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The Wrong Scapegoat: A Response to Cary Nelson

Posted By: Steve Chase on November 13, 2008
I read Cary Nelson's article (The Wrong Phoenix, September 09, 2008) with very mixed emotions.

I share Nelson's heartbreak at the suspension of operations at Antioch College, a remarkable liberal arts college that has been struggling to stay afloat financially in the face of declining enrollments for over two decades--even with annual million dollar subsidies from the five adult education campuses around the country that make up the rest of Antioch University. Nelson is right that Antioch College has long represented something rare and precious within US higher education. Everything Nelson says about Antioch College's "long-standing commitment to promoting social justice" and "educating students to be critical participants in a democracy" is true.

Like Nelson, my own commitment to the ideals of Antioch College is deeply personal. While I was not able to attend Antioch College like Nelson, my father, uncle, and many dear family friends all graduated from Antioch College and all of them have told me stories about their amazing time at the College. I was even accepted to go to Antioch College back in 1973--a plan that was only interrupted by my becoming a teenage dad and needing to go to work to support my new family. However, I have loved the vision, history, and innovative accomplishments of this groundbreaking institution of higher learning since I was in my early teens and first visited the campus with my dad.

It was therefore incredibly meaningful to me, back in 1993, when I was in a position to be accepted into the master's program in Environmental Studies at Antioch University New England's campus in Keene, New Hampshire. This life changing educational opportunity was only possible for me because of Antioch New England's special non-BA admissions process that recognized that not everyone with academic potential has had the privilege to attend a four-year undergraduate program. For them, the combination of my two years of printing trade school, my many years of volunteer activist work, and my recent paid work as an editor at South End Press warranted offering me the chance to go to graduate school. I seized this rare educational opportunity with gratitude and ran with it.

It was at Antioch New England that I completed an individualized environmental studies master's program in "Green Economics and Environmental Activism." It was here that I went on to complete my doctorate in environmental studies by creating a curriculum action research project to design a professional graduate program focused on educating environmental activists in an era of corporate globalization. The administration and faculty of Antioch New England then let me create this program--the only one of its kind in the nation--at their campus. For the last six years, I've had the good fortune to direct Antioch New England's Environmental Advocacy and Organizing Program--a dynamic, but controversial program where we educate talented people seeking to become more effective public interest advocates and grassroots organizers working on issues of environmental sustainability, social justice, and the democratic control of corporations.

You can probably understand then why I was saddened to read Nelson's many unsupported and unfounded accusations that the five remaining, non-residential, campuses of Antioch University do not "possess anything resembling traditional academic freedom," do not share Antioch College's mission "to produce informed and critical citizens who are ready to take up the struggle to make a better world," and "are effectively versions of the University of Phoenix." These are all strong claims and, from my own experience, I would say that they are also false.

On the back of my business card, just like the other staff and faculty at Antioch New England, is the statement that our innovative graduate and certificate programs "reflect our dedication to activism, social justice, community service, and sustainability." Does this sound like the University of Phoenix? Similarly, every single academic department at Antioch New England has discussed and endorsed the Earth Charter, which calls all of as faculty to support, respect, and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, social and economic justice, grassroots democracy, nonviolent action, and a peaceful foreign policy. Is this also true at the University of Phoenix?

Cary Nelson's false claims about Antioch University's graduate campuses also ignore the quality and idealism of our students. For example, just this semester, Antioch New England students joined thousands of student organizers across the country and launched a campus Power Vote pledge campaign. Power Vote is a nonpartisan, voter education campaign sponsored by the Energy Action Coalition, which pushes an agenda supporting climate protection, alternative energy, a massive green jobs programs to lift people out of poverty, and an end to US resource wars for oil. This student effort at Antioch New England was heartily endorsed by David Caruso, the President of Antioch New England, and unanimously endorsed by our Faculty Senate. Today, Antioch New England is listed among the top five student pledge-getters in Power Vote's entire national effort (by percent of school size). I also just checked the Power Vote website and there is not a single record of any students at the University of Phoenix organizing a Power Vote campaign among their students, faculty, and staff.

Anyway, I do understand that Cary Nelson is emotionally upset and justifiably heartbroken about the suspension of operations at Antioch College. I share many of his concerns and feelings about that. Yet, particularly because of his position as the head of the American Association of University Professors, I hope he will refrain in the future from taking out his frustrations on the idealistic and hardworking faculty, students, and staff at the five Antioch University campuses that are still alive and kicking--and working against the tide to embody a meaningful and viable approach to progressive higher education in the 21st century.

Steve Chase

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Steve Chase
Environmental Advocacy and Organizing Program Director
and PHD Service Project Coordinator
Department of Environmental Studies
Antioch University New England
40 Avon Street, Keene, NH 03431
Steven_Chase@antiochne.edu; 603-283-2336 (office); 603-357-0718 (fax)

* EAOP's Main Website: http://www.antiochne.edu/es/eao/
* EAOP's "Well-Trained Activist" Blog: http://eaop-blog.blogspot.com
* EAOP Interviews: http://www.antiochne.edu/es/eao/radio.cfm
* EAOP's Online Activist Bookstore: http://www.antiochne.edu/es/eao/bookstore.cfm
(7.5% of the purchase price is donated to the EAOP Scholarship Fund at no extra cost to you)

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 The Wrong Scapegoat: A Response to Cary Nelson by Steve Chase on November 13, 2008
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