Friday, March 14, 2008

Antioch University Tries to Suppress Criticism

It’s bad enough that Antioch University has worked so hard to destroy Antioch College. Now it’s trying to prohibit information about that decision from being revealed to the public. The website Antioch Papers has received a letter from Antioch University’s lawyers demanding the removal of documents about the Board of Trustee meetings on the grounds that these are “confidential attorney-client communications.”

This is an appalling abuse of the attorney-client privilege. It was never meant to cover everyone at a meeting of a nonprofit organization. To declare that everything done by university’s board can be covered by the attorney-client privilege is a breathtaking destruction of the meaning of this privilege, and an attack on the First Amendment rights of all of us. By Antioch University’s logic, any private corporation or nonprofit could simply declare everything they do to be under the attorney-client privilege and therefore prevent any scrutiny of their actions, prohibiting any reports on what happens behind closed doors.

The so-called “confidential attorney-client communications” have nothing to do with personnel issues or other topics that have a legitimate (but limited) issue of confidentiality. Instead, in 2001 Antioch University’s trustees were trying to keep secret its legally dubious efforts to use the Antioch College endowment to cover debts created at the other campuses and take total control over Antioch College. These decisions should have been subject to public scrutiny back in 2001; the fact that Antioch University is not only trying to keep this secret in 2008, but is abusing an essential legal principle in the process, should alarm everyone concerned about academia.

This is fundamentally contrary to every principle of free speech, freedom of the press, academic freedom, and shared governance that a university must adhere to. Anyone associated with this demand for censorship, or any similar abuse of the attorney-client privilege in the name of secrecy and freedom from accountability, has no business running a university. It’s time for Antioch University to revoke this letter, and then allow Antioch College to remain open, under new leadership capable of recognizing academic values.

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