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Last week’s announcement that Antioch University’s board was open to considering a plan to avoid suspending the operations of Antioch College brought uncharacteristic peace to a campus where many students, professors and alumni distrust the central university administration and board. The distrust is back.
On Friday, the university’s chancellor, Toni Murdock, announced that Steven W. Lawry was stepping down immediately as president of Antioch College. Lawry had earlier announced plans to leave at the end of year. No reason was given for his immediate departure, nor did the announcement indicate who made the decision that he would leave immediately.
While several press accounts and statements from Antioch officials over the weekend implied that the decision was Lawry’s, multiple knowledgeable sources said that Murdock forced Lawry to leave because she was angry over his public calls for reform of the college’s governance. Relations have so deteriorated that Lawry — the Antioch official who has the trust of alumni, student and faculty leaders — has been barred from campus or from contacting alumni. (The latter ban will apparently be discussed at meetings this week because it conflicts with statements from university leaders that Lawry would be working with alumni leaders to come up with a plan to keep the college operating.)
Antioch University’s board announced in June that it would suspend operations of Antioch College, the liberal arts institution based in Yellow Springs, Ohio, that was founded by Horace Mann, at the end of the coming academic year. Since then, supporters of keeping the college operating have been deeply critical of the university’s board and administration. That anger subsided a bit with last week’s news about the board being willing to consider plans for keeping the college open, but the anger appears to be returning in force.
Many again doubt the commitment of the board to keeping the college open. Rumors also were flying around the campus and alumni networks over the weekend that the central administration was taking over the college’s fund raising operations. Locks were reportedly changed on some offices and e-mail access changed. One of the major points of dispute between alumni and the university administration is who will control fund raising. Many fear that the college will not be able to raise money if potential donors feel the funds could end up helping other parts of the university.
Mary Lou LaPierre, vice chancellor and chief spokeswoman for the university administration, is usually quick to rebut various rumors about the university. But on Lawry’s reported dismissal, she said she didn’t know. She added, though, that “given our current situation and the need to provide our new and continuing students with a rich academic residential year, the chancellor has put in place a team to achieve that goal.” On fund raising, she said that the board and administration “intend to collaborate in an unprecedented way” with alumni leaders.
Lawry declined to comment on his departure, except to say: “I’ve had a wonderful experience at Antioch. We’ve strengthened the college’s academic offerings. Our intellectual and social environment better embraces a diversity of perspectives. I leave feeling very supported by the Antioch College communty.”
Rick Daily, treasurer of the Antioch College Alumni Board of Directors, said in an interview Monday that Lawry’s dismissal was “unnecessary” and “counterproductive.” At a time that the university needs to build the confidence of college supporters, he said “this didn’t help build confidence.”
“Steve was a very valuable guy for us,” Daily said. “He’s passionate about the college, about the need for a revised governance structure, where Antioch College will be self-governing within the university. We need that passion.”
Daily, who will be on campus this week negotiating with university officials, said he did not understand why Lawry was barred from campus. Daily said he was still hopeful that the board would agree to keep the college running, but he stressed that he didn’t think the board had moved away from its original take on the issues. “They are committed to shutting the college down. That’s their plan, and all they’ve agreed to do is talk to us.”
The college faculty, with their lawsuit, and the Alumni Board, with their proposal, have taken courageous steps to save Antioch College in Yellow Springs.
While the Board of Trustees has agreed to share some financial information, it may be limited and the BOT may insist that the Alumni Board keep this information confidential.
The Alumni Board should accept nothing less than full and public financial disclosure and an independent audit. Otherwise, they will be forced into accepting the Board of Trustees version of Antioch’s finances.
But neither the faculty lawsuit nor the Alumni Board proposal will have any effect on the branch campuses. After all, it is their business model that has forced the closing of the college.
If the branch campuses are allowed to remain without tenure and with large numbers of cheap, fearful, exploited adjuncts, they will continue to contradict the social justice values of the college, and thereby continue to undermine the existence of the college itself.
It’s heartening to see the valiant attempts to save the college.
But who will rescue Antioch University from its current Board of Trustees?
Richard, at 11:20 am EDT on September 4, 2007
The College faculty have gotten a raw deal, and may they receive their legal remedy—money damages. The faculty lawsuit will not avoid the closing of the College. Now, with the firing of Lawry, the University is even less likely to reopen the College in 2012 in any form alumni will recognize, like or support.
The sooner the University announces it will not reopen the College, and begins to liquidate its Yellow Springs holdings, the better. The College has won countless victories for humanity, it need not be ashamed to die. Rather, it should be ashamed to be undead.
If, no earlier than that, an inventive soul like Morgan’s, backed by some generous soul like Kettering’s, should happen to be shopping for a lovely though decrepit campus in southwestern Ohio, Hallelujah! The College may yet be reborn, unstitched from the Frankenstein’s monster known as Antioch University.
Clifton Gorge, at 3:05 am EDT on September 5, 2007
The Antioch University Board of Trustees provides a convenient target for critics of the disaster unfolding in Yellow Springs. So, how many members of the BOT actually live in the Yellow Springs area? The answer: zero. The BOT is getting their info from their “employees,” the Antioch University administration. Who allegedly changed the locks the other day at Antioch College? Surely, those were not Trustees who executed that order? Perhaps, they signed off on it? The BOT has been getting bad info from their employees, the administrators of Antioch University. Who are these people? Toni Murdock is the one who gets the press. Who is advising Murdock? That’s the question. Who has been in key positions at Antioch University over the past dozen years as the Antioch College “land grab” has been planned and executed? As journalists dig into this steaming pile of storyline they need to question everything they see and hear. The bottom line is money. Who handles the money? Accountants do. It’s time to start looking at the CFO’s who have been keeping the books over there. Is there a person who has consistently been involved over the past dozen years? Did this individual supposedly retire in December of 2004? Did this person actually vacate the premises? Is this person still there, with a different title now? Antioch University shrouds itself behind a curtain that obscures the truth. Pull back that curtain. Let’s see who is really standing there. It won’t be a member of the BOT.
Anthony Mordor, at 10:50 am EDT on September 5, 2007
The situation does indeed demand an audit and full disclosure. More importantly how it is that the university owns the college property (and Glen Helen?) and what is its value? Sounds to me like this needs good investigative reporting by a publication like Inside Education or a major newspaper.
I believe the college should be separated from the university and the university repay the college for their start-up plus return the Yellow Spring lands and holdings to the college.
Jo Procter ‘60, at 1:15 pm EDT on September 5, 2007
As the weeks have gone by, and certainly with the new lockout of the College President, Antiochians and others concerned have finally recognized the scope of the hijacking of that venerable institution. Chancellor Murdock has finally exposed herself as a dirty street fighter out of the school of Rove and Cheney. She may not as ignorant and delusional as Gonzales or George Bush, but her imperious character is certainly reminiscent of that man who is convinced he is king.
She is clearly a hard ball player and it is time for those concerned to play hard ball too. Those of us who fought the hijacking just a few years ago of the Pacifica Radio Foundation, the creator of listener sponsored radio fifty years ago, know how hard it is to fight an entrenched board. But we won that time. In that case it took court action.
For years we went about our own lives ignorant of the serious developments at the college. Lke the three monky trio, we heard no evil, we saw no evil, so we said nothing. But now all we need is a fourth sense, the sense of smell.
We need serious investigation of the Chancellor, her background and reputation in her former University activity, as also, perhaps, her non-Antiochian Board members who are reported to be out of the military-industrial-national security establishment. And is the sale of the College assets an objective, as many suggest? We then need evaluation of legal and other alternative actions.
As I have posted elsewhere, and as a matter of perspective on the crisis, money is major but not the ultimate issue. No plan for regeneration is sustainable unless enrollment can be multiplied to a viable level and campus culture, at least as described by Ralph Keyes, can be brought back to the civilized level many of us remember and that established Antioch as a premier insitution for both scholarship and social change.
BobBogen, at 5:45 am EDT on September 6, 2007
In my day, Antioch College honored, nurtured, challenged and supported its students. In turn, we went out into the world prepared to do the same in our jobs, our families, our communities. I am so grateful for the education I received at Antioch College. I have been a learning specialist for over 30 years. The approach to learning that I experienced at Antioch, I have passed on to hundreds and hundreds of students. The alumni are fighting hard to keep this college open. Members of the media—please keep this story on “the front page.” Ellen Woodbridge, ‘74
Ellen Woodbridge, at 8:25 am EDT on September 6, 2007
Every morning I wake up wondering what Chancellor Murdock will do next. Each morning I am awed anew at her ability to carry our the most draconian, ham-handed, un-deomcratic, anti-Antiochian actions with out shame, in full view of the academic world, while the Antioch University Board of Trustees stand and watch as the reputation and future of the College most of them attended is torn to the ground.
There was a time when firing the Chancellor would have been a problem for the college and the U. Too much transition at the top of both has caused fund-raising to lag, morale to decline and bitterness to become endemic. Stability was the most important thing for the Antioch brand of education. Now however, after nearly 3 months of actions that are completely contrary to the tradition and practice of Antiochians, firing Dr. Murdock is essential and would prove to be a victory for the University and the College.Leaders are defined by how they manage through crisis, in this crisis Dr. Murdock has shown nothing but the back of her hand to the college’s alumni, disrespect and indifference to the college faculty, and a shocking lack of understanding of why students attend both Antioch University and Antioch College. Ms LaPierre can spin as fast as she can and the audience does not lose focus of the big picture: a 152 year old institution always at the forefront of progress, freedom, equality, egalitarity, knowledge and community governance has been gutted of its reputation, its curriculum, its own President; reduced to an administrative shell on the outskirts of the University it gave birth to in order to support the core mission of the college.
Shame. Shame. Shame.
Travis Sanford ‘94, at 2:30 pm EDT on September 6, 2007
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