Tinfoil hats versus accounting

Not to prolong the eulogizing over Antioch College’s demise, but apparently there is a theory — popular among a certain demographic — that the college’s closure has to do with CIA infiltration in the board of trustees and secretive ties to the military-industrial complex:

At the time of its announced closure, Antioch College, perhaps America’s most progressive and well-known peace college, had a few visible capitalist hawks on its Board of Trustees.

Bruce P. Bedford, one of only three Trustees not a former alum, had been appointed to the board of Arlington, Virginia company GlobeSecNine in 2005. The company is described by a representative of investment corporation Bear Sterns as having “a unique set of experiences in special forces, classified operations, transportation security and military operations.” One can only speculate why the nation’s longest-standing anti-imperialist education institution would appoint a trustee with extensive ties to the military and security industrial complexes.

Feel free to read the whole thing here if you can stomach a nearly-impenetrable and logic-free collection of conspiracy theories. That article is by Bob Fitrakis, Green Party activist and chief complainant that George W. Bush stole the 2004 election by voter fraud in the state of Ohio. (An example of his writing is titled “How the GOP Stole America’s 2004 Election & Is Rigging 2008”, just to give you an idea.)

What Fitrakis’ article glosses over is that there are more realistic things to consider regarding Antioch’s closure — like, for example, a $5 million accounting screwup that doubled the college’s operating deficit:

[Antioch CFO Tom] Faecke came in and lined up the numbers and found a series of problems unfolding,” board Vice Chair Dan Fallon told the regional paper. “It’s sort of like someone robbed Peter to pay Paul … there was certainly no criminal behavior but nonetheless the numbers ended up in different columns.” Since the finding, Faecke “has put his foot down” to get the numbers to line up, Fallon added. […]

Over the past few years, the college has operated at a loss, while officials worked to cut costs through staff layoffs and postponed capital investments. But those actions have led to further erosion of student enrollment numbers. To cover the deficit, the college also tapped into a $10 million gift that had been designated for scholarships, and it has relied on $1.5 million annual subsidies from its sister schools since the early 1990s.

With a $21 million operating budget, Antioch College has largely blamed its financial troubles on low, restrictive endowments and decreasing enrollments; the school projects to have a little more than 300 students on campus next year, down from 577 students in 2002, and 2,470 in 1972.

When your operating budget is $21 million and your endowment is only $36 million, $5 million is an awfully big bite. You would think that those military-industrial infiltrators on the Board of Trustees could have stepped up, or something.

Any time a college goes out of business, it’s serious business for the faculty and staff who find themselves suddenly unemployed and the students who find themselves without an institution. One may not agree with the political orientation of Antioch (whose campus bookstore sold t-shirts proclaiming the school as the “Bootcamp for the Revolution”), and I have registered my misgivings about Antioch before. But certainly, for the sake of those who did love the college, the task of understanding why it closed deserves a more serious, practical-minded approach than the tinfoil-hat conspiracy-mongering hysterics that Mr. Fitrakis gives us.

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Filed under Critical thinking, Education, Higher ed, Life in academia

8 responses to “Tinfoil hats versus accounting

  1. Caelidh

    I find that more and more folks who question the sanity of others who purport opinions that question the reality that we have been existing in , need to open their minds up.

    Critical thinking goes both ways. Merely dismissing opinons that question the status quo as “tin foil hat theories” is merely patronising.. not reflective of critical thinking.

    Critical thinking examines ALL angles.. even the most extreme ones.. and yes.. sometimes. those extreme ones are the truth.

    Most folks don’t want to be labled as “insane” and so they follow the mainsteam “acceptable” views..

    Yet.. there was a time when folks believed the earth was flat and those who believed otherwise were crackpots…

    Please, do use, critical thinking skills.

    I believe that our society has created a place where folks are afraid to step outside of the status quo..even though status quo may have shifted back and forth over time….

    I realise that some view Antioch with disdain… and derision….

    they have formed their opinions about this fine historical school from ONLY what they have gotten from the media. They have not spoken to students.. They have not studied the history.;

    I Challenge you to interview some current students (yes.. 72 of the 88 expected class showed up this year! AND there have been over 1100 prospective students inquiring about the school EVEN regardless to what the press has said…

    I Challenge you to read about the History of Antioch.. understand about HOrace Mann, the great educator and first president of Antioch College the one who declared “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity”.

    Study Arthur Morgan, who created the Co-op program…

    Understand the truth about ANtioch instead of what you read from folks like George Will.

    Caelidh class of 93

  2. I am tempted to let this comment go, since it was on a post from six weeks ago (= very old news). But I think the concept of critical thinking needs defending.

    When you have two possible theories about why a college went under — one of them involving accounting mistakes and financial mismanagement which is plainly documented and easy to follow, and the other involving a wild conspiracy theory involving the CIA infiltrating the Board of Trustees and which has virtually no hard evidence to support it, I think anybody with a shred of critical thinking skills (not to mention simple intellectual honesty) will know which theory is more likely.

    You are likening those who subscribe to the CIA-infiltration cover story to those who questioned the flatness of the earth and so on. The big, nagging difference that is not factored in to that comparison is that latter group had actual evidence, something believable and concrete, on which to base their questions. By contrast, those in the first category are merely escaping reality by ignoring bald facts of accounting in favor of lurid, X-Files-worthy conspiracy theories with not a shred of real evidence to support them. It is an insult to honest seekers of real truth to even countenance this comparison. Challenging the status quo is one thing. Believing the least believable explanation for an event among several options is something completely different.

    If an alum really loved this college, they would tell all the military-industrial conspiracy mongers to shut it and focus on the simple, concrete things they can actually DO something about — such as hiring a CFO who doesn’t misplace upwards of 20% of your operating funds — to prevent this kind of thing from happening again when Antioch reopens. (Although who knows if that will actually happen.) I doubt that a fuller knowledge of the history of Antioch College will make that a less practical and less effective endeavor.

  3. Pingback: Antioch College and vast conspiracies redux « Casting Out Nines

  4. rightwingprof

    And we have two commenters who demonstrate why “critical thinking” has become neither critical, nor thinking. The key word is evidence. There is no evidence behind this paranoid nonsense. Critical thinking, if it is to be taken seriously by anyone with a brain, must be based on hard evidence.

  5. Chris

    I think you would find more people commenting if you weren’t so condemning in your responses.

  6. Well, honestly, I’m not attempting to create a welcoming environment for conspiracy theorists. And I wouldn’t expect to be welcomed if I made similar comments elsewhere. I care a lot more about good thinking than I do about being welcoming. And if I condemn anything, it’s the argument (or lack thereof) and not the person.

  7. dawn scribner

    To be clear: there are two thousand or so alumni involved in trying to save antioch from closing. We’ve raised close to 8 million dollars already and have gotten The Board of Trustees to give us more time to raise money and come up with a plan for separate governance/sustainability. With all these folks chatting- I’ve only heard one person even halfway support the alien infriltration. Parties interested in learning more about what we are doing to save the college should visit antiochians.org. Here you may also make a donation.

    “Be Ashamed to Let it Die.”

    Dawn Scribner ;83

  8. Dawn – Although I am not a supporter of the political ideology that seems to have characterized Antioch’s operating principles over the last 30-40 years, I do sincerely wish you and your fellow alums good luck. You have a big task in front of you. And thanks for the info.