Matthew Derr ’89, Interim President
There is not a single major supermarket in Detroit, the largest city in my home state, Michigan. According to the Fair Food Network, 45% of the food economy in the city is federal food assistance, 60% of which is redeemed at convenience stores.
These sobering statistics from the 11th largest city in the United States gives us only the briefest glimpse of what I see as a social justice issue of our time: We live in one of the world’s wealthiest nations, but 14.3% of the U.S. population lives under the poverty threshold of earning $11,000 a year. As the National Poverty Center reports, there are considerable variations between racial/ethnic subgroups. Poverty rates for African-Americans and Hispanics hovered at 25.8% and 25.3%, respectively. The situation is complex and not easily solvable, but as an educator – and as an Antiochian – I believe our work here involves creating a place for students to consider how to address problems such as those that exist in Detroit.
While the trend in higher education moves increasingly toward vocation, the Antioch College we are reconstructing seeks to build within students the creative capacities to deal with society’s most pressing issues. In our new curricular model, we have integrated a series of Global Seminars on energy, food, governance, health and water into a four-year plan that includes a broad study of liberal arts and sciences as well as work, our nearly century-old cooperative education program.
As I reflected on this summer’s civil rights series that was so superbly presented here on campus, I was inspired by the thought of a new generation of Antiochians who will seek to address these critical issues. We owe this to the generations of community members whose life energy still reverberates on this campus – those who used Antioch College as a launch pad to do great things in this world. Without this little college, the world is made more vulnerable and we run the risk of handing over our cultural life and democracy to narrow training for short-term vocation and fad.
We know Antioch College works. The model of education and the interpretation we are developing today are transformational ideas. The interplay between the classroom, co-op and community has proven fundamental to the success of extraordinary people at a rate wholly out of proportion to the scale of the enterprise here. We have an obligation to address scholarly fields of this day with a view to addressing the critical challenges facing humanity. The Antioch College of today must continue to unabashedly embrace the social activism tradition inspired by Horace Mann if it is to claim his mantle.
Over the course of the past three years, I have had the privilege to join with you in working to secure a future for Antioch College – one that would be ambitious and stable while embracing global diversity at its core. A future that acknowledges that Antioch College’s greatness has been its historic capacity for invention and reinvention, as well as its dogged determination to make good on its slogans.
I am grateful to have served as interim president. It has been deeply gratifying to feel the pulse of this cause quicken and our collective stride become ever more confident.
Three years ago, we joined to reject the inexplicable, the loss of Antioch College. There is nothing we like better than a good fight, and this was a really good one. The scrappiness of the College is in our DNA. Our threshold for respecting authority is rather modest, an Antiochian cultural phenomenon that I love.
We have made progress on nearly every front in the past year. As we seek to invite an inaugural pioneering community here in the fall of 2011, we are restoring our sense of place, our campus, our curriculum and the relationships across our broader multi-generational community. We have begun to receive applications for admission. More than 300 students have asked for information about the College and we continue to study their responsiveness to the program we are developing. Soon, we will publish a new catalog that will be made available electronically to alumni and friends. We are counting on you to assist us in identifying students for the first and subsequent classes. I believe each of you knows students who would find Antioch College and the opportunity to participate in its development an exciting educational opportunity.
The role of president at Antioch College has never been easy. I ask that you welcome our new president, Mark Roosevelt, as graciously as you have welcomed me. Ask questions before making assumptions and declarations. Welcome warmly. Disagree passionately when necessary, but presume good will and a commitment to secure the college we all identify with and love. As an alumnus, I want to join you in giving both the help and support the president will need to achieve one of the most remarkable and radical turnarounds in history.
As I close I want to express my gratitude to the Board Pro Tem, the Alumni Board and my talented and hard working colleagues here on campus for the joy and sense of expectation of great things to come. I am proud to be an Antiochian. I am proud because of all we have and will accomplish in the future together.