Teaching and Living at Deep Springs
Teaching at Deep Springs
Deep Springs offers faculty a unique opportunity to experiment with new courses and approaches while developing their teaching and communication skills. Here teachers work closely with students to identify mutual course objectives and the best methods to achieve them. The professor's role is to guide exceptional students through challenging material. Many students need help balancing the many conflicting demands on their time. Professors encourage and help Deep Springers to set their own intellectual goals and take charge of the learning process.
The intimate community here promotes strong interaction between students and faculty. With a student-faculty ratio of 5:1, small classes are the rule. The faculty meets regularly to discuss pedagogy and student development. Such dialogue about learning generally cannot be found in larger institutions. After teaching here, professors have made fruitful use of their Deep Springs experience on returning to more traditional classes in universities such as Berkeley, Princeton, and Oxford.
Deep Springs is organized to intensify the learning experience for everyone in the Valley. The geographic isolation of the campus helps community members focus on their life and work together. Here, you'll find no bureaucracy, television, crime or commutes to distract you. The Student Body has enacted strict policies against drugs and alcohol.
Deep Springers do not shy from taking responsibility. The Deed of Trust cites students as the "beneficial owners" of Deep Springs, and as such they exercise stewardship over the physical, social, and intellectual well-being of the college. This stewardship applies not just to the Student Body, but also to the faculty, staff, and the shared environment: the physical plant, the ranch, and the surrounding desert wilderness. Student government deals with issues from all areas of college life. Recent discussions have included: defining justifiable breaches of isolation, assessing the Curriculum Committee's recommendations for Term 6 professors, and suggesting that students save the college money by volunteering to fill the hired cook position. The topic of coeducation is never far from debate.
Such comprehensive involvement provides a welcome alternative to the decontextualized learning found in most colleges. Common problems (e.g. a disturbingly vocal Student Body cat or a student's habitual failure to do satisfactory work) must be dealt with for the community to function. Many such problems are addressed publicly in ways that encourage the participation of all. Deep Springs is truly a community, one where students, faculty, and staff live, study, and work together. It is a unique experiment in democracy meant to fulfill the founding purpose of the college: to prepare students for lives of service.
Long before a professor sets foot in the classroom, he or she works with the student Curriculum Committee, which makes hiring and rehiring recommendations to the college president, establishes and academic policy in consultation with the faculty, and sets curricular priorities. Professors are asked initially to articulate teaching goals and methods. Successful classes demand a continued partnership between teacher and students, which occurs through formal evaluation and informal discussion. In midterm and final evaluations, students describe personal goals and analyze how both professors and pupils can improve a course. A student might also knock on a teacher's door to continue or evaluate class discussion, or the two might go on a hike and chat about better ways to approach a text. In these ways, students and professors work together to build the best possible education.
While the curriculum includes introductory courses from the major disciplines, it is common for classroom discourse at Deep Springs to cover material reserved for upper-division or graduate seminars elsewhere. And though the academic program here grows out of a strong liberal arts tradition, the school embraces innovation. Professors are encouraged to develop new courses, expanding their academic interests and research. Use of new media and teaching methods, interdisciplinary courses, team teaching, and student-defined Independent or Directed Studies all contribute to the academic program's vitality.
Many professors find Deep Springs stimulates scholarship as much as it does pedagogy. The college limits teaching loads to two courses per term, and through its benefit program fosters the professional development of long-term faculty. The valley--sunny, peaceful, and breathtakingly beautiful--provides an ideal setting for writing and thought.
Some students have proven so insightful and motivated that professors have involved them directly in their research. More than a third of Deep Springs alumni have gone on to become university professors themselves. All faculty members are invited to present their work in progress to the community, a way to share their passions and organize their material. They are always encouraged to solicit student participation in their work, or to work with them to design projects of mutual interest.
Teaching at Deep Springs is divided between long-term and visiting professors. There are three long-term positions, one in the sciences and two in the humanities. Long-term faculty have rolling appointments, renewable up to six years; visiting faculty are hired for a term or semester, and teach one or two courses at a time. There is no tenure. The teaching load on long-term faculty is two courses each semester in the Fall and Spring (with the possibility of an Independent or Directed Study).
Living at Deep Springs
All teaching appointments include free room and board for professors and their families, some moving expenses, and library book-purchase funds. Long-term professors also receive retirement benefits, medical insurance, financial support for professional development, sabbatical leaves, and a personal book allowance.
There are faculty houses and apartments around the main circle of the upper ranch, where the library, classrooms, and boardinghouse are located. Faculty members are welcome to eat at the boardinghouse, which offers three meals per weekday and two each on Sunday and Saturday; they also have the option to eat at their homes, all of which have kitchens. Special dietary needs can be accommodated. The college produces nearly all of its own beef and dairy, as well as some chicken and pork. The garden turns out a cornucopia of delicious vegetables. Meals are lively social occasions, full of laughter and conversation. Occasionally, community members will conspire to cook a feast of their own.
There are, of course, no restrictions on faculty movements. But all community members share the benefits of the campus's isolated location. Bishop, CA, is the nearest town with a selection of stores and restaurants; it is forty miles away, over a mountain pass. Las Vegas and Reno airports are four and five hours distant, respectively. Los Angeles and San Francisco are about six and eight. This isolation emphasizes the stark, tranquil beauty of the landscape. Deep Springs Valley is rimmed by the Inyo-Whites and in view of the Sierra Nevadas, two of our country's most gorgeous mountain ranges. There are wonderful opportunities to run, hike, and bike about the campus. And for the times when faculty or staff simply need to get away, there are plenty of attractions nearby: Palisade Glacier, Death Valley National Monument, Yosemite National Park, Devil's Postpile National Monument, and the Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort, all within easy reach.
Professors often bring their children with them. Pediatricians, hospitals, childcare, schools, groceries, and department stores are all located in Bishop. The wide-open spaces, friendly community, and the absence of traffic create an environment in which children thrive. The friends and relatives of community members are welcome to visit, and the college maintains several guest cottages for short-term visitor.
Located on Highway 395 in the Owens Valley, Bishop, California is forty-one miles from Deep Springs (about one hour's drive over Westgard Pass). Though both Dyer, Nevada (the college's postal address), and Big Pine, California are closer to Deep Springs, Bishop is the nearest town with a good selection of stores and restaurants. Centrally located for LA residents travelling to Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort and other destinations in the Sierra Nevadas, Bishop has long been a favorite stopping place for residents of Southern California. Bishop is one of the largest towns in the Eastern Sierra region of California, and is centrally located for all manner of Sierra Nevada excursions. The town boasts a wide selection of restaurants and fast food establishments, a movie theatre, bowling alley, skateboard park, numerous BMX tracks, an annual Tri-County Fair, and the world famous annual event, Mule Days. Most of the college's weekly supplies come from Bishop, and the majority of the contractors whom the college occasionaly employs come from Bishop. Deep Springs has many ties with Bishop, and faculty and staff make frequent trips into town, whether to eat out, catch a movie, or go for a swim at the Hot Springs. Though it does not have everything that a big city can offer, Bishop has all the best qualities of a small, friendly, American town.