Monday, June 18, 2007

The Demise of Antioch

By Richard Vedder

As I prepared to enter college in the late 1950s, I looked at a number of liberal arts colleges in the Midwest, along with a few in the East (e.g., Amherst, Haverford). The list of top ones in the Midwest included Carlton, Grinnell, Oberlin, Kenyon, Denison and DePauw. One school that also was considered respectable and important was Antioch College. Always a liberal, progressive school, Antioch went off the deep end in the 1960s and 1970s, engaging in social activism and opening campuses well beyond its home in Yellow Springs, Ohio. That apparently proved to be a recipe for disaster.

Some might think I would be celebrating Antioch's demise, as I do not have much of a taste for the highly politicized left-wing orientation promoted at that institution. However, I agree with Penn's Alan Charles Kors, who says that Antioch was honest and open about its left-wing activism, while most colleges try to have their cake and eat it to, espousing non-controversial or even conservative values in its catalogues and to its alumni, while following a decidedly biased liberal line to its students. Antioch wasn't two-faced, and is paying the price -- falling enrollments, weak alumni giving, etc.

It occurs to me that there is a disconnect between the view of colleges and universities by the donors (taxpayers, alums, etc.) and what the institutions actually do. They promote all sorts of politically correct policies most Americans would find inane or offensive. I hear that the residence life staff at my school had some sort of celebration of pornography last term. Kids who espouse pro-family or anti-gay beliefs are punished for their views. And so on. This is commonplace in academia. The alums are generally unaware of these developments. Alums (and Trustees) are to be seen and not heard, or so say the faculty and administration. That is unhealthy, it is dishonest, it is wrong. I suspect Antioch, by being honest and straightforward in the pursuit of its mission, hurt itself and its future, since the true demand for expensive radical colleges is pretty small. But I respect its honesty more than the dishonesty of many more prosperous institutions that practice a water downed and stealth version of Antioch's progressivism. And I am saddened that we are losing one of the more colorful members of the vibrantly diverse set of institutions that constitute American higher education.

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