How much of Michael Goldfarb’s elegy for Antioch College is accurate, I don’t know; I wasn’t there. (News report on the ostensibly temporary closure of Antioch here; the college’s own statement here.) I do know that any man whose retrospective on the 60s refers to later efforts to prevent date rape as making people "prisoners of gender" wasn’t there either, or wasn’t paying attention to what was really going on.
Free love is all well and good–I enjoyed it myself–but quite a bit of the 60s variety was free to men because women were paying. Antioch’s famous "May I touch you here?" policy wasn’t created in isolation but in response to statistics showing that one in six college women is the victim of rape or attempted rape. So forgive me if I don’t mourn for the good old days when sexual encounters with unwilling women were accepted as just something nice boys did, and nice girls tolerated.
And I seriously doubt that what crippled Antioch was its determination to keep its women students safe, or any other aspect of its liberalism–except one. There are some liberals who hate rich people reflexively. This makes it hard to raise money from them. It takes discipline to remember that the choice isn’t between good people who give money and bad people who give it but between people who give money and people who don’t. There may be some money we regard as dirty–I don’t advocate taking money earned from prostitution, for instance, at least not when given by non-prostitutes–but nonprofit executives can’t afford to treat all money as dirty. And that means we have to treat rich people as partners in our endeavor rather than holders of ill-gotten gains that we’re liberating for the revolution.
So it’s possible that Antioch’s generally progressive ethos interfered with its fundraising. But it’s absurd to argue that the institution faltered because it was concerned not with education but with (horrors!) "social experimentation": as Goldfarb himself notes, Antioch was a social experiment right from the start, admitting women alongside men and black people alongside whites at a time when women couldn’t vote or own property and slavery was still legal.
Here’s the real point: Antioch’s demise is not some sort of judgement on sinners by an angry god. The nonprofits that survive are, by definition, the fittest in managing their income, expenditure and assets; that doesn’t mean they’re the fittest in performing their mission. If Antioch, like many nonprofits before it, was so busy pursuing mission that it didn’t mind the business store–or if it simply didn’t have the luck to combine business expertise with educational expertise at a critical moment–that’s a shame and a loss to us all. But it doesn’t mean that its educational ideas have been weighed in some divine balance and found wanting.