Deep Springs offers faculty a unique opportunity to experiment with new courses and approaches while developing their teaching 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. Intense dialogue about learning is the norm. In addition to the ongoing reciprocal relationship between students and professors, the faculty also meet regularly to discuss pedagogy and student development. After teaching here, professors have made fruitful use of their Deep Springs experience on returning to more traditional classes at institutions such as (recently) Bryn Mawr, Yale, Bard, UC Davis, UT Austin, USC, UCLA, Duke, AUP, UBC, U Michigan, St. Mary’s, and Smith.
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. Faculty often structure courses to foster connections between classroom and the broader intellectual life of Deep Springs, emphasizing topics, readings or practices that have direct applications to ongoing conversations and experiences common to members of the community.
Students and the Deep Springs Community
Deep Springers do not shy from taking responsibility. The Deed of Trust calls students the “beneficial owners” of Deep Springs; to the extent possible they exercise stewardship over the physical, social, and intellectual well-being of the college. Student government deals with issues from all areas of college life including academics, staff and faculty, the shared environment of the physical plant, the ranch, and the surrounding desert wilderness. Students also consider that, like many things at Deep Springs, the success of each class rests largely on their shoulders. Expectations are high and anonymity is not an option.
Student-led committees, which also have staff and/or faculty members, are responsible for selecting the incoming student class, suggesting faculty hires, evaluating courses, and managing outreach. At their weekly student body meetings, students consider a broad range of ideological and practical issues. Recent discussions have included: debating the extent to which students should use the internet and entertainment technology, discussing the syllabus for an upcoming term of Public Speaking, and determining what size the Student Body should be in the future.
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.
Courses and Curriculum
Long before a professor sets foot in the classroom, he or she interacts with the student Curriculum Committee, which makes hiring and rehiring recommendations to the college president, establishes 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.
Although the academic program here grows out of a strong liberal arts tradition, the school embraces innovation. At Deep Springs, instructors are challenged to teach unified classes that address the needs of students with diverse material and academic backgrounds; teaching approaches and course construction often reflect an instructor’s efforts to confront and surmount these differences. Rigorous engagement within an area of study can facilitate the exploration of field-specific modes of inquiry among a group of students with divergent levels of prior experience. Professors are encouraged to develop new courses that build on 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 that Deep Springs stimulates scholarship just 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 motivated that professors involved them directly in their research. More than a quarter 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. Faculty are 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 natural sciences, one in the social sciences, and one 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 of long-term faculty is two courses each semester in the Fall and Spring (with the possibility to supervise Independent or Directed Studies according to faculty and student interests).