Monday, July 07, 2008

Now it turns out Antioch’s incompetent trustees and chancellor closed the college with zero forethought and planning

The situation at what’s left of beleaguered Antioch College keeps on going – from bad, to worse, to unimaginably horrendous. We’ve commented on the disaster there here, here, and here, but the bad news simply keeps on coming.

Back in May, perhaps some skeptics who thought the trustees and chancellor of Antioch University couldn’t be totally irresponsible might have scoffed at this report in a journal called Inside Higher Ed:

Paula A. Treichler, an Antioch alumna who last week left the Antioch board and who is a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, blasted trustees for refusing to accept the deal [for turning the Yellow Springs college campus over to the alumni-sponsored Antioch College Continuation Corporation instead of closing down the college.] She said last week’s vote “does violence to the college and its alumni, the Village of Yellow Springs, progressive higher education, and acceptable standards for the governance of academic institutions.” She said that the university’s chancellor, Toni Murdock, and “the uncritical trustees who have applauded her every move are living in a dream world of their own making,” engaged in “bullying, fear-mongering, selective presentation of facts and figures, legal intimidation, self-righteous proclamation, and secrecy.”

While the trustees have “won” the right to shut down the college, Treichler said that they will have done great damage to Antioch. “As the full story of these negotiations, hidden agendas, and 
squandered opportunities emerges over the coming months — and it will — we will have to conclude that the actions and decisions of this university administration and this university Board of Trustees have been among the most unethical, academically and economically irresponsible, incompetent, and politically cowardly in the history of American higher education.
Over the top? On the contrary. In light of new reports from Yellow Springs, Ohio, perhaps Treichler’s bitter denunciation was an understatement.

Proceed blindly, with both left feet

Last week, the Yellow Springs News revealed that the college closing, already in progress, is being conducted with all the forethought and attention to facts, detail, costs and law that the Bush Administration devoted to invading Iraq. Or maybe a little bit less.

The Yellow Springs News reported that the way the college was going about the shutdown was violating the local fire code and putting buildings at risk. The problem? The buildings contained flammables, yet the fire protection systems had been dismantled.

• Freezing temperatures during winter could cause the sprinkler system pipes to burst, yet heating the more than 20 institutional buildings – a necessary step if the sprinkler system was to be kept on – involved expenses that the parent university and its underlings at the college evidently didn’t plan for.

• The college fired the physical plant employee who had been in communication with fire officials and who might have been able to communicate his concerns to the University’s hellbent-on-closing management.

"The problem has been the university has not been forthcoming in their plans for fire protection for the buildings,” according to the local township fire chief, Colin Altman, “No one has contacted us.”
 Not forthcoming? They haven’t even been forthcoming with their own alumni, faculty and the press.

• Having created one of the most enormous fire hazards in educational history, the Trustees, Chancellor and senior staff of the university “vanished.” Reported the Yellow Springs News again:
"We’re not trying to violate any kind of code,” he [Vice President for Student Services Milt Thompson] said. There had not been time to remove all furniture and other combustibles from the buildings because “things happened pretty fast,” he said.

 Decisions regarding the shutdown were made by Antioch University Chief Financial Officer Tom Faecke, according to Faecke in an interview several weeks ago.

 Faecke, University Chancellor Toni Murdock and University Board President Art Zucker were not available for comment last week or this week due to family and travel conflicts around the Fourth of July holiday, according to university spokesperson Lynda Sirk. Faecke and Murdock did not respond to calls seeking comment, and Zucker did not respond to an e-mail request.”
“Tear it down,” says a consultant

Meanwhile, the Trustees, who seem to make a habit of listening to bad advice from consultants (it was an outside consultant who originally advised closing the Yellow Springs college) hired yet another consultant who has advised tearing down half the buildings on campus, including the student union, theater arts building, the college gym, several dormitories, the art building and others. Yeah, that'll certainly help the college reopen in the future, the way Chancellor Tulisse Murdoch says she plans.

If they listen to the consultant, the board will be following not only in the footsteps of the Bush administration, but also of the legendary Vietnam combat officer who declared, without any glimmer of a sense of irony, that “We had to burn the village to save it.”

Panicked trustees change direction

Little wonder the trustees, now suddenly panicked, passed a resolution in June “seeking an independent college and asking the alumni board to present a process and a plan for achieving that goal,” according to the Yellow Springs News. This was the opposite of what they had announced earlier, after having turned down an earnestly drafted alumni plan to preserve the college.

The alumni are crazy if they accept the new offer. They have raised $18 million or so in pledges and cash to “save” the college and perhaps they could raise even more. But the mess that Chancellor Tulisse Murdoch and the trustees have created through their gross incompetence can’t be fixed with $18 million.

A sure thing: To repair the campus physical plant, recruit first rate (and rightfully wary) new faculty in every major department and then keep the college going with an insufficient number of students for about 10 years until Antioch College can finally restore its reputation, demonstrate its quality again, and achieve a critical mass of qualified students will cost many multiples of $18 million.

Our own cranky estimate: try half a billion bucks.

P.S. Antioch’s management, which in the past couldn't take yes for an answer when alumni offered a takeover plan to liberate the college from the University, also can’t seem to take no for an answer. In an organized response to the closing, a number of angry alumni wrote to the PR director of the university telling her to take our names off their e-mail list. We didn’t want to hear from the university, or her, ever again.

In violation of the spirit, if not the letter, of the CAN-SPAM law, the university's PR flack and the puppet Yellow Springs campus president not only defied our opt-out message by sending us another e-mail, but said they would do so again. It’s further evidence of the panic that has management desperately trying to get the college off their hands before they can be accused of destroying it physically as well as institutionally – an event that increasingly looks inevitable.

Their "opt-out this, buddy" message, sugarcoated with buzzwords like "stakeholders" and "outreach" said:
I am writing to ask that in light of continued discussions between Antioch University and Antioch College alumni regarding the transfer of the college to alumni, that you consider accepting periodic outreach from Antioch University intended to keep all Antioch stakeholders up to date about the college's future.
I respectfully ask this because it is our goal to make sure that the outcome of any actions pertaining to Antioch College are swiftly and accurately conveyed to everyone with a direct interest in the institution.
If it is still your decision to request removal from periodic communication, you may opt out of the news mailing list by selecting the opt out option at the bottom of the next communication.


Andrzej Bloch
Interim President Antioch College
Lynda Sirk
Director of Communications Antioch University

As of July 7th, the college spinmeisters had failed to "swiftly and accurately" convey the chaos over the firetrap they had created, or the consultant's advice to tear down half the college.

P.P.S. Will wonders never cease? The July 10th Yellow Springs News reports that "The water sprinklers had never been turned off," according to the Antioch University vice president for student services, despite his report to the contrary to the local township fire chief, Colin Altman, the previous week. Then, uh, the University VP mentioned that, well, one building is an exception. And he still hasn't said how the University will deal with a pipe-freezing winter now that the heating system has been shut down. Or at least the University's financial vice president is still saying it's shut down. Who knows, given the stumbling by University administrators over what ought to be simple yes-or-no facts.
And still there's more – a move afoot in Yellow Springs to have the village assert its rights of eminent domain and seize the campus. Use the link in the paragraph above for details.  I doubt it will ever happen, but hey, it's Yellow Springs and Antioch. So you never know.

No comments: