An Antioch Alum Looks Back: Indoctrination Trumps Education, and a School Collapses

June 18, 2007

In the midst of a cascade of obituaries for Antioch College, which announced its plans to close just last week, one in particular has stood out to me as an insightful summary of Antioch’s downfall, as both an intellectual community and as a financially viable institution of higher learning.

In yesterday’s edition of The New York Times, Michael Goldfarb, a former public radio correspondent and 1972 Antioch graduate, writes that Antioch’s demise was precipitated in large part by the college’s staunch commitment in recent decades to the “most illiberal trends in education”—exemplified by Antioch’s “notorious” sexual offense policy, which Robert dissected last week. Goldfarb notes with bitter irony that such “illiberal trends” were willingly embraced by the college’s faculty and student body:

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.

Regardless of one’s position on the ideological spectrum, Goldfarb’s informed impressions on Antioch’s demise serve as a useful reminder of the dangers of homogeneity on college campuses. FIRE’s work is animated in significant part by a deep-seated belief in the university classroom as “peculiarly the ‘marketplace of ideas,’” in Justice William Brennan’s apt phrase. As illustrated by the shuttering of Antioch, the intellectual spirit of a university thrives on an interplay between a diverse set of ideas and viewpoints, and withers otherwise.