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The Wrong Metaphor

Posted By: Jon Wergin on November 13, 2008
 
Cary Nelson, in his essay “The Wrong Phoenix” (Teachers College Record, September 09, 2008), suggests that the closing of Antioch College represents the sacrifice of a noble academic tradition to bloodless proprietary interests, and compares Antioch’s “adult education” campuses to the University of Phoenix. Professor Nelson’s rhetoric is clever but his argument is vacuous, and it’s time that someone set the record straight about the closing of the College and the quality of the University that remains.

I left a tenured full professorship at a research university to teach in Antioch’s PhD Program in Leadership & Change. I did so because I believed in this program and in Antioch’s long tradition of social justice. Professor Nelson, your implication that faculty members at Antioch’s nonresidential campuses are victims of a “proprietary ideology” and capable of providing little more than “advanced job training” insults them, and by extension, me. I know academic quality when I see it. Before coming to Antioch I directed a Pew-funded project identifying markers of academic excellence in 130 colleges and universities around the country; I have published extensively on quality in higher education, including the importance of liberal learning in today’s society; and I currently chair an accreditation panel of the Teacher Education Accreditation Council. My work at Antioch has brought me into contact with faculty members at all five of these campuses, and I wish you could experience them as I have. They have created courses of study that represent the best traditions of liberal learning at Antioch College, combining a passion for social justice with a commitment to social change, and keeping alive the spirit of Arthur Morgan when he invented cooperative education at the College in the 1920’s.

You and I do agree on one thing. We share a passion for seeing a rebirth of Antioch College as a residential campus, continuing the idealism of Horace Mann and the pragmatism of Arthur Morgan in a 21st Century context. The College has fallen on hard times before and has come back as a model for other institutions to emulate. It can do that again. Corporatization is a threat to American higher education, to be sure, and it makes for plausible narrative. It is a false narrative when applied to Antioch. The closing of the College in 2008 was not, as you suggest, a financial sleight-of-hand driven by a corporate mentality; it was a gut-wrenching decision by Board members, most of whom are College alums. Since financial exigency was declared in June 2007, three separate, external professional financial consultants, two of them hired by separate groups of the Antioch College Alumni Association, and one by the current task force headed by the president of the Great Lakes Colleges Association, validated the basis for the decision. Board members had no other choice. Their, and the university administration’s, commitment to seeing a new Antioch College created from the ashes of the old is real. I intend to do whatever I can to help make that happen. I hope that you and other Antioch alumni will stop using the tragedy of the College to make fatuous political points and instead channel your energies in more positive directions. Horace Mann and Arthur Morgan would be proud of you for doing so.

Jon Wergin
Professor of Educational Studies
PhD Program in leadership & Change
Antioch University
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 The Wrong Metaphor by Jon Wergin on November 13, 2008
     
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