Towards an Autonomous Antioch College: The Story of the Nonstop Liberal Arts Institute

By Jean Gregorek

When the Antioch University Board of Trustees announced in June of 2007 that it was closing the historic Antioch College, we all mourned. Then, as Mother Jones recommended, we began to organize. Our goal was to reclaim the college from decades of dysfunctional government that had resulted in the loss of its institutional autonomy and ultimately its closure. This is the story of Antioch College in Exile, the project which became the Nonstop Liberal Arts Institute, an unusual one-year experiment in higher education and one of several strategies employed to save Antioch College from extinction—strategies which, as of this writing, appear to have been successful.

Antioch College was closed by the Board of Trustees of Antioch University on June 30, 2008, after an intensive year-long struggle to save the 155-year-old institution, long known for its influential innovations in American higher education. Antioch College was the flagship campus of Antioch University. The history of what was first described as a “network,” then a “federation,” and now Antioch University began from the most idealistic of motives, with a directive from the college’s Board of Trustees in the mid-1960s to extend its educational opportunities to traditionally underserved populations. Field programs and adult education mini-campuses were established all over the country, aimed at communities in Appalachia, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.; at Native American reservations; at migrant workers, miners, and prisoners. The Antioch Law School was particularly respected in progressive legal circles. These programs multiplied rapidly, and soon satellites were sending out satellites with a total of somewhere—to this day no one knows exactly—between 35 and 40 mini-campuses (the most eccentric example being the Antioch branch in Columbia, Maryland, which consisted of a giant, one-acre, portable college in a plastic bubble—unfortunately, cost cutting on the air conditioning meant that the temperature became unbearable and all within the bubble ended up poached.

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