The reports of Antioch’s death are premature, not to mention oddly triumphal

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.

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3 Responses to “The reports of Antioch’s death are premature, not to mention oddly triumphal”

  1. Su Says:

    A lot of factors have combined to kill–or at least seriously wounded–Antioch. Today’s post on my blog includes a few other ways in which the college self-destructed. What a shame.

  2. Nina Coleman Says:

    As a student who was enrolled during the sexual offense programs
    inspiration, ( I was in a class of 3 with the accused and lived down
    the hall from the victim) implementation and subsequent media
    misinformation feeding frenzy… I applaud your friends blog!

    So few people actually “get it”. The idea, although jumbled in
    legalese and turned into a self aware postmodern enigma, was simply
    TALK ABOUT SEX. Be really CLEAR about it- KNOW that it is mutual,
    leave no room for doubt. Talk about it. Joke about it- do whatever it
    takes, but don’t leave ANY room for doubt. Period.

    The policy has been so often misunderstood and maligned that I once
    (in 1993) introduced myself at a party filled with my brothers
    friends as “I just graduated from Antioch College, but I like to have
    sex!” I was trying to both anticpate the endless stream of questions
    based on misinformation which I was sick of answering ( the whole ”
    Antioch must be filled with sex hating prude bitches” thing), and
    make light of something that I was finding more and more annoying. The
    medias twisting of a good thing into a bad thing.

    I found Goldfarbs article to be…disrespectful on many levels, and
    oblivious to the actual issues in play. I wrote a letter to him but
    it didn’t get published. I am pasting it below:

    “Michel Goldfarb’s caricature of what Antioch College became after his
    time there seems to miss the fact that the “ideals of social justice
    and economic fairness…” and the pragmatism of off campus work
    experience were still very much alive until recent gross mismanagement
    occured. Goldfarb failed to mention that with the intended plan on
    closing Antioch College, Antioch University usurps significant
    resources including the Antioch endowment, physical plant, real
    estate and the all important Antioch “brand.
    How is the success of the university tied to the so-called “failure”
    of the college? Antioch has operated for the last 40 years with an
    enrollment well below 2000 students, and has turned out a
    statistically high share of Macarthur fellows, putting it on par with
    Princeton.
    Goldfarb’s assertion that the college was “imposing the conformist
    ethos of…ultraliberal orthodoxy” sounds like he is channeling David
    Horowitz. The loss of Antioch would be a loss for humankind. The
    faculty should sue the Board of Trustees for mismanagement.
    I fear that this is symptomatic of a much larger political sea change
    occurring at all levels within our society. A sea change with no room
    for academics, individuals or for that matter media, who question
    issues at their roots, and strive to explore controversial and
    difficult answers.”
    Nina Bennett ’93

  3. Michael Tinkler Says:

    Antioch is a failure in the sense that the college has failed to reproduce itself by attracting new students – that 2,000 figure commenter #2 mentions from is a dreamtime from the distant past – the Princeton Review puts the current enrollment at 120.

    I teach at a tuition-driven institution myself. We have an endowment around $155 million, but we still need to work hard to recruit a full class of reasonable students – and the faculty works at it almost as hard as the admissions office.

    I don’t know what the implosion moment for Antioch was, but they passed it.

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