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Boots on the Ground for Antioch College

By Diane Chiddister

Reprinted 6/9/2009 with permission from the Yellow Springs News

If you ask Matthew Derr how many hours per week he spends on his job, he’s stumped. During a recent interview, he made an earnest attempt to answer the question before giving up.

“I lose track,” he said. “My whole life is Antioch.”

As the interim president for the Antioch College Continuation Corporation, or ACC, Derr is the boots on the ground for the revival of Antioch College. These days, after last week’s announcement that the Antioch University trustees and ACC reached an agreement to transfer the college, Derr is the one whose immediate job is to make that revival happen. In his 20-year career as a fundraiser and college administrator, he never expected to have on his plate the responsibility for opening a college, Derr said this week, and the task would be overwhelming except that the ACC pro tempore board provides clear direction.

“What I rely on is that this is a collaborative effort,” he said.

Part of that collaborative effort was the task force of ACC and university trustee representatives — Derr, ACC Chair Lee Morgan and trustees Dan Fallon and Jack Merselis — who, along with Great Lakes Colleges Association President Rick Detweiler, met for almost a year to pave the way to the agreement that was signed last week. However, the deal will not close until several significant conditions are met, which the ACC hopes will happen by Aug. 31. Meeting those conditions, which involve approval from outside agencies such as the office of the Ohio attorney general and Antioch University bond holders, will be largely the work of attorneys, Derr said.

While he states that much hard work lies ahead, Derr firmly believes that both the university and the alumni are committed to the transfer, that the conditions will be met and that the college will be revived.

The two-year effort to revive the college is unprecedented, Derr said, and the tenacity of college alumni speaks to the passion they feel for their alma mater.

“If you look at the world today, the fact that we’re trying to bring back the college is a remarkable and bold assertion,” he said.

Like Derr, most other alumni he has met believe that the educational experience at Antioch, with its components of academic rigor, work experience and community governance, is unduplicated by any other college or university. Like him, other alumni felt that it was simply unacceptable that future generations would miss the experience of an Antioch College education.

“I came out of Antioch transformed,” he said. “Antiochians know how to navigate the world with comfort. We feel comfortable in our own skins and with finding our way.”

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