5. EXPANSION

The student body wasn’t the only thing to expand dramatically during the ‘60s and early ‘70s. Antioch College also expanded geographically. In 1964, the acquisition of a graduate center renamed Antioch-Putney, currently Antioch New England, triggered a series of acquisitions and developments all over the United States, known as “the Network.” It’s difficult to define the Network, as it has always been amorphous. It’s unclear, even to historians and those who lived it, how many Antiochs there even were–dozens, certainly. Part of the reason is that there was an astounding variety of different “campuses,” from an Antioch College science professor teaching students for a term in Hawaii to Antioch Columbia, a full four-year residential college in Maryland which started in 1969 and was shuttered in 1973.

The student strike in 1973 ended Antioch College’s expansion phase, with unstable campuses shutting down or spinning off from the Antioch name, and temporary Antiochs not being replaced. The Antioch College Board of Trustees reincorporated the college and the Network as Antioch University in ‘77, with the change taking effect in 1978. By the mid-1980s there remained four schools in New England, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, and Seattle which were aimed at older, commuting students; one adult learning school that shared the college campus called Antioch McGregor; and Antioch College itself. The last part of the university closed was the Antioch School of Law, located in Washington D.C. It, like the college, did not go quietly.

Initially, the creation of Antioch University to replace “the Network” was a rebranding. Antioch College was still central to the university, as it had been to the Network. The college’s president was the most powerful administrator, and maintaining the college was paramount. In 1985, Alan Guskin became the college president, a position he held for nine years and from which he dominated this period of Antioch history. Guskin’s heavy-handedness—he had presided over the closure of Antioch Law in 1986—made him a divisive figure. But his success in fundraising, combined with the length of his tenure, helped ensure some level of stability.

Bizarrely, the method by which Guskin ended his reign as president shattered that stability. He decided to create the position of Antioch University Chancellor, with himself in that role, in 1993 (critics would claim that the entire position was his “golden parachute”). All of the campus presidents—who became the “University Leadership Council” in a contemporaneous restructuring—reported to the chancellor. This proved to be a critical point in the college’s relationship with the university. Before the chancellorship, the head of the college was the university’s highest-ranking administrator. Afterward, the notion of the college being central to the university was primarily a social conceit—and one which the other branches of the university eventually learned they could ignore. Meanwhile, on the college’s campus, Guskin’s successor as president, Jim Crowfoot, proved unsuccessful, and the Antioch University board removed him in 1996.

The Antioch University Leadership Council and its entrenched bureaucracy grew more powerful over time. Antioch University set its headquarters across the street from the main college campus in Yellow Springs. This would, eventually, become a powerful visual metaphor: The street between the college and university symbolized an increasingly wide gulf of power, financial standing, and worldview. The concept of the university CFO trotting across the street once a year to deliver bad news and worse ultimatums became a dominant image of the college/university relationship.

Descriptions of the apparent chaos of the June, 2007 board meeting at which the college was closed illustrate the power of the University Leadership Council over other parts of the decision-making structure by 2007. For example, the board was under the impression that they were  continuing business as usual to the extent that they were granting tenure to college professors the day before. It’s also unclear if the board was presented any alternative to the suspension of college operations.1

Antioch University’s other branches generally held more in common with one another than with the college, which helps explain the differing cultures. Beyond the differences in history and reputation, the college was a residential four year liberal arts education provided by tenured faculty on a traditional pastoral campus. The university campuses were commuter, non-residential schools. These tended to have smaller campuses (even single buildings) in urban areas, in the case of Seattle, L.A., and Santa Barbara. The university campuses also generally used tenured faculty less than the college did.

The cultural conflict could then be framed as such: The university campuses had moved toward a fiscally-efficient model of education, while the college used a proven academically successful model. Both could be successful depending on goals and resources, yes, but the differences between them created inevitable tension. One of these things was very much unlike the others, and those other campuses were natural allies in any internal division. The tension wasn’t helped by the fact that the university campuses paid some subsidies to the college—a just price for their creation and leasing of Antioch’s name and reputation according to some; a millstone preventing proper expansion and investment according to others.

Indeed, the existence of “Antioch University” proved controversial to the college from its beginning. In 1980, the long-serving and highly respected philosophy professor Al Denman published an op-ed in the college newspaper calling for college independence. In 1996, the ouster of Antioch College President Jim Crowfoot at the hands of the university board ruffled feathers, and acted as one of the triggers for the creation of the Antioch Independence Fund (AIF), a group of disgruntled alumni who raised $1 million to put toward the college breaking away from the university. Anecdotally, there were also reams of evidence from college fundraisers, who found that alumni may have loved the college, but they mistrusted and refused to donate to the corporate entity named Antioch University.

Next >> Part 6, Toxicity

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