HomeLiberal Arts at Deep Springs

Liberal Arts at Deep Springs

AN EDUCATION NOT CONSUMED BUT CREATED BY ITS STUDENTS

Courses

Courses at Deep Springs are intensive, student-driven, and small. Classes usually have between four and twelve students. In most courses, the majority of class time is spent in seminar-style discussions. (Other forms of class structure, including those based in the lab, studio or field, also regularly appear within the curriculum.) There are no majors or concentrations, and students are encouraged to explore a variety of topics in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences.

The distinctive quality of the Deep Springs academic program is that it treats students not as consumers but as creators of their education and as stewards of a joint intellectual project. The Curriculum Committee (staffed and chaired by students) selects the college’s professors, and the Student Body determines each semester’s curriculum by choosing course from a variety of proposals submitted by each professor. Classes rely heavily on student participation; thorough preparation and robust engagement is seen as a student’s responsibility to the entire class. Students not only drive most class conversations but are also responsible for thinking critically on how each course can improve, attempting to improve their own participation, giving feedback to other students and the professor, and often helping decide questions of class structure.

Curriculum structure

Curriculum

During the regular academic year, students take two or three full courses at a time. There are typically nine courses offered. The Curriculum Committee maintains a balance of course offerings within the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. Courses range from The Special Theory of Relativity to Art and Politics in Twentieth-Century China. 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. In addition, students commonly pursue independent or directed studies, with permission from the Curriculum Committee. There are only three required courses at Deep Springs, each outlined below.

The facilities and resources at students’ disposal include a fully equipped science lab, a library with over 30,000 volumes, a museum and archive with rich historical material from Deep Springs and the local area, an art studio, a music studio and collection of musical instruments including a Steinway grand piano, a darkroom, and more.

Required Courses

Summer Seminar

The Summer Seminar is the introduction to Deep Springs academics for each incoming class. Often taught by an interdisciplinary team of professors, the course focuses on issues of ethics and governance. Students read and discuss diverse works of literature, philosophy, and social sciences.

Writing

Although the Writing courses vary in their specifics from year to year, students learn how to write well and how to offer constructive criticism to others. Particular attention is paid to crafting cogent arguments and giving due consideration of the audience of a written piece.

Public Speaking

All students take Public Speaking throughout their time at Deep Springs. The campus community meets each week to listen to speakers practice their rhetorical skills. Afterward, the speakers meet to receive feedback on their performance from peers and professors. Each student gives two graded speeches per semester.

Elective Courses

Deep Springs College operates year-round. See the Academic Calendar menu link for an example of a typical academic year. In addition to the required courses, the balance of the two to three full courses taken by a student in any given term are elected by the student and approved by the Curriculum Committee. Short descriptions of classes offered during the past ten years can be found in the most recent Academic Catalog.

Faculty

Faculty Overview

At Deep Springs, the student to faculty ratio is usually about 5:1. In addition to the President and the Dean, the college employs three long-term faculty: The Robert Aird Chair of Humanities, The Julian Steward Chair of Social Sciences, and The Herbert Reich Chair of Natural Science.

Each academic term, one to three short-term professors visit to increase the breadth of our curriculum. Short-term professors often come during sabbatical from their regular university positions, and many return to teach at Deep Springs more than once.

Below, you will find information about the long-term faculty, and about visiting faculty and scholars for the current and prior academic years.

Long-Term Faculty

Antón Barba-Kay, Philosophy

Robert Aird Chair of Humanities (BA, St. John’s College; BA University of Cambridge; Ph.D. University of Chicago, Committee on Social Thought). Antón comes to Deep Springs from the Catholic University of America, where he was an Associate Professor of Philosophy. The bulk of his research has concentrated on the subjects of recognition and aesthetics in nineteenth-century German philosophy. His essays have appeared in the Journal of the History of PhilosophyHegel-StudienHegel Bulletin, and Review of Metaphysics, among others. He also writes about contemporary culture and digital technology for a general audience (The PointThe Hedgehog ReviewLitHub, etc.). He’s recently completed A Web of Our Own Making—a book about what the internet is and what difference it makes—which is forthcoming from Cambridge University Press.

Sue Darlington, Anthropology

President (BA Wellesley; MA and Ph.D., Anthropology, University of Michigan). Sue is currently President of Deep Springs. She arrived in the Valley after 30 years at Hampshire College, where she taught environmental anthropology, anthropology of religion, Buddhist studies, and human rights. She periodically served as Dean of Advising and Dean of Critical Social Inquiry at Hampshire. Her book, The Ordination of a Tree: The Thai Buddhist Environmental Movement (SUNY 2012), was based on twenty-five years of research with socially engaged Buddhist monks and community activists in Northern Thailand. She is the recipient of grants from the Luce Initiative for Asian Studies and the Environment, Fulbright, Social Science Research Council, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Association of University Women, among others. Her current research examines ways in which Buddhist monks are involved in agriculture and community development.

Ryan Derby-Talbot, Mathematics

Dean (BA Pomona College; PhD, Mathematics, University of Texas). Ryan is a mathematician with a love of languages, philosophy, travel and interdisciplinary education. Prior to joining Deep Springs he served as the founding Chief Academic Officer of Fulbright University Vietnam. There, he helped launch the university’s novel interdisciplinary and liberal arts undergraduate program using a process of shared faculty-student co-design. Before that, he spent nearly a decade as a professor and then Chief Academic Officer at Quest University Canada, supporting the development of Quest’s innovative liberal arts model in its startup years. He has also been a faculty member at the American University in Cairo, and taught in Japan on the JET Programme.

Mathematically, Ryan is a topologist who studies spaces that serve as potential candidates for the shape of the universe. Educationally, he is interested in experimental college and university models that produce extraordinary learner engagement. In support of the latter, he has founded Reimagining Higher Ed, an organization promoting innovation in higher education. Having grown up in the Eastern Sierra within an extended family of ranchers, he is delighted to find himself in the setting of Deep Springs. Ryan is the Dean of the College.

Anna Feuer, Political Science

Julian Steward Chair of Social Science (BA, Columbia University; MSt, University of Oxford; MA, School of Oriental and African Studies; PhD, Yale University, Political Science). Anna’s interests include political violence, the history of the British empire, environmental history, and the history of technology. Her current research, based on her doctoral dissertation, examines the efforts of twentieth- and twenty-first-century counterinsurgent forces to exert technological control over battlefield terrain. She previously taught at Yale University and George Washington University. She also studied international history and politics in the UK as a 2011 Marshall Scholar. Before beginning her PhD, Anna worked on national security policy and conflict prevention at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, DC. At Deep Springs in 2020, she taught courses on “Civil Wars and Insurgencies,” “Colonialism and Postcolonialism,” and “The Politics of Punishment.” In Spring 2021, she taught courses on World War I and the writings of Smith and Marx.

Brian Hill, Physics & Astronomy

Herbert Reich Chair of Natural Science (B.Sc., Physics, University of Washington; Ph.D., Theoretical Physics, Harvard University). Brian came to Deep Springs in 2020 from the Physics Department at Saint Mary’s College of California. His Ph.D. and postdoctoral research were in theoretical particle physics, and his research topics included the heavy quark effective field theory and lattice gauge theory. After a long and instructive stint in Silicon Valley, including software development at NeXT and Apple, Brian returned to academia in 2015. At Saint Mary’s, he and his students got the campus observatory involved monitoring exoplanets as part of the TESS follow-up observing program. At Deep Springs, while proposing and teaching courses in physics, astronomy, mathematics, and computer science, he is avidly establishing an observatory at which students will be able to do spectroscopy, variable star observation, and astrophotography projects.

Visiting Faculty and Scholars—Current Academic Year

Summer Seminar (Term 1, July–August 2022)

Rory O’Hollaren, Writing Instructor

Rory O’Hollaren, DS’18, studies liberal arts at the University of Chicago. She has previously worked at Deep Springs as a cowboy and is excited to return as the writing instructor for Summer Seminar.

Sharon Schuman, English

Sharon Schuman was an undergraduate at Stanford and earned her Ph.D. in English at U. Chicago. Forty years ago her first teaching position was at Deep Springs, where she and her husband David were the English faculty and Deans for 7 years.  Their children, Rebecca and Ben, were born here.  After Deep Springs, she taught at Willamette University, U. Oregon, the Michigan TASP, and Outer Coast College. In 2014 she published Freedom and Dialogue in a Polarized World, and in 2021 a volume of David’s writing, A Voice for Justice. She performs on violin with Eugene Opera, Oregon Mozart Players, and Chamber Music Amici.

Visiting Faculty and Scholars—Prior Academic Year

Summer Seminar (Term 1, July–August 2021)

Ali Aslam, Political Theory

Ali Aslam is a political theorist who studies democratic freedom. Next year he will be a faculty fellow at the E.J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University. He will be working on a book about reparations for slavery as part of the larger project of repairing American political institutions, norms, and its citizens trust in them, each other, and themselves. He is author of Ordinary Democracy (Oxford University Press, 2018). He earned his doctorate from Duke University.

Sonia Neidorf, Writing Instructor

Sonia graduated with a BA from St. John’s College in 2019. This is her second summer as the writing instructor for Summer Seminar.

Joel Schlosser, Political Theory

Joel Alden Schlosser is Chair and Associate Professor of Political Science at Bryn Mawr College, where he has been a faculty member since Fall 2014. Prior to that, he held the Julian Steward Chair in the Social Sciences at Deep Springs College, where his teaching was featured in the CNN Documentary Film Ivory Tower (2014). He received his BA in Political Science from Carleton College and his MA and PhD in Political Science from Duke University. Joel has published articles and chapters on topics ranging from ancient figures such as Thucydides, Herodotus, and Euripides to contemporary writers such as James Baldwin, Don DeLillo, Joan Didion, and Claudia Rankine. His first book, What Would Socrates Do? (Cambridge, 2014) examined the democratic politics of philosophical practice and was featured in the Los Angeles Review of Books. His second book, Herodotus in the Anthropocene (Chicago, 2020), deepens reflection on the current ecological crisis in conversation with the ancient Greek historian Herodotus; it has been the subject of numerous podcast interviews. Joel’s current inquiries include reflections on self-government, refusal and politics, and a co-authored series of articles on radical democracy with Ali Aslam and David McIvor. At Deep Springs, he especially loved teaching Hegel and thinkers in the left Hegelian tradition. At Bryn Mawr, he has enjoyed interdisciplinary collaborative courses (called 360 Clusters) as well as first year writing courses, named for Bryn Mawr’s Nobel Prize recipient, Emily Balch.

Fall Semester (Terms 2 & 3, September–December 2021)

David McDonald, Humanities

Humanities (BA, St. John’s College). David teaches at St. John’s College, Santa Fe, and recently served as Associate Dean for Graduate Programs there. He has taught extensively in the SJC undergraduate program, as well as in the Liberal Arts and Eastern Classics graduate programs. Prior to joining the faculty at St. John’s, he spent ten years working in computing, on projects related to public health and epidemiology. He has participated in public discussions on cinema, photography, music, and philosophy of technology, and has lectured on Rabelais and Levinas.

Caroline Tracey, Writer in Residence

Caroline (BA Russian, Yale University; ABD Geography, University of California, Berkeley) is a writer and human geographer. She uses ethnographic, archival, and literary methods to study the American Southwest, Mexico, and the US-Mexico Border. Her academic articles have appeared in Journal of the Southwest, Burlington Contemporary, and the Journal of Latino and Latin American Studies; her essays in n+1, the Nation, Kenyon Review online, SFMOMA’s Open Space, and in Spanish in Nexos. She was a Fulbright research fellow (Kyrgyzstan, 2014-15), and the recipient of a Wenner-Gren Dissertation Fieldwork Grant and a Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowship.

Spring Semester (Terms 4 & 5, January–April 2022)

Nicholas Gooding, Philosophy

Nicholas works mainly on Aristotle’s practical philosophy, though with a particular interest in the ways in which it is shaped by his natural philosophy and metaphysics. In his dissertation, The Social Achievement of Self-Understanding: Aristotle on Loving Oneself and Others, he explored Aristotle’s picture of the relationship between our nature as rational beings and our nature as social or political beings. He also sustains serious interests in Kant’s theoretical philosophy and in the later Wittgenstein. Nick has also taught philosophy at Outer Coast College. Between terms he can often be found scaling rock walls while camping out of the back of his customized Honda Element.

Chistina Mesiti, Fine Arts

Christina is a Los Angeles-based artist and educator originally from Phoenix, Arizona. A Fulbright scholar to Mexico, she has shown in places including UCLA, Cal State Long Beach, and Locust Projects. She has taught at Pitzer and Pomona colleges. In 2020, she launched an experimental collaborative teaching/learning space that operates as a walking residency—the Emplacement Society. She received her MFA from Claremont Graduate University. When not teaching or creating sculpture, she, along with her dog, Bird, can be found far from any trailhead exploring the backcountry.

Term 6 (May–June 2022)

Douglas Brooks, Traditional Boatbuilding

Douglas Brooks is a boatbuilder, writer, researcher, and teacher specializing in the construction of traditional wooden boats for museums and private clients. He is a 1982 graduate of Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut with a B.A. in Philosophy and a 2002 graduate of the Middlebury College Language School in Japanese. Since 1990, he has been researching traditional Japanese boatbuilding, documenting the techniques and design secrets of the craft. He has worked with nine boatbuilders from throughout Japan, and is the sole apprentice for seven of them. His fifth book, Japanese Wooden Boatbuilding, is the only comprehensive survey of the craft. Brooks is the only non-Japanese listed in a 2003 Nippon Foundation survey of craftsmen capable of building traditional Japanese boats. In 2014, Brooks received the Rare Craft Fellowship Award from the American Craft Council. His work has also been honored by the Japanese Ministry of Culture. He lives with his wife Catherine in Vergennes, Vermont. For more on his work visit his website, Douglas Brooks Boat Building.

Dana Grisby, Ethnic Studies

Ethnic Studies (BA, Howard University;  MA, University of California Los Angeles) Dana is an African American Studies Professor at Laney College. She is Chair of the Ethnic Studies Department. She has served in the U.S. Peace Corps twice, in both Botswana and Guyana. She has an intersectional approach to teaching that centers social justice and community involvement. She challenges students to think critically about the overlapping identities of race, sexualities, class, genders, social status and work toward dismantling systems of oppression. She was an award recipient of the inaugural class of 20 emerging leaders under 40 in her hometown of Merced, CA. She is a 2019-2020 Stanford University Global Studies EPIC Fellow.

Ben Holtzman, Geophysics & Energy

Ben Holtzman is a geophysicist who studies the mechanical behavior of rocks. He has been based at Columbia University’s Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory since 2004 and is also the Scientist-in-Residence at Columbia’s Computer Music Center, where he teaches a class on sonic and visual representation of data. Ben did his Ph.D. jointly between the University of Minnesota and the University of Montpellier, France, and spent a year working at the Earthquake Research Institute in Tokyo. He spent time figuring out ways to use sound to convey the complex patterns of earthquakes, which led to a series of public programs at the Hayden Planetarium in NYC in 2015-2017, and multiple venues since. His research in the last 5 years has migrated from the hot and quiet creep of the deep Earth to the far-from-equilibrium processes in geothermal reservoirs. During this migration, he has developed two patents for a geothermal heat mining system, with the aim of contributing to the transition to carbon-free energy. He lives in New York City and Cambridge, MA, and is still sitting on a comic book (about geology and burros, set in the Panamint Valley) that has remained unfinished for 25 years.

Katie Kadue, Humanities

Comparative Literature (BA Yale University, PhD University of California, Berkeley). Katie specializes in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century French and English literature, with particular interests in labor, gender, and poetics. Her book, Domestic Georgic: Labors of Preservation from Rabelais to Milton (Chicago, 2021), explores the intimate relationship between domestic and intellectual labor in early modern literature. She has previously taught at Cornell University, the University of Chicago, and San Quentin State Prison.

Recent Long-Term Faculty

David N. McNeill, Philosophy

Robert B. Aird Chair of the Humanities 2015–2020. Philosophy (BA, St. John’s College, Annapolis; Ph.D., The University of Chicago, Committee on Social Thought). Immediately prior to coming to Deep Springs, David taught in the School of Philosophy and Art History at the University of Essex for 11 years, where he was also the Director of the MA programs in Continental Philosophy and Philosophy and Psychoanalysis. He previously taught at Hofstra University, Grinnell College, the University of Chicago, and St. Mary’s College. At Deep Springs, David has taught courses on Sophocles, Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Shakespeare, Hegel, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, Magical Realism, and Arendt. He is the author of An Image of the Soul in Speech: Plato and the Problem of Socrates, and has published articles on Plato, Aristotle, Nietzsche, Sophocles, and contemporary critical theory. His current research focuses on the role of ethical perplexity in Aristotle’s account of practical wisdom.

David Neidorf, Political Philosophy, Philosophy of Science

President 2008–2020 (BA The New School for Social Research, MA St. John’s College, MA The Committee on Social Thought, University of Chicago). Before he served as President, David served as Dean and as Vice-President of Operations from 2005 to 2007. Before coming to Deep Springs, he was Director of the Integrated Studies Program at Middlebury College. He was a faculty member in the Integral Program at Saint Mary’s College and a visiting professor at Shimer College and Prescott College. He has served as a Senior Research Fellow at the Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts, and Director of Educational Programs at Bioethics-in-Action. David began his teaching career in Outward Bound; he worked seasonally for twenty-five years as an Instructor and Course Director at the Southwest, Colorado, and Hurricane Island Outward Bound Schools.

Sarah Stickney, Poetry, Literature

Dean 2019–2021 (BA, St. John’s College, Marchutz School of Art, Aix- en-Provence, France, M.F.A. in Poetry, University of New Hampshire). Before serving as Dean, Sarah also was a visiting professor from 2018–2019. Sarah is a poet, translator, and teacher. She has taught at the University of New Hampshire, the Paul H. Nitze School of International Relations in Bologna, Italy, and currently teaches at St. Johns College. She received a Fulbright Grant for the translation of Italian poetry, and her co-translation of poems by Elisa Biagini, The Guest in the Wood won the best-translated book award in 2014. Her poems have appeared widely in journals; her manuscript Portico was the 2016 winner of the Emrys Press chapbook competition.

Amity Wilczek, Evolution, Genetics

Vice-President 2019–2020 (AB University of Chicago, Ph.D. Harvard University). Amity arrived at Deep Springs in 2010, and she served both as the Herbert Reich Chair of Natural Sciences and the Academic Dean before serving as Vice-President. She studies a broad range of questions in evolutionary ecology using a holistic approach combining fieldwork, genetic analysis, and mathematical modeling. Her research has been published in journals including Science, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Ecology, American Naturalist, and Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. Teaching and mentoring have long played a central role in her life. Prior to Deep Springs, Amity taught classes and co-authored papers with undergraduates at Brown and Harvard. Amity has also served as a natural history lecturer for the Harvard Museum of Natural History in over 20 nations including Australia, New Zealand, Costa Rica, Panama, Seychelles, Maldives, Palau, Madagascar, Sri Lanka, Tonga, Samoa, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Brunei, Indonesia, and Cuba.