“This is an exciting time for Antioch,” says Carole Isom-Barnes, PhD. She should know. In her position as Chair of Antioch University’s Board of Governors, Isom-Barnes is helping lead this 171-year-old institution through both exciting developments and complex challenges. A year into her chairship, Isom-Barnes finds herself deeply optimistic. “I’m certain that we have committed and capable leaders in position to uphold our mission,” she says. “We are reclaiming our history as innovators, transforming higher education as others are watching. I am proud to be part of the journey.”
Isom-Barnes made history last year when she was the first Black woman to be elected Chair of the Board of Governors, which she first joined in 2013. For Antioch, having the representation of someone from Isom-Barnes’ identity in this position was long overdue, especially as the institution has long been proud of being among the first institutions of higher education in the country to welcome Black students to study alongside white ones and to invite women to study and teach at equal levels as men.
“Serving as chair symbolizes our progress and who we are as a university,” says Isom-Barnes. She sees serving in this role as partly a way to embody changes that are needed in organizations across the country. “Antioch has always been at the forefront of change,” she explains, “and at a time when Black women hold only 4% of corporate board seats in this country and even fewer serve as board chairs, I am privileged to serve an institution that supports inclusion and leads the way.”
Representation matters. And Isom-Barnes’ presence brings a distinct perspective to Antioch University and its board. “Because of my world experiences,” she explains, “I am sensitive to issues surrounding inclusion and making sure that all voices and perspectives are represented as we make the best decisions on behalf of Antioch.”
Isom-Barnes also brings a wealth of leadership experience to this work as a retired Bank of America executive. She is herself an alum of Antioch’s PhD in Leadership and Change, which she graduated from in 2010. Her dissertation explored how African Americans in corporate spaces are disproportionately impacted during layoffs, and she expanded it into her 2012 book, Layoff: American Dream Interrupted. Today she serves as the president of Xperience Leadership, LLC, a consulting group, and she is an Assistant Professor of Strategic Communication at Queens University in Charlotte, NC.
Bill Groves, the Chancellor of Antioch University, says, “Carole is an incredible leader and a true asset to Antioch’s board. She is Antiochian through and through, both as an alum and as an agent for change in the world, and her values dovetail with Antioch’s. We are lucky to have her as Board Chair.”
Isom-Barnes is serving Antioch University at a time of great inflection. On a curricular level, more and more programs across the university are embracing hybrid, low-residency, and online modalities as the adaptations necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic helped demonstrate the power and effectiveness of distance learning tools. And on a larger structural level, Antioch University is expanding its mission by joining with Otterbein University to found the Coalition for the Common Good, the first national higher education system of affiliated universities organized around a shared mission of educating students not only to advance their careers, but to promote our pluralistic democracy, social, racial, economic, and environmental justice, and the common good.
The partnership, Isom-Barnes explains, “serves as a new model for higher education and as another example of Antioch being a change agent for democracy and justice.”
The possibilities opened by being a member institution in the Coalition for the Common Good are many. Antioch University is taking over several of Otterbein’s graduate programs, and one early project is to bring Antioch’s nationally accredited Clinical Mental Health Counseling (CMHC) program to Otterbein’s Ohio campus. The objective is to train counselors to address Ohio’s mental health needs and offer practical solutions to the opioid and drug addiction crisis.
Another initiative aims to help students complete advanced degrees both quickly and affordably. “We are building undergraduate-to-graduate pathways that will reduce student cost and time-to-degree by allowing Otterbein undergraduates to move directly into graduate programs,” explains Isom-Barnes, who has helped formulate these plans and who is deeply excited to see them through. She goes on, “We are also far along in developing a joint MBA, offering the EdD in Ohio.”
For Isom-Barnes, the final year of her two-year term as Chair is a chance to continue serving and leading Antioch University in a time of great possibility. Ultimately, she is excited to see how these initiatives continue expanding Antioch’s reach and making higher education accessible to more students around the country. In this and in everything she does as Board Chair, she is bringing her specific background and intelligence to ensure the university keeps on succeeding.
Jasper Nighthawk ’19 (Antioch Los Angeles, MFA) is Antioch University’s Manager of Communications. He hosts the award-winning Seed Field Podcast and co-edits Common Thread and the Antioch Alumni Magazine. In his free time, Jasper is a writer and publishes an email newsletter called Lightplay. He lives in Los Angeles and on the Mendocino Coast with his partner, child, and cat.
Antoinette is an MFA candidate in fiction at Antioch University Los Angeles. This movie buff and foodie based in Cleveland, Ohio, also performs as a singer, editor, writing coach, and occasional movie extra.