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Antioch College's "Temporary" Closure Depends on Alumni

Antioch College faces a difficult road ahead if it plans to reopen after a 4-year-hiatus. The college's president announced Tuesday that the 155-year-old liberal arts institution known for social activism would shut down at the end of the next academic year.

She'd heard the news about Antioch's closing, but that did not stop prospective student Lauren Soldano of Hamilton Ohio from going on a campus tour with her father on Wednesday. She said a mailing from Antioch got her attention.

"I was getting, like, this bevy of mail from all these different colleges and then I get this letter from Antioch," says Soldano. It says, like, Warning! Contents of your life may be changed by this package!' So I read through all of it and I was, like, Wow, making a difference.' Changing things; being a catalyst for change, and what not. That really appeals to me. And, I don't know, I just felt like it was the right school."

If she decides to enroll, Soldano will have to find another school at the end of the 2008 spring session. Officials say they're closing the college's doors until 2012. The four-year break, they say, will help get Antioch back on firm financial footing.

"Everyone always assumed there would always be an Antioch," says Thatcher Cleveland, a former student. "And we'll still be here when they come back. It will be interesting to see where they go from here."

Cleveland manages one of several bookstores in downtown Yellow Springs. There are coffee shops and tea rooms mixed in with more off-beat retailers that sell incense and art.

News that more than a hundred faculty and staff will be losing their jobs has hit the community particularly hard says village manager Eric Swanson.

"I think everybody in the village really feels for those that are affected by this," Swanson says. I think people thought things were bad but didn't realize how bad things could be. And our hearts really go out to those folks that are affected."

Jan Foiles is not one of those people affected. She's a volunteer at Antioch's 1,000-acre nature reserve called Glen Helen.

"We're here everyday, working, working, working," Foiles says, "making a change, making a difference."

Foiles and a few other volunteers are working just east of campus. In what could be the embodiment of the Antioch spirit, they're painstakingly pulling up an invasive plant from the forest floor, stem by stem by stem.

"We have all this garlic mustard to get out before it blooms next year so that the natives can flourish next spring," Foiles says. "The natives will actually live in the ground for eons and eons and eons. But we have to get them out so they can do what they're supposed to do."

Antioch's heyday was in the 1960s when it had about 2,000 students. Rod Serling and Coretta Scott King were alums. But this year only about 400 students attended. Vice Chancellor for Advancement Mary Lou LaPierre says its much too difficult to factor why enrollment has declined. But aging facilities might be part of the problem.

"We have a curriculum that we think is pretty exciting," LaPierre says. "But we didn't refurbish the facilities."

LaPierre says Antioch needs a student union, a performance hall and dorms where students don't have to share a bathroom with 36 people. She sees a revitalized campus when the school reopens.

"We'd like to create a college based on our history, our traditions, our values, and our mission that appeals to a 21st century student," LaPierre says.

That will take money, something that's in short supply at Antioch. The college's endowment is a modest $30 million. There aren't a lot of wealthy alumni. And tuition at a private college is beyond the reach for some students. Meanwhile, village officials are bracing for the inevitable decline in tax revenue that will accompany the shutdown. Village Manager Eric Swanson says employment taxes account for about 40 percent of the Yellow Springs budget. And Antioch College is one of the largest employers.

"Clearly the village wants to see the college come back," Swanson says. "And I know it's going to be controversial because nothing in this town is not controversial. So it will be interesting to see what the plan is.

Swanson says Yellow Springs simply needs to know how it can help Antioch, though the village does have imited resources.

Antioch may be cash poor but it's land rich. Vice Chancellor LaPierre says there are no plans to sell property but it might work with a developer and the village to build housing. It mmight also build a performance hall that the two could share.

Once the financial weeding is done with, Antioch might once again bloom like the wildflowers on the edge of campus.

"Last year I discovered there's a trillium that came up," says Jan Foiles. "This year it's back because it was there before. And it's always been there. But we had to get rid of the invasive plants so the trilliums could flourish and come back.

"Yes, the plants, the trilliums will just absolutely be spectacular because of what we're doing."