YELLOW SPRINGS, Ohio
Hanging by a chain from the ceiling in the main hallway of Antioch Hall is a black sign that reads: “Office of Transition.” The placard points Antioch College students to the place that can help them transfer from the private liberal arts college known for its social activism and creative approach to education, now on the brink of shutting its doors.
The administration’s plan to temporarily close the school has rallied alumni to help raise funds for the college. So far, they have received cash or pledges worth about $15 million.
“This is the only chance we’ll ever have because if we blow this, it’s gone,” said Rick Daily, executive director and treasurer of the Antioch alumni association.
School officials announced this summer that because of declining enrollments, heavy dependence on tuition and a small endowment, Antioch will close after the spring term, reorganize and reopen in 2012.
The college, founded in 1852, is the flagship for Antioch University, which has five other campuses in Ohio and on the East and West coasts.
“Our financial situation hasn’t changed since the June meeting,” Dr. Toni Murdock, chancellor of Antioch University, said Friday. “The financial situation was extremely severe regarding our cash flow to the point that the entire university was in jeopardy.”
Murdock believes the alumni must have a plan to sustain Antioch College for the next three years.
Antioch, which costs $36,000 a year to attend, has an $18 million operating budget and a $2.6 million deficit.
The alma mater of Coretta Scott King, “Twilight Zone” creator Rod Serling and two Nobel Prize winners, Antioch doesn’t grade classes, it encourages students to develop their own study plans and combines academic learning with experience through a co-op program in which students leave campus to work in various fields.
Over the years, activism and civil disobedience became part of the school’s fabric, with anti-war protests and weekly peace vigils in the 1960s.
In 1994, students took over a building to protest plans to turn it into an admissions office instead of a student-activity center.
In 2000, death row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted of killing a Philadelphia police officer, gave a taped commencement address at students’ invitation.
Students and alumni have a fierce allegiance to the college.
Emma Emmerich, a 19-year-old student from Cincinnati, said she’s not interested in any school but Antioch because it is inclusive, diverse and addresses issues of sexism and classism.
Catherine Jordan of Minneapolis, a 1972 graduate, credits Antioch for her success. The 58-year-old is CEO of Achieve Minneapolis, a group that found summer jobs for 630 inner-city teens.
“Antioch wasn’t for everybody. But it attracts a kind of young person that is self-directed, creative, is willing to take risks and learns how to build leadership,” Jordan said.
Current students also are trying to keep the school open.
They marched through the 4,000-resident village of Yellow Springs as part of the college’s Founders Day celebration to generate support for Antioch.
“We are living in a very precarious situation,” said Jeanne Kay, 22, a student from Cadenet, France. “The closeness of the community is tighter than ever.”
Twenty-three of the college’s 37 teachers are suing Antioch University, charging that it violated faculty personnel procedures by deciding to close the school when less drastic remedies to its financial problems existed.
Art Zucker, chairman of the university’s board of trustees, declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Across the southwestern Ohio campus, “SAVE Antioch NOW” signs are taped to dorm windows. But a school that teemed with 2,000 students three decades ago now has 230.
Recent enrollment declines have been blamed on the poor conditions of dorms and classroom buildings. Efforts to balance the budget through faculty and staff reductions and programming changes have eroded confidence in the academic program, college officials said.
The uncertainty has them operating on two different tracks.
During the day, Admissions Director Angie Glukhov helps students transfer for next year. At night, she plans a student-recruiting campaign in case Antioch stays open.
“We are all trying to find our way,” said Dr. Andrzej Bloch, Antioch’s chief operating officer.
Jordan said there are future college students who need Antioch in order to learn how to be leaders.
“We have taken this for granted,” she said of the school. “Now we have to fight our damnedest to make sure we don’t lose it.”
On the Net: http://www.antioch-college.edu/
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