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Antioch Notes


Mark Roosevelt, President

Mark Roosevelt, President

The following piece is adapted from President Mark Roosevelt’s June 16 “State of the College” address during Reunion 2012.

I offer this talk in the belief that over the last year and a half we have gotten to know each other and built up considerable trust, trust that is based on honest communication. I am going to continue that this evening.

The overall state of the college is this: We have made significant progress on a great many fronts, but the prognosis, as it was last year, is still “daunting but doable.”

The threats from the start have been 1) winning back our accreditation, 2) recruiting students, 3) establishing a successful mission and niche among small liberal arts colleges, and 4) raising sufficient operating funds and the extensive dollars needed for campus renovation.

On accreditation: Our path to earning accreditation is arduous, but we have a plan and a timetable that, if faithfully implemented, will result in our achieving accreditation in 2016. This is taxing work that must be done, and there is little if any room for error.

On student recruitment: This is perhaps the area in which we have had the most success. Antioch College was one of the most selective colleges in the country this past year, accepting 5.1 percent of 3,200 applicants in our search for a class of 75 students.

On our mission: After some perhaps unnecessary and clumsy searching for different ways of distinguishing ourselves, we now can clearly say who we are and aspire to be—and that is really who we have been for a very long time. Antioch College integrates classroom and experiential learning in order to make students effective in the world. Part of our work in the next few years will be to give full meaning to the key word in that sentence—integrates.

We have a small staff doing an enormous amount of work. And we are coming out of a very difficult and contentious time—a time that I believe is mostly behind us.

We’ve published a new curriculum catalog, student handbook, and faculty personnel handbook. Out students drove a process that resulted in drafting a plan for a new community governance structure. As part of our strategic planning, we’ve developed a five-year budget from the bottom up. And we are working with the architects to create a master plan for the campus.

All this in addition to the substantial work that went into the Preliminary Information Form (PIF) that was submitted to the regional accrediting agency on July 1 as the critical early-stage document in the accreditation process.

We still have a great deal of institutional repair work to do to gain the resources needed to fund our operations and do the necessary renovation work on the campus.

Warren Bennis ’51 reminded me of something social commentator Eric Hoffer once said: The surest sign of a declining civilization is deferred maintenance.

We are recovering from decades of deferred maintenance. If you look around you can see ample evidence of the physical kind. But to understand where we are and what must happen for us to prosper, you need to explore deep multiple senses of the words. We have to repair buildings as well as relationships, relationships that were not nurtured. There are many Antiochians from many different generations who have wounds that need healing.

Ownership, fearlessness, and love

We have a lot to do to create a culture of philanthropy that will help us bring an end to the culture of poverty that has dominated life at Antioch for far too long.

To do this we must create a culture of ownership, fearlessness, and love. And we have to be “all in.”

What does it mean to “own” something? There are many ways to exhibit ownership. But ownership as I used it here is closely linked to stewardship, with taking care, and with responsibility. It is not micro-management. And the kind of ownership I suggest is a generous kind that also allows other people—such as the new students and staff of the College today—to exercise their rights of ownership as well.

What does it mean to be fearless? To be fearless is not to be reckless. Not with other people’s lives or their time, commitment, and money. It is not foolhardiness or arrogance, or presuming to have all the answers. A recent report from the Case Foundation says, “Being fearless means setting audacious goals, acting urgently and boldly, being unafraid of risk, being willing to strike unlikely alliances, and accepting the possibility of failure while still pressing forward.”

The report says further that fearlessness means making big bets and making history, experimenting early and often; making failure matter; reaching beyond your bubble; and letting urgency conquer fear.

We’ve chosen fearlessness with our approach to the renovation of North Hall, which is on course to becoming the oldest building in the country to be renovated to Gold LEED standard. We are one of the poorer colleges in the U.S., but unlike most of our richer brethren, we are “all in” in terms of our commitment to environmental sustainability.

Then there is the matter of the Horace Mann Fellowships. Members of the Board of Trustees committed to the awards to ensure that all students with the academic capacity, grit, and desire to be true partners in this re-creation can attend this college, regardless of their financial circumstances. The Horace Mann Fellowships enabled us to recruit a diverse, capable group of highly committed students. This was likely the most critical decision that the Board has made. And it was the right one.

But we have to ask ourselves what our policy will be when the four years of Horace Mann Scholarships are over. What will happen with the next building we renovate? What will we have the resources to do?

When we talk of fearlessness let us not underestimate the audacity of this entire undertaking. The whole dream of a vibrant independent Antioch is an act of fearlessness. We are sailing against the wind. Small liberal arts colleges are doing many things—they are closing, they are converting to professional schools, they are in retreat. One thing they are not doing is opening.

Being ‘all in’

When you know that you are sailing against the wind and you know the risks, how can you still be fearless? Because you love and because you feel ownership and you are “in it for keeps.”

Those who are “all in” do not just dip their toes in; they dive in.

Tonight we honor six groups or individuals who exhibit ownership, fearlessness, and love—who are “all in.”

First let us honor the work project volunteers as representatives of all those who give deeply of themselves, who do what they can, and who often push their limits.

And let us also honor Barbara Slaner Winslow, the Morgan Family Foundation, Atis and Judy Folkmanis, Kay and Leo Drey, and the anonymous donor represented by the California Community Foundation.

They are “all in.”

Let me be 100 percent clear: We are enormously grateful for every donation, but we would not be here today without them.

What we need to do now is to multiply their number. We are getting great participation. The Annual Fund is way up with all generations. We will likely reach 30 percent participation this year. What we lack is a sufficient number of major gifts.

Private colleges get their money from three main sources—student-derived revenue, income from the endowment, and contributions.

Nationally, the tuition discount rate (which is institutional grant dollars as the share of gross tuition and fee revenue) is on the rise, hovering now at 40 percent nationally and much higher at GLCA schools, perhaps 60 percent by some estimates.

And when you examine the nature of these changes in student aid and look at exactly who we are serving, like many such matters in the U.S., the trend is not good. At “elite” schools, less than 8 percent of students come from the bottom 50 percent in terms of family income. Merit-based scholarships now outweigh need-based scholarships, meaning that many students whose families have ample resources are getting significant financial support from institutions that are competing to attract them to their schools. This leaves an estimated $4 billion in unmet need for those struggling to pay for college.

Even at colleges that do not offer as much tuition discounting, revenue does not match expense.

At any small liberal arts college, student-derived revenue must be substantially supplemented by draw down from the endowment and contributions.

Our situation is just more extreme. During the time of re-founding, we are asking students only for room and board, and that is discounted according to need. Even after we regain our accreditation and substantially renovate our campus, we will be challenged as to how much of our operating expenses can be covered by student-derived revenue.

This is especially true as we are committed to having an admissions process that is not driven by finances. If there is any test of our commitment to social justice, this is it.

We have a modest endowment, still under $50 million. And we are limited in what we can draw down to 7 percent, even in emergencies, by the asset purchase agreement with the University.

Until we can derive more dollars from student fees and build up our endowment so as to increase our draw, we are hugely reliant on contributions.

So this gets us back to the question of ownership, fearlessness, and love—of being “all in.”

If we are to succeed, two things must happen: First, the sense of ownership that so many of you have exhibited must increase. Second, a great many must make supporting Antioch College a priority, and more than a few must make it the priority in their giving.

It is just that simple.

All of you out there tonight, all 300 of you, and many who are not here tonight, gave birth to the new Antioch College. People like me, the faculty and staff of the College, have been hired to implement this dream.

Big dreams require true ownership, fearlessness, and love. Tonight we honor the many of you who have brought us this far and reach out to all who care about this college, including those who have been skeptics and those who have been testing the water. Now is the time to take the plunge, to dive in, and go deep. The dream of a vibrant new Antioch College awaits your support to bring it fully, vitally to life.