Compared with students David and I had seen on our college tour, Antiochians now struck me as more bizarre than bohemian. Nor did their campus culture seem as understandable as the one I'd been part of from 1962 to 1967. I remembered Antioch as a lively, demanding institution, full of contentious students and professors. Many, including myself, were ardent left-wingers. Others stood elsewhere on the political spectrum. As we understood it, one's political convictions were beside Antioch's point. Its emphasis was on thinking for one's self and keeping an open mind. "Re-evaluate your basic assumptions in the light of new evidence" was a campus cliché. I felt constantly challenged to justify my points of view. But I didn't assume that reassessing those views would move me left. It might move me to the right, or toward the center, or nowhere at all.
The Antioch Muriel and I returned to did not emphasize that kind of open inquiry. The assumed endpoint was always to one's left. As a result, Antioch's emphasis had gone from searching for the truth to propagating the truth, from asking questions to teaching answers. One alum told me of asking a women's-studies professor at Antioch if she ever assigned Camille Paglia. The professor recoiled, saying "I wouldn't!" Why not? "Because she's the enemy." ...
Fitful attempts by myself and others to call attention to problems we considered potentially fatal routinely came up against an attitude familiar to anyone who's raised a teenager: "If you want to help, just send money and butt out." Eventually I came to feel that donating to my alma mater was a form of enabling, like giving spare change to a stumble-down drunk, hoping he'll spend it on a bus ride to AA. (For a long time, we designated our donations for the library, until discovering that even funds so earmarked sometimes got used for general operating expenses.)
I began to have less and less contact with Antioch. Going there was just too demoralizing. On rare visits, I was struck by the sparsity of human bodies. Occasionally a student would amble from one building to another, or a small clump could be spotted outside a doorway surrounded by clouds of smoke. Other than that: nothing. Stillness. Antioch had become a ghost campus. ...
For us, what began as a dream ended as a nightmare. Rather than being able to help our alma mater grow and flourish, Muriel and I witnessed its collapse. This was excruciating, like watching a beloved relative decline, lose memory, and ultimately go mad. Most dismaying was how few of those involved were willing to acknowledge Antioch's dysfunctional condition: not the administrators, the faculty members, the trustees, nor local journalists, who swallowed whole Antioch's repeated assurances that things were in hand and on the uptick. As recently as September 2005, Antioch's interim president told a reporter that the college was "on a straight road toward fiscal vitality." That's why so many were so shocked when its Board of Trustees announced in June that Antioch College would suspend operations in a year's time.
I've been asked often whether the demise of my alma mater surprised me. It did not. I was startled and alarmed years ago, when it became apparent that Antioch was driving off a cliff. I braced myself for its impending disintegration. But Antioch's slow-motion decline felt worse than its sudden collapse. When loved ones age and fail over an extended period, their departure can come as a relief. After years of sadly watching my alma mater self-destruct, that's how its actual demise felt: less a shock, more a relief.
Keyes' piece is a devastating critique of all things Antioch, at least in recent years. We await the letters.