WASHINGTON -- During the campus convulsions of the late 1960s, when rebellion against any authority was considered obedience to every virtue, the film "To Die in Madrid," a documentary about the Spanish Civil War, was shown at a small liberal arts college famous for, and vain about, its dedication to all things progressive. When the film's narrator intoned, "The rebels advanced on Madrid," the students, who adored rebels and were innocent of information, cheered. Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, had been so busy turning undergraduates into vessels of liberalism and apostles of social improvement that it had not found time for the tiresome task of teaching them tedious facts, such as that the rebels in Spain were Franco's fascists.
That illustrates why it is heartening that Antioch will close after the 2007-08 academic year. Its board of trustees says the decision is to "suspend operations" and it talks dottily about reviving the institution in 2012. There is, however, a minuscule market for what Antioch sells for a tuition, room and board of $35,221 -- repressive liberalism unleavened by learning.
Founded in 1852 -- its first president was Horace Mann -- Antioch was, for a while, admirable. One of the first colleges to enroll women and blacks, it was a destination for escaped slaves. Its alumni include Stephen Jay Gould, Coretta Scott King and Rod Serling, whose "Twilight Zone" never imagined anything weirder than what Antioch became when its liberalism curdled.
In 1972-73, Antioch had 2,470 students. In 1973, a protracted and embittering student and employee strike left the campus physically decrepit and intellectually toxic. By 1985, enrollment was down 80 percent. This fall there may be 300 students served by a faculty of 40.
In 1993, Antioch became an international punch line when it wrote rules to insure that all sexual conduct would be consensual, step by minute step: "If the level of sexual intimacy increases during an interaction ... the people involved need to express their clear verbal consent before moving to that new level." Does consent to a touch cover a caress? Is there consent regarding all the buttons?
Although laughable, Antioch was not funny. Former public radio correspondent Michael Goldfarb matriculated at what he calls the "sociological petri dish" in 1968. In his first week, he twice had guns drawn on him, once "in fun" and once by a couple of drunken ex-cons "whom one of my classmates, in the interest of breaking down class barriers, had invited to live with her." A true Antiochian still, Goldfarb says: "I do think I was made stronger for having to deal with these experiences."