College in Motion
Over the course of the last several months, a team of scholars in residence, including the Arthur E. Morgan Fellows and the College’s director of work, collaborated with Interim President Matthew A. Derr to write a new design for Antioch College. What they crafted reclaims the gems of the Antioch College experience and integrates new concepts for building global citizens.
Director of Work Susan Eklund- Leen and consultant Len Clark, a former vice president for academic affairs at Earlham College, discuss the specifics of the new Antioch College curriculum. (photo: Gariot P. Louima)
In late August, Antioch College’s accreditation team gathered in a classroom on the third floor of South Hall for an afternoon meeting. Len Clark, a College consultant and former academic dean and provost at Earlham College, drew a series of tables on a dry erase board. The squares on the table represented the blocks of time in a quarter credit system.
What the group would work out that day was whether Antioch College would move forward with a quarter credit system of 150 credits or 180 credits.
There had been many meetings like this one in the past few months. This group had decided quarters instead of semesters, and this group had spent the last few months consulting former colleagues and subject-matter experts to write a rigorous curriculum solid enough to prepare students for life-long learning and international citizenship.
Sometimes their meetings could be quite heated. This was not one of those days. While there still remained much work to do – detailed reports to the regional accrediting body as well as to the state board of regents – the college’s accreditation team saw the light at the end of the tunnel, and the ideas were free-flowing.
For many months, they had been examining the feasibility of establishing a three-year degree track as the standard for Antioch College. An ambitious idea, yes, but one rooted in practicality, for the student and for the institution.
College degrees have become excessively expensive. And if the new Antioch College was to remain true to its word that it would open its doors to students from all walks of life, it had to examine every possibility to decrease the cost of obtaining the degree.
Still, there were other variables to consider. If students were to successfully complete all of these components, they needed more time.
What’s more, students needed at least two full quarters to complete the international coop if they were to reap the full benefits of that experience.
“Twelve weeks just isn’t enough time to get to know a new country,” said Jean Gregorek, an Arthur E. Morgan Fellow.
The former Antioch College professor of literature had done a one-year MA program in early modernist British and American literature at the University of York, then finished writing her thesis working at the British Library in London for another nine or so months.
Gregorek says her time in the U.K. was definitely a wonderful, eye-opening, enriching experience. The thrust of the new curriculum is on work abroad, as opposed to study. But Gregorek’s international education experience informed her opinions here.
Gregorek’s colleagues – Director of Work Susan Eklund-Leen, Morgan Fellows Chair Beverly Rogers, and Morgan Fellows Scott Warren and Anne Bohlen, fell into collective agreement: 180 credits would allow students to complete their coursework in an unhurried manner, and would allow for the extra incentive of a two-term, extended international co-op.
Eklund-Leen, who had been taking copious notes during the exchange, noted another positive outcome: “Each student will complete a minor in a foreign language by the time they graduate,” she said.
That meeting brought many months of work to completion. The new design for Antioch College had been written. And while the yet-to-be-hired faculty will certainly refine the offering and incorporate new classes in coming years, the overall framework for Antioch College had been drawn more fully.
“As an academic, you often wonder what you could produce if all of the barriers and established bureaucracies were erased. We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity here.” Susan Eklund-Leen, Director of Work
It’s the model finalized here that will be included in documents that are submitted to regional and national accrediting bodies, to the Ohio Board of Regents, and to potential students and their families in the form of a catalog and other recruitment materials.
While certain things remain unknown – such as the makeup of the pioneering 25 students who will enter the college next fall – what they will study and the schedule they will follow has been decided.
Under normal circumstances, a core faculty would do the work that a handful of people accomplished here in a few short months. It’s cliché to call the endeavor Herculean. But that word bests describes what Derr, the Morgan Fellows and the director of work have done.
A College is its faculty and its students. In absence of a faculty, the Morgan Fellows and the director of work served as scholars in residence – the academics who, through a series of public discourses, seminars and fora, were the scholastic voice of a college in transition.
And relying on their collected experience as former professors at Antioch College, they worked with Derr to put the College back in motion.
“It’s a little overwhelming to think that I’ve been entrusted with this responsibility,” said Rodgers, who was recently named vice president for academic and student affairs at Leech Lake Tribal College. “I don’t doubt for minute that my work here made it possible for me to receive the appointment at Leech Lake.”
When Matthew Derr began writing the concept paper that established the framework for the new Antioch College, he had not yet been appointed president at the College. It was 2008, Derr was working with the board of the Antioch College Continuation Corporation, which had entered a new round of negotiations with Antioch University to purchase the College.
The 25-page “Concept Paper and Business Plan” he produced represented a “simple blueprint” partially represented the aspirations of the board for an independent Antioch College. The plan discussed the possibility of a three-year calendar of study, new model of tuition and fundraising strategies. It also reaffirmed the College’s commitment to “the Vitruvian Plan” – academic study, work and community.
The hope, Derr explained recently, was to combine the best elements of the Antioch College education. He wanted to ensure the elements of the Vitruvian Plan – or the Three Cs as they are sometimes called – were intentionally linked. So that coursework, coop and community were not three silos within the institution but three interconnected aspects of the liberal arts experience at Antioch College.
After Derr was appointed interim president (WHEN), he began assembled a team of staff and administrators who would assist him on the ground in rebuilding the infrastructure for the college.
“The opportunity to be a part of the rebuilding of the college has been both rewarding and challenging,” Eklund-Leen said. “As an academic, you often wonder what you could produce if all of the barriers and established bureaucracies were erased. We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity here.”
The new Antioch College curriculum contains many of the elements that led the former New York Times education editor Loren Clark to proclaim the College “in a class by itself.”
The academic curriculum emphasizes a rigorous and interdisciplinary approach to the liberal arts, offering a small number of well-resourced academic disciplines facilitated by a seminar model of teaching and learning. The curriculum has been designed to provide students with an understanding of the historical context and the intellectual roots of current issues while emphasizing contemporary issues of local, national and global importance.
There are four academic divisions in the new college – the Arts, Humanities, Sciences and Social Sciences. Students will complete three Foundation Courses in each area of study before identifying a concentration and moving into upper-division coursework.
Additionally, all students attend a series of Global Seminars in the area of food, governance, health and water. Global Seminars are interdisciplinary, theme-based mini-courses organized around a particular critical resource, need or issue. They are designed to provide students with a broad understanding of the contemporary economic, social, political, scientific and philosophical challenges facing humankind.
Taught by visiting faculty and coop employers, the Global Seminars are a campus link to coop, of which students will complete six before they graduate.
Cooperative education links theory and practice while supporting the development of independence and accountability. All students will alternate between terms of study and terms of off campus, full-time work. Learning to live and work productively in the community, and to participate in governance will remain among the most important skills students will acquire.
A final component of the curriculum is language and culture study, which are central to the College’s conception of an education as preparation for global citizenship. The objective of Antioch College’s language and culture program is to equip students to function both linguistically and culturally in a non-native geographic area.
All Antioch College students will be required to complete a minor a language other than their native language.
This culminates in an extended international coop. “We’re interested in creating experiences for students that are truly transformational,” he explained. “Often when students study abroad, they spend most of their time with American students in silos within institutions abroad. Working abroad forces you to fully engage with the culture and the people of a place.”
The new curriculum allows from many exciting academic possibilities, Scott Warren, a former professor of philosophy, explained. The terms are split into block quarters, which means students will spend an average of 5 1/2 weeks in each class. And during each block, they’ll take not more than two academic courses. This system allows students to focus more intently on specific courses. It also gives members of faculty the freedom to assign more reading and cover more material, Warren said.
The curriculum is also designed to cover a wider range of materials. For example, Warren said, survey courses in philosophy generally cover a limited number of thinkers -- and all are generally white men. As Warren has written History of Philosophy, students will be exposed to not just “Plato to Nato” but the supressed views of women philosophers and Afro-Asiatic philosophy.
The same occurs across the curriculum.
When asked what she envisions for Antioch College’s future, Gregorek said: “I would love to see students who are driven, bright, inquisitive and eccentric.”
For Gregorek, the use of the word “eccentric” contains no taint of malice. The student she imagines is much like the students she’s taught in the past. Intensely smart and driven, capable, and prepared for the challenge of being an equal partner in the rebuilding of the college. Eccentric, perhaps, because he or she might deviate from certain so-called normative social conventions.
Bohlen echoed the sentiment. Over the course of her career at Antioch College, Bohlen said, she learned as much from her students as they did from her. The typical Antioch College student was never afraid to ask questions.
She recalled visiting a tier 1 college in New York while promoting a film project. Not a single student there asked a question.
Silent acceptance is absolutely not a trait of the typical Antioch College student.