New Antioch president wants to add stability, students

Thomas Manley will take the helm of Antioch College next week, becoming the school’s second president since it reopened in 2011.

While college officials say the institution has made significant gains under the leadership of outgoing president Mark Roosevelt, they say challenges remain as Manley starts his new job Tuesday.

Manley and his family have spent the past month preparing for their move from Portland, Oregon, where he was president of Pacific Northwest College of Art since 2003. Antioch touts how Manley helped the private fine art and design college successfully move its location and land the largest gift to an arts organization in Oregon history.

Prior to joining the Oregon college, Manley spent 22 years at the Claremont Colleges in southern California, where he held a variety of administrative and faculty posts.

Manley recently spoke to this newspaper about the challenges Antioch faces and where he plans to take the school.

Q: Over the past five years, Roosevelt has led Antioch through the challenges associated with starting a college. Do you plan to change gears as it moves into a different phase?

A: I have the benefit of standing on some pretty broad and wide shoulders. Those are Mark’s, but also the whole Antioch team and the passionate and committed alumni of this college. I know alumni at other institutions have rallied to keep their schools alive, but I don’t know of any that have done anything quite like this. For five years, 100 percent of the funding has come from donations from alumni. I’ll benefit from all of the hard work that’s been done.

Antioch is now positioned to take a step toward normalcy, with growing financial stability and less of a constant drive around urgent business (major repairs, accreditation). By no means does that clear the deck of the all the challenges the college faces. So my task as Antioch’s next leader is to work with our team to get the college in place where we’re meeting significant challenges and embracing a vision that is singular in American higher education. We need to dial down the crisis approach and create as much normalcy as we can.

Q: What are some of the obstacles?

A: First and most immediate is that the college made a bold, and I think right, decision to forgo collecting tuition for the first few years until it regained accreditation and could ensure that it was stable and attracting strong students who resonate around Antioch’s values of social justice. In order to attract them and get them to take the risk, the college decided to fund students 100 percent through their first four years. Students are now eligible for some federal financial aid due to our candidacy for accreditation. As accreditation is granted we will gradually ramp up revenue from tuition.

The challenge is that ramp can’t be a steep, vertical one; it has to be a gradual one. As we grow enrollment and bring in tuition revenue, we are going to need to be very vigorous in our fundraising efforts and very disciplined in terms of how we managed the fiances of the college. So that’s the No. 1 challenge. At a time when higher education has great pressure to change its financial model, we’re trying to do that as a start-up. I don’t know of any other upstart liberal arts college in the country.

Q: Where do you plan to live?

A: We had visited the college for a short period of time in September, and we subsequently proposed the idea of living on campus. The reason is that we feel that it will not only aid us to get to know the (college) community, it will benefit having a president house as a tool for building community, and it’s a practice that when done well has positive benefits for everybody involved. We’ll use the house not just for entertaining but also to engage students, faculty, staff and trustees.

My family has talked a lot about how living in Yellow Springs will be different than living in Portland. We’re excited about being a part of a residential college again. There is different energy and flow to that lifestyle.

Q: Antioch has around 270 students. Is there an enrollment level that would create stability?

A: It will take a long time to get there, but the level where I think the college could start to be comfortable is around 1,200. But 500 or 600 will work a lot better than 300. And 800 will work better than 600. At its heyday, the school had more than 2,000 students, and that’s certainly a further-out goal, as well.

Q: What about Antioch College made you want to apply for the position?

A: They (Antioch) used a really good national search firm: Isaacson Miller. I will tell you that I was completely taken in when I was called by the search firm and they sent me the profile of the college and it said, ‘We’re a 165-year-old start-up.’ That’s exactly the kind of thinking we need right now, not just at Antioch but at all liberal arts colleges.

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