Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Antioch College gets its groove back, while the town around it grows more delightfully quirky

The Antioch College campus a few minutes before
sunset. Is Antioch College golden again? I think yes.
Here’s some Ohio real estate news that brings joy to my cranky New York heart. 

A wealthy local land owner is building a $4.5 million, 28-room hotel in Yellow Springs, Ohio. The hotel will be near the center of this country town, population under 4,000. And several beds-and-breakfasts and a motel are already doing business here.

No, it’s not folly. It’s an indicator that somebody with money and business savvy is confident that the local college is about to start generating a lot of visitor traffic for the town.

The college is Antioch, once left for dead by the university of the same name that the college spawned. In fact, Antioch College was twice pronounced dead right here and here on this blog. I was wrong. My God, was I wrong!

Angry alumni save the day

College alumni and some of its faculty, enraged by past mismanagement , wrested Antioch College from the control of Antioch University and restarted its academic engines. New trustees installed a new president, Mark Roosevelt, a descendant of the rough-riding 26th President of the United States.

Antioch College’s President Roosevelt has been having a rough ride of his own, but he seems to be effectively leading the charge to restoration. I visited the campus last week. While a few buildings are closed thanks to the university’s neglect, and some have been torn down, its original Victorian spires and more than a couple of modern and renovated structures still stand. And they, as well as the lawns and foliage, look a damn sight spiffier than they did the last time I visited the campus, in 1986.

One of the worst things that happened when Antioch University attempted patricide of Antioch College was that with the college closed and its former faculty dismissed and dispersed, Antioch College lost its accreditation. And yet the college is recovering even from this stab in the heart.

Fast track progress toward re-accreditation

At a dinner for alumni who came back to the college to help fix up the college’s theater building, paint walls, build bicycle racks and do other manual labor in support of their alma mater, President Roosevelt made an announcement last week: After an arduous process, the college was expecting to gain“candidate status” for reaccreditation, which will give it and its students access to the federal grants and loans that every institution of higher learning needs to survive.

I had left town before the next announcement was made, but the Yellow Springs News is reporting that last Saturday the college was granted its candidacy – and put on an accelerated path toward full accreditation.

I chatted with several students while I was on campus, and managed to secure a copy of their student newspaper. The kids were sharp, upbeat, and charming. Their newspaper is a better one than I put out when I was its editor. Little wonder. Since Antioch has been, until now, granting its risk-taking students full tuition (a situation which may end for most new applicants) it was able to skim the cream. Great students in turn attract great faculty, and vice-versa. At the risk of belaboring the obvious, those are certainly good things for Antioch College’s future.

The town is  magnet for foodies and fun lovers

Meanwhile, the town of Yellow Springs is revving up for the prosperity that comes with a soon-to-be-thriving college. I counted at least five restaurants during my downtown strolls and managed to eat at two of them, despite the college’s attempt to feed its alumni volunteers each night. I was especially taken with The Winds Cafe, where I enjoyed a dinner worthy of an upmarket New York restaurant (with prices nearly to match.)

And the night I breezed into town, a bit late thanks to United Airlines, a place called HaHa Pizza stayed open a half hour beyond closing time to let me eat. Moreover, they fed me one hell of a healthy pizza, thanks to an option for a whole wheat crust. And I enjoyed the atmosphere provided by the spacious interior and well-spaced booths and tables.

Moreover, while Amazon may be killing off bookstores around America, you’d never know it in Yellow Springs. Its downtown boasts three shops that sell books.

The town does a strong “local tourist” business – with people driving from places like Cincinnati, Dayton, and Columbus, Ohio to gape a bit at the counterculture types who were attracted to live in town by the progressive college. Visitors poke through offbeat shops ( pictures of some of the storefronts below) and use the state bicycle path which goes through both Yellow Springs and the edge of the college campus.

But the college needs business
and engineering departments

I have wishes for the college that aren’t likely to be fulfilled anytime soon. I wish, for example, that the college would establish a business major among its offerings. Antioch's work-study plan might create an opportunity for career-launching co-op jobs at institutions like Goldman Sachs and KKR. Hey, a hedge fund billionaire or three on the alumni roster could go a long way toward enriching Antioch’s thin endowment.

A fellow alum expressed a similar wish for the restoration of the once-pretty-good engineering department. It’s the engineers, he pointed out, who have won as many victories for humanity – with creations ranging from bridges to computers – as artists, authors and political activists. Moreover, many engineers become financially enriched by their pursuits, and might be tempted to share their good fortunes with the college.

I buttonholed President Roosevelt on the beautiful campus one night and told him about my wish for a business department. His reaction? He, uh, listened patiently. Well, he has other matters on his mind right now, but I do hope the alums will push him for broader course offerings, including business and engineering, in the years to come.

Meanwhile, the college stands, grows and shines, like a butterfly shimmying out of its chrysalis. Toward sunset, when the light is just right, the old red brick and copper turrets of the college’s 19th Century main building catch the sun and turn a honey gold, glowing against the sky. I’ll take that as a good omen.

Meanwhile, here's some of what you'll see while window shopping in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Click on the pictures to enlarge them.


Anonymous said...

Great piece, but then I am a biased alum, and a member of the BoT who would say that the ONLY thing preventing us from developing programs in business/entrepreneurship and engineering is $$$$$. We are also looking for ways to fund coop jobs in the private sector.

Robin Rice Lichtig said...

Thank you for a well-written and accurate account of Antioch's new blooming. You captured the beauty and energy, the progress and the dream.

Virgil Hervey said...

I don't think Jim Hammond is building the hotel because he thinks the college is going to take off. Neither do I think that downtown Yellow Springs with its bookstores and restaurants is vibrant in its anticipation. Tourism (mostly day-trippers) is driving our economy right now. The hotel, with or without the college, will be a great economic engine. If the Antioch survives, the two will go hand-in-hand. I remember driving my son here in the mid-90s to attend Antioch, and having to stay at the Holiday Inn in Xenia. Personally, I think the future of Yellow Springs is bright. And brighter with the college.

The New York Crank said...

Umm, Virgil? If the tourism in Yellow Springs is mainly day trippers, and if Jim Hammond doesn't think the college is going to take off, who does he think is going to stay in all those hotel rooms he's building?

I like a good argument at least as much as the next guy, but I think you need to go back and re-examine your assumptions. Without guests, the hotel will be an engine of nothing.

Yours very crankily,
The New York Crank

Rascha Hall said...

So sorry we had to miss reunion this year; would have loved to be there to hear the President tell us all that we're on the fast track to accreditation. My husband, '60, took many an engineering course even though he was a physics major. I, '62, was an ed major and remember with fondness the bike ride across the golf course to the ed building which is now gone. We're looking for many more exciting happenings at our beloved college.

S.L. Weisend said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
pblitt said...

Thanks so much for this post. It's good to see that the village is doing well and that HaHa Pizza is still in business. They were serving whole wheat crust in the 70's, way ahead of the curve.

The college has always been a complicated institution, but I wish them a speedy reacreditation.

Virgil Hervey said...

Over the 14 years I've lived here, we have had about five new B&Bs pop up and seen a complete makeover of the Springs Motel. Most, if not all of this, happened during a time when there was no optimism about the survival of the college. We get a lot of cyclists, visitors to the Glen and other parks, wedding guests, etc. If they come from the fringes of our region, say Cleveland, or beyond they look to stay overnight. We have seen a definite increase in overnight guests. Jim Hammond is a savvy businessman, he has take note of this. In fact, he was the moving force behind the Grinnell Mill Bed & Breakfast. As for your remarks about pizza: You call yourself a New Yorker. I moved here from New York and have yet to find a slice I'd glow about as you did...

The New York Crank said...

Virgil, Virgil, I happened to have stayed at the Springs Motel just the other week, and I now know Room 1 there rather more intimately than I care to, and I can tell you that you wouldn't know a makeover from a mudpie.

And on top of that you also have the unmitigated gall to raise doubts about my New York credentials? What's your problem? Won't anybody in Yellow Springs let you get close enough to get into an argument locally? Maybe you should haul your butt over to Town Drug on Xenia Avenue and invest in a stick of under arm deodorant and a toothbrush. ( I'm only sayin'.)


Yours in a formidably cranky mood,
(and get off my damn lawn and my damn blog!)

The New York Crank

Skooter said...

I think it's a bad assumption that the best way to produce business leaders is by having a "business" major. CEOs of major companies are more likely to come from liberal arts backgrounds then business school undergrad programs: