Antioch: Still Radical, Still Closing

Antioch College, the famously progressive institution in Yellow Springs, Ohio, is again slated for shutdown at the end of this academic year, despite months of negotiations and frantic fundraising by its alumni in a last-ditch effort to keep its doors open after an earlier announcement that it would close. It’s sad, because Antioch, founded in 1852, was once one of America’s leading and most academically rigorous small liberal-arts colleges. It’s also an object lesson – in what can happen when the administrators of an institution decides that their most important mission is to embrace every zany radical fad to be found in academia. By the fall of 2007, Antioch’s enrollment had fallen to a mere 220 students, down more than 90 percent from a peak of 2,700 in 1973.

Antioch is most famous (or notorious) nowadays for its anti-date rape code, foisted on the school during the early 1990s by campus feminists and requiring separate verbal consent for every stage of an amorous encounter. A Saturday Night Live parody of the code in 1993 made Antioch a worldwide laughingstock. But that was only one episode in the college’s slow, self-inflicted decline. Others included:

– A disastrous experiment in affirmative action during the late 1960s that poured hundreds of inadequately prepared inner-city black students onto the Antioch campus, gave them their own all-black classes and all-black dorms, and allowed the more militant among them to intimidate students, faculty, and administrators.

– The abolition of letter grades, also during the late 1960s, coupled with the introduction of unsupervised co-ed dorms in which sex and drugs were omnipresent.

– The decision, also during the late 1960s, to get in on the “bringing the university to the streets” movement, in which Antioch nearly bankrupted itself opening dozens of poorly run storefront campuses around the country. It eventually closed most of them, but the remaining ones, operating under the name Antioch University, are, ironically, the entities that are forcing the shutdown of the mother campus, which they plan to reopen in vastly altered form in 2012.

– When the money ran out on affirmative action in 1973, a student strike that administrators allowed to rage for weeks without calling in law enforcement while buildings burned. The result was a massive drop in Antioch’s enrollment that continued through the 1980s, coupled with the flight of its most talented professors..

– The abolition of Antioch’s traditional subject-majors during the 1990s in favor of do-your-own thing “interdisciplinary” courses of study criticized as insufficiently rigorous..

– Yet another “interdisciplinary” curriculum overhaul in 2005 that precipitated yet another enrollment drop among young people who wanted to take real courses in college.

The result of all this was, well, the kind of campus where radical feminists called the shots. So did radicals of every other stripe, creating a student culture of aggressive leftist ideology and enforced political correctness that was quite the opposite of what had prevailed during the freewheeling 1960s. In 2005, for example, Antioch’s graduating class chose as its commencement speaker the former Black Panther and convicted cop-murderer Mumia Abu-Jamal. Those who didn’t like that kind of thing could leave – and they did, or they signed up elsewhere..

During the 1950s Antioch was almost as hard to get into as Harvard. Its graduates included Coretta Scott King, wife of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, and Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling. By 2007, Antioch was begging for students on a now mostly-empty campus and running chronic deficits. There are lessons to be learned from its imminent demise. One is there isn’t much of a market for ultra-radicalism, at least at a private college where the price of attendance is nearly $40,000 a year. The other is that college administrators who capitulate to extremes of campus faddishness do so at their institutions’ peril.

[You can read Charlotte’s last account of the decline of Antioch here]


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