Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Who killed Antioch College? Is it a tale of secrecy, incompetence, and sinister skulduggery?

Since this was originally posted there have been some major and very positive changes at Antioch. Go here for my latest report on the subject.

Antioch College is scheduled to close in June of this year. This is by now old news. Or is it?

The news has usually been blamed on the decay of the college’s physical plant, the narrowing of political diversity among the students and faculty, and a laughable policy on student sexual relations. The right wing blogs have not-undeservedly been having a vitriolic field day. Example here.

Surprising new twists

But recently, the causes of right-wing glee have begun to seem a bit superficial. It turns out – to my own surprise – that there's much more to the story. And the "much more" isn't very pretty.

It all has to do with a conflict between the 156-years-old college in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and the parent “university” which, in addition to residential liberal arts Antioch College, contains a bunch of far flung college-ettes — essentially narrowly focused community continuation and adult education schools of no great fame or formidable distinction.

I’m an Antioch College graduate from the days when an Antioch degree commanded a certain amount of respect and I’ve always assumed that the right-wing folks were for once completely correct: the problem was slow decay of the physical plant, a campus culture turned too far and too rigidly left wing to attract lots of students, a downward spiral in applications and an enfeebled endowment. The the situation seemed to be feeding on itself. The worse any one thing got, the worse everything else got.

Not entirely so, according to information leaking out of Antioch College that seems to indicate truly ugly and heretofore hidden skulduggery.

Secret meetings by trustees who
threaten to sue people
who expose their proceedings

I say the information has been “leaking” because that's the only way it can get out. The Antioch University’s Board of Trustees, the very same body that declared it was shutting down the university, is now insisting that its proceedings are subject to “lawyer-client confidentiality.”

That's pretty weird for an institution supported primarily by its alumni and supplemented, as all private college are, by government and tax-exempt foundation funds. In fact, the trustees are threatening to sue a journalist who exposed what ought to be a public record of their activities.
( I'll get you to all the appropriate links a bit further on.)

One of several possible reasons for the secrecy: there appears to be some evidence that the trustees deliberately undermined the college’s finances and growth plan. And that they deliberately rebuffed, on vague technical grounds, the alumni who had raised $20 million in three months to help save the college, as well as an earlier attempt by one individual to make a $10 million dollar donation.

Tangled, creepy and upsetting:
a “moonie” PR man, Abu Gharaib
land-grabbing entrepreneurs

The story is tangled, creepy, and upsetting – and I don’t need to retell it here in detail. You’ll find the broad outlines here. Notable in this story is an incident in which the trustees rejected a donation that might have kept the college going shortly before they announced the closing.

Then, for a bit of blood-boiling shock-and-awe you might want to go here to read a tale that includes allegations that the parent university, in the course of bringing down the college

•hired a former PR man for Sun Myung Moon to spin what was going on

•invited in a Department of Defense contractor associated with the notorious Abu Gharaib prison in Iraq

•and may be welcoming the possibility of a land grab of Antioch campus property by local entrepreneurs, in connection with changes at Wright Patterson Air Force Base. (Two of the university board members are connected to those interests.)

Did George Bush help plunge
a knife into Antioch’s heart?

Oh and by the way, the last link also leads to a suggestion that the administration of George Bush is playing a part in destroying the institution.

Finally, go here to download some of the documents that seem to authenticate much of what's leaking out of Antioch. On the same web page, if you have about 12 minutes, watch the film that shows the campus and library turning into an exercise ground for a SWAT team doing a Homeland Security exercise.

The team laughs, jokes, and starts waving assault rifles while a library staff, mourning the death of one of their colleagues and in shock from the previous day’s news that the college closing will put them all out of work, try to carry on.

Major national media: please send your investigative reporters digging.

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