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Antioch without soul

Steve Hayward mentioned the pretty good New York Times article a few weeks ago about the closing of Antioch College. The Los Angeles Times piece on it (about a week ago), on the other hand, can’t figure out what went wrong. Maybe it has to do with the fact that the lawns weren’t well maintained. Or, the story implies that if the society just had a better sense of what a liberal education really ought to be than Antioch may not have closed down. That’s silly, of course. As is the L.A. Times’ opinion that its endowment was too small. Well, Kenyon’s or Ashland’s endowment isn’t much larger and they are doing fine. In fact, Antioch’s "sexual offense prevention policy" was a metaphor for the collapse: sex on campus wasn’t stopped, it was just made un-erotic and (the other side of the coin) professors’ (if that’s what they might be called) and students’ (if that’s what they might be called) naturally erotic souls also became un-erotic and boring; no more longing. Antioch just stopped satisfying the eros of souls, so it closed.

Discussions - 8 Comments

Peter, do you really think the Antioch students observed those rules in the clinch, as it were? I doubt it. Surely the rule was just another cover for the college as protection from sexual harassment lawsuits.

Kate: Of course not; yet, since the students were the ones who pushed for the regulations, I assume some of them tried, and then--I am guessing, based on a limited knowledge of human nature--quit because they got bored. Just like the college.

Mr. Schramm,

Before you engage in wild speculation as to the school's quality and the quality of its professors and students, I suggest you look at some hard numbers, and perhaps even compare it with Ashland U.

Since you mentioned it, Antioch's endowment (The LAT article says $35 mil., Peterson's recent figures say $28 - let's split the diff and call it $30.5 mil) is considerably smaller than that of Ashland ($49 million) - nearly 40% smaller. Kenyon's endowment of $158 million is comparably gargantuan at more than 5 times that of Antioch.

Making a market-based comparison between Ashland and Antioch, Ashland really doesn't fare so well. Ashland is less selective in admissions. It has a 71% acceptance rate, while Antioch is 51%. Nonetheless, only 31% of students who get accepted to Ashland actually go there, whereas 52% who get into Antioch enroll.

Of those students who actually go to the two schools, Antioch students have higher test scores. It's all in the numbers. The mid-50% SAT scores for Ashland are 906-1140, Antioch is 1050-1310. The percentage of Ashland students who tested above 500 on the math part of the SAT is 62%, Antioch 80%. In verbal, Ashland fares even worse, with the %age of students scoring over 500 at 63%, Antioch is 97%.

Despite going to a less selective school and being surrounded by lower-scoring fellow students, the average Ashland graduate leaves with a debt of $18,250, whereas the average Antioch grad departs with a lower debt of $17,125.

But yes, what of the quality of the profs? Well, having graduated from Antioch myself, I can attest to their quality personally. Most were inspiring, plenty were brilliant. The classes ranged from engaging to enthralling. There certainly was not an attitude of "No Right Turns" amongst the professors that I had. In the classroom it was typically difficult, if not impossible, to detect the professor's politics one way or the other.

Not only did I get a great education, but by the time I graduated I had had interesting and educational jobs (ranging from paid, full-time employment to unpaid internships) in Vermont, Chicago, LA, and Berlin. I had a solid job lined up before I graduated, and I'm still there now.

The hype about the sexual offense policy was just that. It faced a lot of ridicule from students, even though it was approved. I think Antioch has no more or less sex happening on campus than other colleges. Our valedictorian boasted of being a virgin, and was heartily applauded. Those of us that had qualms with the sex offense policy in the abstract weren't bothered by it personally, so much. The policy really is just an extended riff on "You shouldn't rape people." so abiding by that mostly just produced shrugs and "OK" from people. Interestingly, a lot of people from Cedarville College - a fairly strict Christian school next door - thought very highly of the policy, and it was one of the few points of agreement we would find when talking with them... I don't think the policy really impacted anyone's sex life for better or worse. It just made it clear that no excuses for rape would be tolerated. Wow.

As for the "brain sex" described in that article, there was PLENTY of that at Antioch, both among students and between students and profs.

Antioch was a competitive and desireable school, but it had a physical infrastructure that was decaying like some old castle in Scotland, and major financial mismanagement.

Also, I know you all are fans of Lincoln. Won't anyone even mention the fact, as the article noted that "...although slavery was legal less than 100 miles to the south, it was one of the first (colleges) to eliminate race as an admission requirement."? I assume you're not impressed that it was one of the first coeducational schools or that it was the first college to hire a woman as a full professor...

Anyway, I've just been getting sick of the politically opportunistic Antioch-bashing. The school had money problems, and that's basically the long and short of it. I can hardly imagine an Antioch student being "bored" about anything at the school, except maybe for the food in The Caf, which wasn't exactly gourment, but that's tangential to the important stuff, no?

Mr. Becker: A perfectly good and spirited defense of Antioch and/or your experience there (which, for practical purposes, is the same thing). Without making a federal case of this (or defending any other college, including Ashland or Kenyon--the two I happened to mention) let me first say that I have nothing but the highest regard for those colleges that allowed blacks and women to attend as a matter of principle; and certainly Antioch was one (as were Oberlin and Hillsdale). Indeed, I believe that Hillsdale was the first college in the country that prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, religion, or sex, in its charter; they are still proud of this. Yet I don't see people on the left coming to its defense when it upholds that tradition still.

I am also glad to hear that plenty of "brain sex" took place there, as you say.

And, by the way, it is not necessary for me to defend my school or other non-elitist schools.

Yet I can say that the students I have had the pleasure of teaching here (I'm not sure that I am good enough for "brain sex" with them, although I'm trying) have been very good; indeed, the best among them may be favorably compared to anyone from any other institution.

But enough. Perhaps you are right. Perhaps my pleasure seeking at the expense of Antioch was overdone. Perhaps there is no connection between the kind of arrogance exhibited in the article and the college's demise. Perhaps the college was not ideological at all and was a truly an intellectually freeing institution. Perhaps I have embarrassed myself. But, the Los Angeles Times made me sore because somehow it attached Antioch's end with a decline in interest in a real liberal education. "The closure of Antioch College is seen as more than the end of a university — it is another sign of the passing of an era when the search for knowledge brought greater rewards than a degree, a job and a comfortable place in suburban society."

That's what made me high stomached. I guess everyone who attended Antioch was a philosopher, and the rest of us poor slobs who attended a state university all became technicians and mechanics. Sure. I am glad you think you got a good education there; you should therefore help revive the institution and give liberal education a new birth. And then you will be able to send your children there.

Mr. Becker: Solid reply (riposte?). Thanks. Why, in your opinion, did Antioch have financial problems? Were they symptomatic of, or caused by, other problems? I have no dog in this fight, but your first-hand knowledge of the situation leads me ask. In closing, what did your Antioch education lead you to conclude about Lincoln? :-)

Mr. Becker writes that "There certainly was not an attitude of 'No Right Turns' amongst the professors that I had. In the classroom it was typically difficult, if not impossible, to detect the professor's politics one way or the other."

As an Antioch graduate myself (class of '94), I'll be the first to admit that the school had many virtues-- sadly, most more in theory than in practice.

But the claim that political or ideological bias was not present in the classroom strikes me as, quite frankly, insane.

I am one of only two political conservatives (classical liberals, actually) that I know of who emerged form the school in recent memory-- my wife being the other one.

Take it from us (and the college's current president, who admitted as much in the recent NYT's article)-- the school has degenerated into a cesspool of radical leftist nihilism, narcissism, and intellectual intimidation.

My favorite example is the time I pointed out in a media studies class how the reality-show COPS--even though we all "knew" it was an exploitive cog in the fascist entertainment / incarceration-industrial complex--was considered by many law enforcement officers as giving them "voice," allowing civilians to understand the difficulties they faced on the job. In fact, the Wall Street Journal had published an article recently making that exact same point.

This observation was met with a tirade from my professor that included a number of obscenities that I won't repeat here, after which my fellow classmates erupted in applause.

I am reminded of the well-known scene in The Blues Brothers when the folks at the bar respond to the inquiry of "What type of music do you typically play here?" with an earnest "Oh, we play both kinds--County and Western."

And at Antioch, you could approach solutions to environmental problems from both kinds of perspectives--Marxist-feminist and post-colonial queer.

At Antioch College, we were encouraged to Question Authority.

But never to question the authority of those questioning authority.

Speaking of satisfying the eros in one's soul, would someone please remind the sardonic Robert Alt to enlighten regular readers of No Left Turns by posting more frequently?

As a not-so-secret admirer of his intellect and wit, I’ll happily chair the campaign to draft him into it, but perhaps I’m not the only fan of his writing on matters of law, judicial nominees, court decisions, national security, and politics. Quench our natural longings, Mr. Alt.

To R: You may be right about Alt's virtues. On the other hand he could also be just a lazy s.o.b.

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