Monday, June 18, 2007

Antioch College's "Legacy"?!

I just finished reading Michael Goldfarb's op-ed on the closing of Antioch College in the NYTimes. I was surprised to hear that the college is closing and to be honest, I am not exactly sure what the circumstances around its bankruptcy are. Many who know me well will not be surprised that what really interests me in Goldfarb's op-ed is the following paragraphs:

Antioch College became a rump where the most illiberal trends in education became entrenched. Since it is always easier to impose a conformist ethos on a small group than a large one, as the student body dwindled, free expression and freedom of thought were crushed under the weight of ultraliberal orthodoxy. By the 1990s the breadth of challenging ideas a student might encounter at Antioch had narrowed, and the college became a place not for education, but for indoctrination. Everyone was on the same page, a little to the left of The Nation in worldview.

Much of this conformist thinking focused on gender politics, and it culminated in the notorious sexual offense prevention policy. Enacted in 1993, the policy dictated that a person needed express permission for each stage in seduction. (“May I touch your breast?” “May I remove your bra?” And so on.) In two decades students went from being practitioners of free love to prisoners of gender. Antioch became like one of those Essene communities in the Judean desert in the first century after Christ that, convinced of their own purity, died out while waiting for a golden age that never came.

I particularly like the line: "practitioners of free love to prisoners of gender." I have always found the Antioch code to be totally out of touch with reality and practice. What Goldfarb doe not mention is that many, many colleges ended up adopting a similar sexual offense prevention policy. While Antioch's code was a grassroots one--it grew out of the community it was in--other colleges adopted it because it was a great CYA move. Such a strict code makes it easy to get the accused off campus ASAP, without due process, and needing little in the way of evidence.

So, to echo Goldfarb, one of the ironies of this liberal college is that it bequeathed a legacy of fascism to other colleges still operating with its illiberal sexual offense prevention code.