Sunday, October 05, 2008

Antioch memories

(Guest post by Ginger Monka)

On our way to and from the Ohio Renaissance Festival this weekend, Joel and I spent some time in Yellow Springs, the home of my beloved alma mater, Antioch College. Given the de-facto association between our denomination and Antioch, Joel has graciously invited me to post my observations here.

On Friday evening, the man who checked us in to the Springs Motel (a very pleasant renovation of what those of us of the elderly persuasion remember as the Anthony Wayne motel) confirmed my suspicion that the college did not reopen this fall quarter. I was thus tempted to avoid visiting the campus for the same reason many people state for avoiding funerals: "I don't want to remember him this way; I'd rather remember him as I knew him". However, that "slant of light" of a late afternoon in October was so evocative of every idyllic college film I've ever seen that I asked Joel to turn the truck around so we could take a few photographs.

I maintained composure through the view of the main building as seen from the train in the 19th century:

the mural on Maples' garage door (How many schools have a student run fire and ambulance department?) :

and the theatre parking lot looking towards the amphitheatre where my parents showed up one June evening to tell me of my fiancé's death:

but this view of the stoop

(where at one April Saturday night dance, the "us" rock and rollers seized disc jockey duties from "those" disco aficionados, danced the night away, and then, when the music was over, drummed on the rubbish bins, sang "We don't need no music" and kept right on dancing) did me in.

On the drive home, Joel challenged me to answer the question "Aside from the co-op program and the fact that you loved it, what was unique or special about Antioch College?" I believe that the answer reduces to hands-on, experimental and student-driven.

For starters, while exams did exist at Antioch, projects and research papers were usually considered more indicative of a student's performance. Secondly, Antioch's policy of detailed written evaluations in lieu of letter grades encouraged accepting academic challenge and reaching beyond the comfort zone. One of my most rewarding Antioch experiences was getting permission to take a genetics course without the statistics and chemistry prerequisites. (I was a liberal arts major whose career objectives at the time included breeding Arabian horses). The genetics course was a stretch and a mighty struggle but tremendously educational and I wouldn't have risked it with a GPA at stake. Thirdly, academic interests not included in the course catalogue were accommodated with faculty support of independent study and student led courses.

Finally, while many schools may include student representation on the occasional committee, I suspect that said representation is along the lines of something my father once said: when I congratulated him on a new board chairmanship, he replied "Oh, it's a lot like those toy steering wheels attached to a baby's high chair tray; it makes a lot of noise and keeps the baby out of trouble but it doesn't steer any vehicle". At Antioch, on the other hand, besides community council, students held seats on administrative council, residence hall advisory board, dining hall advisory board, community standards board and any other committee affecting the quality of campus life, up to and including interviewing prospective faculty.

Perhaps all of this is why I find the traditional passive voice phrase "was graduated from (insert college name here)" grating and prefer the active voice "graduated from".


Joel Monka said...

Many of you may be aware that Rod Serling was an Antioch grad- but not as many know that there was a Twilight Zone episode about Antioch. Oh, they don't use the name, but there are subtle clues, such as quoting the founder, Horace Mann. See it here

ogre said...

Always sad to see something like that come to an end.

There's a town I lived in that I will never go back to for similar reasons, despite fond memories...

My sympathies!

Chalicechick said...

Hey, my alma mater is going through something similar, though they aren't quite at that point.

Also, this was a really well-written post. I hope you write more often!


Bob Bogen said...

Joel's link to the Twilight Zone, Changing of the Guard is an authentic tear-jerker, certainly for those of us who saw the original Good by Mr. Chips [as no doubt Rod Serling did] or the remake film and also are Antiochians. I graduated several years after Serling, but along with others took the Horace Mann advice seriously to win some victories before we die, both in my career as a city and regional planner in dozens of communities and regions from the smallest to the largest in the US and abroad as well as in public life over the fifty years since.

The hijacking of Antioch College and bleeding it of its endowment to build non-residential university operations in several communities around the country was a major factor in the locking up of the College in Yellow Springs. But the so-called university Board of Directors was finally forced to offer to turn over the College to our alumni association. When that is actually done, perhaps with some of the twenty million dollars pledged to restore the college, the current Non-Stop Antioch operation of classes in buildings around the Village can be shifted back to the historic Antioch campus.

If this occurs, the historic, world known legacy of the college can be restored. As the internationally known president of Bard College on the Hudson said recently, “Antioch is the founding college of the American progressive movement.” As one of my favorite classical musicians used to say, “Devoutly to be wished,” to rise again. Despite the loud cackles of George Will and the other media brown shirts who celebrated the decision to shut down the college, as the Board said, for several years in order to rebuild a viable operation.

In any event, the report of your visit and the photos were appreciated.

Bob K. Bogen

Anonymous said...


I feel your pain. One of my alma maters was Shimer College, another small liberal arts college often mentioned with Antioch, Oberlin, and a handful of others. I attended back in the Stone Age when it was in Mt. Carroll, Illinois, with a charming quad lined by Georgian red brick buildings. The school survives, barely. But it had to abandon Mt. Carroll years ago. It dwelt in Waukegan back in ’79. And a couple of years ago migrated to the campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, where it now survives by trying to expose engineers, who couldn’t care less, to the humanities. Of course its not the same. I have visited Mt. Carroll a couple of times. What a sad, sad feeling.

Joel Monka said...

I think it's more poignant when an institution dies than when a person does. No matter how sad the death of a friend, it's never truly unexpected; it is the way of all flesh, we know that deep inside. But an institution like Antioch could be immortal, if people care enough... the collapse of Antioch is not the death of mortal flesh, but the death of an ideal- a much more bitter pill to swallow.