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New York City
March 2002

New Presidents Series
Joan Straumanis: President, Antioch College, Ohio
By Pola Rosen, Ed.D.


President Straumanis has the unusual perspective of having been a student at Antioch College during its centennial year and coming back as President in its sesquicentennial year after a career spanning three deanships, work at the Department of Education in Washington D.C. and a deep interest in political science and mathematics. “Changes over the intervening years are remarkably few. It’s amazing how the college has kept its character,” notes Straumanis. “However, it’s much smaller than it was and is under capacity now. The students look different than when I was here but they sound the same,” she adds. “Students are very connected with the outside world. They are activists who feel a sense of responsibility. The physical plant is similar; the small town environment is much the same. There are big differences in faculty composition. Years ago, President Straumanis did not have any female professors except in physical education. Now about 50 percent of the faculty is women.”

Historically, Antioch was the first college to grant equal degrees to men and women, in 1853. If women worked after graduation, they became teachers or activists in the women’s movement or civil rights. Often they were the daughters of the affluent who simply desired an education and a symbolic degree.

President Straumanis had a double major in political science and mathematics. Few women majored in math or science (there were only two women in her math class). Today Antioch has a slight majority of women, as do most liberal arts colleges. However, according to Straumanis, while there is current national parity for women in mathematics and biology, that does not exist for chemistry, physics and engineering. “Women still have a way to go.”

Part of President Straumanis’ mission is to increase enrollment, build financial stability and enhance the public visibility of the institution. Antioch’s educational outcomes are measurably still wonderful. Students are oriented to academic excellence and achievement. The student body has a balance between academic, social, political and work lives. “That is what is so unusual about Antioch. Students think about the problems of the world and their responsibility to address them. They come here partly because they know Antioch will support that,” according to the President.

“In my current job I have authority but not resources so the challenge is to develop resources.”

In discussing the uniqueness of Antioch College, President Straumanis underscored three elements: the co-op program, which combines classroom and outside work. The program requires a very substantial commitment of time. Work is perceived as part of a liberal arts education. The co-op program incorporates the work experience with the curriculum. President Straumanis wants to help increase the number of professional level and well-paying jobs for students.

Student government is also unique here. Students are involved in the governance of the college; they are on the tenure committee as well as the budget committee, and the labor committee. Students and faculty have a significant voice in community government which is part of the educational experience here.

Unusual here too is that students leave with a sense of optimism and responsibility and with the feeling that they can effect change in the world. Antioch is at the top of the list when it comes to student engagement in the community. About one third of the students are engaged in community service.

Antioch has five branches around the country. Two are in Yellow Springs, the others in Seattle, Los Angeles and New Hampshire. Each campus has its own president and operates in a semi-autonomous manner.

President’s Straumanis’ mentors in her own life did not include women; in fact, she had relatively little mentoring and few women of her generation did, she averred. She encountered “many roadblocks in [her] career because of being a woman. The women’s movement was a great help later on providing mentoring by peers rather than by older professionals.” Her achievement as the first woman president of Antioch College becomes even more remarkable.

Her advice to the students of today: “a critical mass is two. If you have a friend, you can make things better. It doesn’t take many to make a difference.” Certainly, President Straumanis has made a difference in education and the lives of young people and will continue to do so over the years to come.#


Education Update, Inc., P.O. Box 20005, New York, NY 10001. Tel: (212) 481-5519. Fax: (212) 481-3919. Email: ednews1@aol.com.
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