years. One of them labeled the campus culture toxic. In 2004, the faculty was forced into a curriculum change without their input, and enrollment is down to 200 students from a high of over 1,200. Many, including former dean and professor Steve Schwerner, lay a big part of the blame on the governance structured by the umbrella university.

Professor STEVE SCHWERNER (Former Dean and Professor, Antioch College): When a college can't speak for itself, it can't make it's own decisions, then I think it runs into trouble. What is certainly true is many alumni, some of which who have substantial wealth, have been disaffected by the university and have said that they will not give any money to the college until the college is separated from the university.

LeBLANC: So when the university announced it was going to suspend operations of the college, a passionate, frenzied uproar from alumni spawned plans to raise money and wrest control of the college from the university. Antioch alumnus Eric Bates is executive editor of Rolling Stone magazine.

Mr. ERIC BATES (Executive Editor, Rolling Stone Magazine): What we had proposed to the trustees was what we had called the 10-10 Plan. We have 10 alums who are prepared to contribute $10 million and come on to the university board of trustees as trustees to help oversee the separation of the college from the university.

LeBLANC: The deadline for the university's answer to the 10-10 Plan was tomorrow, graduation day. But the university now says it will begin negotiations again after commencement. But time is short. The term is over. The dorms will be vacant on Sunday. And by June 30th, 160 college employees are slated to lose their jobs if the current plan is not changed.

Meanwhile, graduating student Kim-Jenna Jurriaans from the Netherlands rehearses her speech for tomorrow's ceremony.

Ms. KIM-JENNA JURRIAANS (Graduating Student; Editor, The Antioch Record): We believe in an Antioch that values human capital over buildings, educational value over efficiency, questions over answers - an Antioch that encourages learning by discovery rather than prescription.

LeBLANC: It could be the last one ever at Antioch College.

For NPR News, I'm Aileen LeBlanc in Yellow Springs, Ohio.

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