Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

The AAUP and Antioch


Forget the AAUP press release. The AAUP’s actual investigation of the demise of Antioch College, which closed its doors last year, is much more interesting.

The press release complains about the failure of administrators to communicate with faculty as this school with its “rich history of progressive education” began to deteriorate over the past decade. But the picture painted by the report, while still full of recriminations, is more complex.

Antioch’s problems seem to have started in its heyday, the 1960s and 1970s. Aided by the Ford Foundation, it began satellite campuses that would bring education to “diverse communities,” such as miners in West Virginia. These campuses had mixed experiences, but they did earn enough money to pay an annual fee to the flagship, Antioch College (from whose name they were benefiting).

But by 1981, enrollment at the flagship had fallen to 500 students, from a high of almost 2,500. The AAUP paper does not attempt to explain why, but a footnote quoting current Antioch University chancellor Toni Murdock does reveal “alumni folklore.” That viewpoint blames the loss of students on student strikes in 1973 and 1978 — they closed the campus for months — and “the left-wing radical sector of the faculty and staff,” as well as an out-of-touch president and the distractions of the satellites.

Why more rescue work wasn’t done in the 1980s isn’t clear, but by the 1990s it was obvious that the school, with an enrollment under 500, was suffering financial stress. The footnoted chancellor says that the faculty were well-informed about the problems but never able to come up with “alternatives.”

We begin to visualize a growing division between a frantic administration, trying to manage a multi-campus university system amid limited finances and possibly burdened by weak leadership, and the faculty, trying to protect tenure, jobs, and the centrality of the college (the satellites didn’t have tenure). Desperate, in 2004 the administration came up with a new curriculum with minimal faculty involvement. That outraged the faculty — increasing the divide that already existed. But by that time, the end was in sight.

Undoubtedly, there’s a lot more to the story, and one AAUP report is inevitably incomplete. (The university is apparently issuing a response.) My vote for the reason for Antioch’s decline: Antioch symbolized the 1960s, but it wasn’t the 1960s anymore.


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