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Interim President Matthew Derr's State of the College Address

Interim President Matthew Derr delivered this "State of the College" address during the public portion of the May 22 Board Pro Tempore meeting in Herndon Gallery.

This is, not surprisingly, a pivotal time in our effort to restore Antioch College and its historic legacy as one of the premier and most forward-thinking liberal arts colleges in the United States.

Today, the College, its board and its alumni are both endowed with a 160-year-old tradition and the inherent and unpredictable challenges and opportunities of a fresh start.

We have reaffirmed in words and in our efforts Antioch's historic commitment to the liberal arts, to work, and to community. If you walk the campus, you will certainly believe we are a 160-year old institution. If you attend our chapter meetings, you will also see the history - you'll see the passion, and the love of generations of Antiochians for an educational model that transformed their lives.

I believe that Antioch College is on the cusp of something great again: an opportunity, a moment in time on which we will all collectively reflect in the coming years. I also firmly believe that it is this moment, not a year from now, that will determine whether Antioch College is once again a catalyst for change in a world and a system of higher education that badly needs it, or one more ordinary and struggling speck on the lens of learning.

Of course, one person's cusp could be described as the next person's precipice and Antioch has learned a thing or two about living on the cusp of a precipice over the past thirty years. But, this moment, this experience is unique. This time we are "here on our own; of our own free will; and with our fate firmly in our own hands."

Recently, I have had the opportunity to again be reminded of the cycles of rising and falling fortunes at the College. This is, of course, not the first time a board has sat in deliberation about the need to search for a new president, fundraising or facilities. Further, it's not the first time an Antioch College board has taken risks or planned for an ambitious future during a period of economic instability, calamitous world and environmental events, and real crisis in higher education. If history is our guide, these should, in fact, turn out to once again be great times for this problem solving little college.

"Such as they are, there are too many colleges in America. A large number of institutions fighting for success which not all can achieve," said Arthur Morgan in a letter to faculty assessing the state of the college and its future after a decade as its president. The academic year was 1929-30. Years that I hope we can agree were more than equal to the times and global financial challenges we face today.

Morgan goes went on to say: "Under the circumstances I believe it is unwise to fight for the survival of a college unless in some significant and distinctive way it is raising the level of college education. It is not enough that the educational level be slightly raised."

And finally: "My reason for being interested in Antioch was not a desire to keep alive one more college, but a feeling that a new kind of institution is possible, so superior to the prevailing college, and so distinct in its characteristics, that to bring it into being and to establish it would justify the utmost efforts"

This is a unique experience for each of us at this table and in this room and we should savor it. But, Antioch has, of course, been here before. Each of us shares a deep commitment to education and to Antioch, as did the board and leadership 90 years ago. In the uncertainty of our moment, we need to ensure that we not simply copy of what went before, or that which is already abundantly available to students at other institutions, but to create a truly new institution. These uncertain times could give birth to greatness . . . but, it could equally give credence to something that is neither worth of the legacy of Antioch College or the this moment in history.

First things first. Today, you are going to hear about the progress we are making in the development of a new concept and curriculum for Antioch College. You will hear more about the ways in which we hope to test this model, not only among a diverse population of perspective students but also against the standards and methods of accreditation and degree granting authorities.

You will hear about our expanding effort to get news of the College out to the world and, most importantly, to the 17,000 alumni of the College. And about the increasing participation of the alumni as we move forward with our $50 million capital campaign. We have expanded our resources in fundraising and will continue to do so as we plan to not simply revive but to transform Antioch College.

You will hear about the careful stewardship of our resources in the finance and operations and the care and attention to the restoration of the campus that began here in South Hall and the continuation of which involves new partnership with the community and new ways of financing transformational work on the campus that is true to our values and passion for preserving the environment.

You will here in this report both the optimism that is so much a part of our view and our anxiety about sustaining our efforts and the rapid improvements we wish and need to make.

We will talk about the future of the Antioch Review and our goal to protect Glen Helen and to see that both of these elements of the Antioch College we all knew have the opportunity to grow as the College becomes stronger.

The initial steps of planning around recruitment of the entering class of 2011 have already begun. This pioneering class of 25 students will partner with the new president, faculty and staff of the College in the continued development of our program and tradition of community governance.

To that end, I have recently asked emeritus faculty member Al Denman and alumna Jennifer Berman to convene a group of community managers and others to assist us with the passing the legacy of community governance to the 2011 community so that they may benefit from 80 years of work, but in our democratic tradition that they will also have their own agency and authority over the community and community governments that they wish to create.

We've begin work to look very closely to the future of Olive Kettering Library, and to much nervousness of our neighbors, we've talked about a farm at the golf course. We promised there won't be pigs.

We've launched a series of symposia ranging from topics having to do with restorative justice to the history of the Republican Party. Today, there is a symposium focused on the future of the humanities and the health of the humanities in higher education. The work of the Morgan Fellows this year in creating and intellectual and academic life on campus has been inspiring.

In this long list of items, some bureaucratic, some inspirational, it is important that we not loose sight of our goal to do something great here. That in doing those things that are ordinary to the operation of an effective operation, that we not plan to be ordinary.

It has been and continues to be an honor for me to serve this board and to be a member of this community. I am proud of my colleagues and their hard work and vision under both difficult and inspiring circumstances. I am thankful to my fellow alumni who gave Antioch the opportunity to yet again be something great.