Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Antioch naming debate

Much ado is filling my social network these days from Antioch University McGregor alums who are less than pleased with the proposed school name change to Antioch Mid-West. At the risk of alienating those people, all of whom I admire greatly and respect implicitly, I believe the first skirmishes in the battle they seek to wage were lost many years ago, when Antioch College formed what was then the graduate level McGregor School focused on business and management. The name change and mindset shift were set in motion at that time.

As I often do when beginning research on an unfamiliar topic, I turned to the oft-derided Wikipedia as a starting point and found this on Douglas McGregor, for whom the school was named: “management professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management and president of Antioch College from 1948 to 1954. He also taught at the Indian Institute of Management Calcutta. His 1960 book The Human Side of Enterprise had a profound influence on education practices. In the book he identified an approach of creating an environment within which employees are motivated via authoritative, direction and control or integration and self-control... In the 1970s, the McGregor school, a graduate level business school, was founded by Antioch College in his honor.”

Doesn’t sound much like the Horace Mann ideals espoused by Antioch which led many of us to the school in the first place, does it? I did not come to Yellow Springs, to Antioch, to follow the teachings of Douglas McGregor. As is obvious by my need to Google the name, even after four years as a student at AUM I knew very little about him. I’ve learned more since then, thanks to the wisdom of an AUM professor, and I have come to appreciate Douglas McGregor’s neglected philosophy with its “emphasis on community and the processes for eliciting effective participation.”

Initially, however, I was drawn by the reputation of Antioch, and of Mann. Again turning to Wikipedia: “Antioch College continues to operate in accordance with the egalitarian and humanitarian values of Horace Mann. A monument including his statue stands in lands belonging to the college in Yellow Springs, Ohio with his quote and college motto "Be Ashamed to Die Until You Have Won Some Victory for Humanity.” That is my beacon and my anchor.

As long as the university remains “Antioch,” I am not too concerned with the tag lines that come after - at least at this point! I am an Antiochian. Some at the college may not agree, preferring to cling to that title as exclusively for their students, but that tradition is what brought me here, and that is the bond we share. In early 2008, in response to a debate circulating on campus over claims to that moniker, I wrote, in part: “In my humble opinion, an Antiochian is a seeker of truth, one who is not afraid to question authority at any level, and one who admits the limits of their own knowledge and learning. An Antiochian is at this university to learn and to grow and to be exposed to new thoughts and ideas, not to be further indoctrinated in those beliefs society has deemed acceptable.” My opinion in that regard has not changed, and it is not dependent on the “McGregor” or “Mid-West” surname.

During my tenure in the undergraduate completion program, many of us in the World Classics Curriculum groused over the move to the new AUM building. We lost many of the traditions held dear by Classicans for nearly twenty years – meeting under the majestic trees on main campus to debate the philosophical topics of the day, a rousing graduation march through the winding paths tooting on kazoos and singing rowdy songs – but as one of the many wise instructors in that amazing program noted, the move from main campus was the time for us to begin new traditions, to decide what was important to pass on to the next group fortunate enough, and brave enough, to be called Classicans. That creation of tradition, of carrying on the tenets we share into modernized forms that can overcome the materialistic world that threatens to overrun such seemingly quaint notions, is more important to me than any name the powers-that-be decide to add after our beloved “Antioch.”

I am far more concerned with the decline of the Classics program, with the loss of that unique and powerful curriculum which was literally life-changing for me. Its dedicated professors struggle to reshape it into something that still has a place in evolving university structure. I would rather expend my energies helping them make that transition than fight over a name. “A rose by any other…”

To my dear alums and colleagues, my fellow Classicans, I salute your passionate response to yet another assault on the Antioch tradition. I respect, and in large part share, your disappointment. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned as a parent, it’s to pick your battles. This one cannot be mine.

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