June 26, 2007
You can’t generally hold a writer responsible for a headline, usually written by an editor, but you can take issue with it. The headline “Antioch’s sunk itself by refusing to evolve,” in the June 17 Columbus Dispatch over a Mike Harden column, suggests that the new corporate college and university model is in some way a step forward for humanity.
Remember that the Antioch College motto, taken from the great educator Horace Mann, is: “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.”
How one talks about the death, or temporary closing, of the legendary Antioch College – without talking about the great victories that it has won for humanity, this nation, the state of Ohio, and even the city of Columbus – is puzzling.
Let’s recall that history. The Christian Connection founded the college in 1852. It’s a little hard to believe now, in the era of George W. Bush’s warmongering, profit-loving, pro-corporate version of Jesus, but there was a time when the American Christian churches drew more from the Sermon on the Mount than Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations.
One of the funny ideas that Antioch put forth was that the college “shall afford equal privileges to students of both sexes.” Right from the start, Antioch failed to quote “evolve” into the mainstream sexist society. The college went so far as to hire Professor Rebecca Pennell. Antioch gave her the same rank and pay as her male colleagues – an idea that the rest of society did not “evolve” into until more than century later, although it is still not clear if equal pay is being enforced.
Before the Civil War, the college enrolled two African American female students in the Antioch Preparatory School, an official part of the college, when more “evolved” people felt blacks and women were inherently inferior.
From the beginning, Antioch ran deficits, close to 40% of its budget between 1857 and 1859. In 1862, the college closed until the end of the Civil War. Had the college held more “evolved” ideas such as racism, sexism, and capitalism, they would have no doubt taken care of their budget problems with funds from understanding plutocratic donors.
In the 20th century, Antioch was targeted as a bastion of liberal thought and student activism by the authoritarian House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). The chief criticism centered on the fact that Antioch would not expel faculty and students perceived to have real or imagined Communist leanings.
Antioch College officials argued that freedom does not begin by suppressing unpopular ideas, but by considering and debating all positions. The college was in the forefront of the American civil rights movement and justly is proud of the fact that Coretta Scott King is an alumnus, class of 1951. So is civil rights leader Eleanor Holmes Norton, who later served as Chairwomen of the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission.
Harden writes that “Somehow along the way, the school also acquired the reputation of harboring a bunch of Birkenstock bohemians and pony-tailed, guitar-plunking pinkos.” Only in Ohio would that be considered unusual, or negative, for a college. This reputation, Harden argues, will make it hard to “restore and reopen the Buckeye State’s Berkeley in 2012.”
Why wouldn’t the Buckeye State want to fight to reopen its version of Berkeley? Not everybody worships in the “evolved” cult of Brutus Buckeye and majors in “kegs and eggs.”
Why wouldn’t you want young people to think critically, creatively and liberally at an institution of higher learning? Really, they’ve got their whole life to kiss corporate ass. Even Churchill denounced the young who weren’t “liberal at 20.”
What was Antioch’s great sin in the sixties? Being a campus that encouraged student activism, New Left thought, the peace movement, and black politics?
As the country jack-stepped to the Right in the Reagan era, and became corporate Democrats under Clinton, it was Antioch students who fought the good fight, not hidden away at Yellow Springs, but here in Columbus. It was Antioch students who were victims of police brutality and viciously beaten by Columbus’ finest for peacefully demonstrating against cuts in student loans at the federal building in the mid-90s.
Antioch students were also instrumental in creating “Cop Watch” and “Anti-Racist Action” in the OSU area, when students were being harassed and shot with wooden bullets during the African American Heritage Festival.
Antioch’s commitment to learning off-campus and having students actively engaged for social justice made Columbus a more humane and civil place for OSU students to live.
While Woody Hayes may be revered as an “evolved” icon in OSU history, Antioch’s role models are people of steadfast principles and much greater visions such as Horace Mann, the father of the public school system; J.S. Mills and his dream of a “marketplace of ideas”; and Coretta and her husband Martin Luther King, Jr.’s and their teachings on human rights.
Hopefully, Antioch’s demise is not permanent. But, if Antioch is dead, it is because it was not ashamed to die, because it had won many important victories for humanity. OSU, sadly, has many millenniums to go. And, quite frankly, has gathered a reputation, for harboring helmet-wearing jocks with crew cuts and steroid-buffed bodies.
Bob Fitrakis is co-author, with Steve Rosenfeld and Harvey Wasserman, of WHAT HAPPENED IN OHIO. This article was originally published at https://freepress.org/columns/display/3/2007/1558.