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Antioch’s Choice: A Response

The trustees and college leadership appreciate both the fundamental value of academic tenure and, consistent with the AAUP 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, will work to establish a scholarly culture in which academic freedom is protected.

 

Matthew A. Derr
Interim President


As Antioch College prepares to open its doors to students in the fall of 2011, it faces some challenges that are unique to its recent history and many that confront all of higher education. I am excited by the college’s redevelopment and by the opportunity to provide the prospect of employment to faculty. Our success has been dependent on our many supporters of varied perspectives and views: alumni, former faculty and friends, including alumnus Dr. Cary Nelson, president of the American Association of University Professors.

As Dr. Nelson writes: “In a world in which higher education is on the verge of abandoning the liberal arts for a corporate agenda, Antioch’s presence is more important to American higher education than it has been in decades.” Antioch College will reemerge both as an institution devoted to liberal learning and one committed to and defined by its faculty. The trustees and college leadership appreciate both the fundamental value of academic tenure and, consistent with the AAUP 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, will work to establish a scholarly culture in which academic freedom is protected. I fully concur with the AAUP that the protection of academic freedom is among the most critical ways in which a college or university fulfills its obligation to society.

Recognizing that many of those reading Inside Higher Education are intimately aware of the events of the last year, I will only briefly remind all concerned that on September 4, 2009, the historic campus and some, but not all, of the assets associated with Antioch College were purchased from Antioch University with the support of alumni and friends by the Antioch College Corporation, a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) entity. The trustees, alumni, former faculty, staff, students and friends of Antioch College worked vigorously and collaboratively to avoid closure. Speculating this would be possible, they committed countless hours and millions of dollars. Much to our regret, we were unsuccessful in securing an agreement with Antioch University in time to avoid the college’s closure. In the perception of the public, Antioch College was closed, not suspended, on June 30, 2008.

In late August of this year, I traveled to Washington, D.C., with two trustees to meet with Dr. Nelson and his colleagues. The college initiated this meeting, and I appreciated the opportunity to describe our plans for a fair and transparent hiring and tenure process at the fledgling college in the coming year. On behalf of all those who care deeply about the challenges presently facing higher education and who, within this context, have supported Antioch College, I also expressed my gratitude to the AAUP for its sustained effort to shine light on the circumstances at Antioch College since 2007.

As the college prepares to welcome its presidential candidate to campus today, I am struck by the timing of Dr. Nelson’s comments, the challenges faced by this small institution, and the constellation of strains and pressures that are being brought upon it by those who support its revival and what that revival could mean for higher education. There is no roadmap to which we can turn to navigate through these many challenges, but we – the alumni, trustees, and friends of the college – are inspired and motivated to action by Antioch College’s historic legacy of support for diversity, its tradition of community governance and its emphasis on social justice.

Who is to make up the faculty of Antioch College? How will they be identified and hired? These are understandably among the most challenging questions I have faced in my term as interim president and over which the board has grappled during the course of the past year. The gravity of these questions to the college’s development and the reflection of the answers on its ethical and moral bearing will be apparent to all regardless of their perspective on the topic. Our position is that the hiring process for all positions must be a fair, open and hold to legal requirements associated with recruitment and hiring. Today, more than 90 percent of the college’s workforce was employed by Antioch University at the college prior to 2008. We are deeply grateful for their experience and perspectives and are entirely confident they represent the best possible appointments.

The college has adopted policies with regard to hiring, and in recognition of the generations of Antiochians who fought to support fair and equal opportunity hiring practices, we will vigilantly adhere to these values. We believe we share these values with the AAUP. It is neither responsible or an argument for moral fairness to suggest that the college develop a process through which any candidate be selected solely based on prior affiliations or a perceived influence.

We appreciate the concern the AAUP has expressed for the tenured faculty whose employment was terminated when Antioch University ceased operations at the college. The impact of the closure on the professional and personal lives of its faculty and staff is among the most painful wounds associated with the events of the past three years. Without the shared commitment the former faculty, staff, alumni and the community at large, Antioch College would not have been the inspirational and transformational place it had been. Antioch College appreciates the fundamental importance of academic tenure, but even when considering its present curricular needs, it cannot categorically or automatically offer reinstatement to those whose appointments were both granted by and then terminated by Antioch University. To do so would be a violation of the transparent processes and practices that we believe the AAUP champions and would represent an abandonment of our important and long-held values around equal opportunities.

Further, it is our position that the college cannot act capriciously or disrespectfully to candidates for hiring or tenure promotion. As AAUP would expect, any process for reviewing candidates for new faculty vacancies should require a peer scholarly review and not be informal in nature. It is, however, my view that an appreciation for the historic educational values of Antioch College, as well as experience teaching in a curriculum that values cooperative education and community governance in the context of a liberal arts college, will be among the important criteria for new faculty posts. Anyone who believes he or she is qualified for a particular faculty position is encouraged to apply – and I would expect that the applicant pool will include former members of faculty.

The bittersweet circumstances of the last 12 months leave us both optimistic about the bright prospects for Antioch College and concerned about the impact of the recent past on the future development of our community and our capacity to attract and retain faculty. No other college has faced as admittedly a contradictory a set of circumstances as does Antioch College today. The board and present college feel a deep sense of gratitude to the former faculty of Antioch College and I know them to be our comrades in the effort to save the college and to gain its independence.

Consistent with the AAUP’s mission, I hope to continue to discuss how its leadership can assist us as we move forward. Consistent with our values, we seek to emerge as an institution that supports the role of faculty and recognizes the importance of tenure to the integrity of scholarship. It is particularly important for us to pursue an open and fair process now when trends in higher education point in the opposite direction. This is our moral obligation.