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Michael Olenick ’91

Interviewed By: 
Christian Feuerstein '94

Michael OlenickMichael Olenick ’91 and his company, Legalprise, have been in the news lately. Legalprise “aggregate[s] and analyze[s] large sets of public records data to find patterns of potential bank fraud,” Olenick said during an interview. “We believe our data will guide a new breed of honest and responsible banks.” Olenick notes that his belief in winning victories for humanities has cost the company some potential venture capital. “We aren’t shy about our commitment to consumer and investor rights,” he said. “That bothers some prospective clients, but we’ve held firm and will hold firm to that standard.” Olenick reflected on his Antioch College education and the “infamous Florida foreclosure rocket-docket.”

What brought you to Antioch College? What was your major? Antioch alum Tom Hastings told me it's the only school I should consider. My major was communications, though I spent a great deal of time focused on computer software with the goal of blending together data processing and reporting, which is what my company essentially does.

Was there a professor that made a huge impact on your life? They all stood out in some way, but Al Denman's gentle analytical strength; Rich Abram's understated push to do interesting things on co-ops; Denny Partridge’s unbridled enthusiasm, attention to detail, and willingness to push to the edge; and Steve Schwerner's commitment to social justice will be with me forever. The financial and political turmoil I watched as President Al Guskin tried to revive the College was also helpfu. It was painful to watch—I was one of the few "geeks" that openly liked our College president—but a great learning experience.

What's your favorite memory of being at Antioch? Al Denman's Friday night forums [and] my co-op rebuilding the Antioch Amphitheater. Transforming a decrepit slab of concrete into a usable building with no budget, no plans and the only constraint that it absolutely had to be finished in time for a play were skills I use constantly in life.

Any stirring words of wisdom about the independence of Antioch College? Antioch College should either be a great school or it shouldn't exist. Independence from the University was the only possible alternative. This will be the third major iteration: there was Horace Mann's original Antioch, then Arthur Morgan's second revived Antioch. Antioch needs to redefine itself, and maybe the entire foundation of higher education, to succeed. It will either burn brightly, a guide to others every bright kid will hope to attend, or burn out. There isn't room in the middle.

If you could bring one thing to the future of Antioch College, what would it be? I'd organize the school into work units designed to teach and to fund. Each unit would "hire" new students; they'd make admission decisions. Liberal arts curricula would be achieved by rotating through different units. [A] program that said, essentially, "You'll eventually either graduate or be thrown out, and either way you'll leave with no debt nor tuition because the educational units are self-funding. And though it may take eight years to graduate, when you do you'll have strong skills to make sure you never starve, a great résumé, no debt, and a liberal arts education that can't be compared to anywhere else in the country." That would appeal to the brightest high school students. It doesn't compete with other colleges—it's a totally different model. I'm not sure that's the correct model, but I am sure anything less than the total reinvention of a college—a change as radical as Arthur Morgan's co-op program was—is what's needed.

About Legalprise: We aggregate and analyze large sets of public records data to find patterns of potential bank fraud. We're working on a crowd-based system for some of the more difficult to analyze documents to enable armchair activism that makes a concrete difference. Legalprise is a for-profit business, because we believe our data will guide a new breed of honest and responsible banks. Simultaneously, we aren't shy about our commitment to consumer and investor rights, and to social justice. That bothers some prospective clients, but we've held firm and will hold firm to that standard. Having watched the infamous Florida foreclosure rocket-docket, where people lose their homes in 30-second rigged hearings, where lying lawyers submit forged paperwork to judges pulled out of retirement, whose pensions are about 55% invested in Mortgage Backed Securities, I believe we've seen and are helping eliminate the worst systematic civil rights abuse since segregation.

Olenick added, “If you know any programmers looking for a co-op/internship, I desperately need programmers! People who can write great code for what I think is a cool start-up that's trying to bring about substantive social change.” E-mail