Thursday, October 18, 2007

Light in Yellow Springs

Conservative commentator George Will could hardly contain his glee in a recent column about the closing of Antioch College. You could almost see his bowtie twirling. Maybe you never heard of Antioch College and thought it was some Bible school, named for a settlement of early Christians. However, Antioch College is a small liberal arts college in Yellow Springs, Ohio, with emphasis on Liberal. As George Will well knows. (Try to say that several times real fast, like She Sells Sea Shells.)

The board of trustees of Antioch University, of which Antioch College is both the parent and a subdivision, announced the closing of the college next school year. The university will continue to operate, even after Antioch College sends its current students and faculty home. The official explanation from the university board of trustees is that the college has failed as a “business model.” Basically, there is just not enough market for what the college is selling. Enrollment is down to barely a couple of hundred students from a peak of 2,400. Current enrollment at Jerry Falwell’s Baptist school in Lynchburg, Va., is some 10,000. To be sure, liberalism has come upon hard times.

Critics of Antioch College like to say liberal permissiveness was Antioch’s downfall, but that story is too simplistic for real life. Some years ago, Antioch College began to replicate itself around the country, with locations in Baltimore-Washington, New England, California, and Seattle eventually constituting the University. Many Antioch alumni believe the decision to close the college is the result of university control by people who have no experience at or loyalty for the Yellow Springs campus.

News media, including George Will, like to describe Antioch College by recalling the Sexual Conduct policy adopted by the college community a few years ago. This required each and every progressive step in any sexual interaction be explicitly verbalized and agreed to before proceeding. May I unbutton this or touch that? If the college had a dollar for every snicker and chortle had thus at its expense, finances would be the least of its worries. Laugh, if you want. Try the Sexual Conduct policy put another way. May I slip this drug into your drink, take advantage of you when you pass out, and invite some of my friends over to watch and/or take turns?

When I was accepted for admission to Antioch College, I was still serving out my last months in the U.S. Army. My commanding officer warned me about Antioch: “There’s a lot of Communist activity going on there.” Mostly what I found going on at Antioch was the same thing that was going on elsewhere in the country at the time, which was during the Vietnam War, just more of it.

At Antioch, I had teachers who could have been characters in the James Hilton novel GOODBYE MR. CHIPS. My best friend was professor and poet Judson Jerome. A prolific writer of over 20 books and countless articles on poetry and education, he spent the last months of his life dictating from his deathbed a volume of sonnets, after those of Shakespeare. The night before I went to his memorial service, I re-read his early book of poetry, LIGHT IN THE WEST for the first time in years. I should not have been surprised by the realization that almost every thought I cherished, every supposed original idea in my head, all the quirks of my world view had come from this book.

Well, George Will, what the hell would you know about it?

(Originally posted 9-7-07)

Copyright 2007 by William C. Cotter

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