Interview with the new President of Antioch College, Dr. Jane Fernandes
Fernandes started in August and has been tasked with growing the college's enrollment.
Antioch College in Yellow Springs has a new president. Dr. Jane Fernandes is the second female president of the college and the first deaf president. She will be tasked with growing the tiny college’s enrollment from around 100 students today to 300 students. Fernandes recently sat down at WYSO for an interview with reporter Chris Welter. They spoke about some of the challenges facing higher education, as well as her philosophy on leading a small, liberal arts college in the 21st century.
Chris: In addition to being a higher education manager and administrator, you're also an English professor. In an era that's so focused on things like computer science and technology, what do you think the importance is of a liberal arts education?
Jane: Computer technology and things of this time are very important, and the truth is that things like, say, advanced manufacturing, for example, there's not enough people qualified to do the work. The employers are seeking more people to do their work, and that is more of a training than a broad-based education. However, I understand from talking to some of the people who run those kinds of careers, they really respect liberal arts graduates because they have a better sense of things like critical thinking, ability to problem solve, ability to relate to people who are different than them, all kinds of things that really will make their industry grow.
Chris: So your previous job was as the President of Guilford Collegein Greensboro. From a political and demographic standpoint, Ohio and North Carolina are somewhat similar. Both state legislatures have passed controversial laws that have received national attention. Both states have outspoken conservative politicians and both states have liberal cities that are surrounded by more conservative, rural areas. What are the challenges of leading a progressive institution in a state like North Carolina and now in Ohio?
Jane: I know I work well with everyone. I learned that I should see good in everyone, and just because I disagree with someone doesn't mean that I can't find something good in them and that we can't work together. I actually found a lot of support for Guilford College among people of all persuasions. So I like to see my job as an educator to not focus on dividing, but on uniting in whatever ways are possible.
Chris: But are there still times where you feel like you might need to take a stand? Like I know with House Bill 2 in North Carolina, you were outspoken.
Jane: Yes, I did. Immediately. I was so appalled when I read that bill. I was stunned. But I didn't take action against a person but against an issue, a politics. It's better to talk than not talk, but I was absolutely dead set against HB 2, which required people to use the bathroom of the sex that was on their birth certificate, which is absolutely intolerable at this time.
I’m still a member of the steering committee for the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigrationand when the previous presidential administration was involved, it seemed, in deliberately trying to push international students out of the United States. If you violated a student visa in any way, such as you forgot to report your address, or you dropped a class and then you were below the minimum number of classes you could have in college, you made a mistake and typed the wrong Social Security number, any small reason that would occur to you would require you to be banned. You would be sent home and you are banned from returning for one year or as much as ten years. So if you're in the middle of a college program and you're banned for 10 years, that pretty much destroys your goal, destroys your idea that you'll ever be getting a college education.
So Guilford College was the lead plaintiff in the suit and it went to a federal court and the judge gave us a temporary national restraining order blocking the president of the United States from implementing the policy. So that was amazing. Then later, the U.S. government dropped the case because I think they knew that we probably would win. It just disappeared and international students could be assured that they could still apply and come.
Chris: So my my last question here is a little bit more philosophical. You're coming from a Quaker institution. Yellow Springs and Antioch also have a rich Quaker history. I actually grew up Quaker, and I find a lot of meaning and silence and stillness. It's an interesting dynamic for me personally: in my faith I'm constantly dealing with silence then professionally I'm always dealing with audio. I'm wondering what your thoughts were on on being at a Quaker institution as a deaf person and kind of how you deal with that dynamic?
Jane: I love the silence of Quakerism. I am a convinced Quaker with my husband John. We both go to meetings on Sunday in North Carolina on Zoom, but we hope to join start going to the Yellow Springs meeting. The silence is perfect for me. It's a way to get down to the core of what's important and be able to see my own light and show it to the world, and it allows me to see the lights in everyone around me. Now the noise, well, I've always been taught that noise was important, even though my condition is silence.
I never listen to radio. I'm on this program, I don't even know if I'll ever know what happened because I'll never listen. I can't hear. But, I think radio is good use of noise.
I try to get as much silence as I can every day, and then that makes me a better noisemaker.
Environmental reporter Chris Welter is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.