HomeLiberal Arts at Deep Springs

Liberal Arts at Deep Springs


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

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.


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.

Deep Springs College operates year-round. See the Academic Calendar menu link for example of a typical academic year. Short descriptions of classes offered during the past ten years can be found in the most recent Academic Catalog.

Faculty Slate

Long-Term Faculty Academic Year 2021-2022

Sue DarlingtonPresident, Anthropology

Ryan Derby-TalbotDean, Mathematics

Anna Feuer, Julian Steward Chair of Social Science

Brian Hill, Herbert Reich Chair of Natural Science

Visiting Faculty and Scholars Academic Year 2021-2022

Summer Seminar (Term 1, July-August 2021)

Ali Aslam, Political Theory

Joel Schlosser, Political Theory

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

Antón Barba-Kay, Humanities

David McDonald, Humanities

Caroline Tracey, Writer in Residence

Spring Semester (Terms 4 & 5 January – May 2022)

Nicholas Gooding, Humanities

Chistina Mesiti, Fine Arts

Term 6 (May – June 2022)

Dana Grisby, Ethnic Studies

Katie Kadue, Humanities

Ben Holtzman, Geophysics & Energy

Douglas Brooks, Traditional Japanese Boatbuilding

Faculty Bios

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.


Long-Term Faculty Academic Year 2021-2022

Sue Darlington

Anthropology (BA Wellesley; MA and Ph.D. 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 (BA Pomona College; PhD 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

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

Herbert Reich Chair of Natural Science (B.Sc., University of Washington; Ph.D., 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 quantum 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 Academic Year 2021-2022

Ali Aslam

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.

Antón Barba-Kay

Philosophy (BA, St. John’s College; BA University of Cambridge; Ph.D. University of Chicago, Committee on Social Thought). Antón is on leave from the Catholic University of America, where he is an Associate Professor of Philosophy.

David McDonald

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. 

Sonia Neidorf

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

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.

Caroline Tracey

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.

Recent Long-Term Faculty

Justin Kim

Art (BA Yale University, MFA The American University). Justin is a painter and teacher and has taught at Yale, Dartmouth, Smith College, the University of Massachusetts, and periodically for twenty years at Deep Springs College, where he also served as Dean for three years. Recent residencies include The Studios at MASS MoCA in North Adams, Massachusetts, and The Jentel Foundation in Banner, Wyoming.

David N. McNeill

Robert B. Aird Professor of the Humanities (BA, St. John’s College, Annapolis; Ph.D., The University of Chicago, Committee on Social Thought). David joined Deep Springs in 2015 as the Aird Chair of the Humanities. 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, Summer Term Faculty (BA The New School for Social Research, MA St. John’s College, MA The Committee on Social Thought, University of Chicago). David has been President of Deep Springs for ten years; earlier he served as Dean and as Director of Operations at Deep Springs. 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 (BA, St. John’s College, Marchutz School of Art, Aix- en-Provence, France, M.F.A. in Poetry, University of New Hampshire). 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, Dean, and Long Term Natural Sciences Faculty (AB University of Chicago, Ph.D. Harvard University). Amity arrived at Deep Springs in 2010, and she has served both as the Herbert Reich Chair of Natural Sciences and the Academic Dean. 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.

Recent Visiting Faculty and Scholars

Zane Fischer

Zane is an award-winning culture critic and journalist. He is co-founder of MAKE Santa Fe—a community maker space—and serves on the board of directors where he shepherds vision and initiatives related to the organization’s economic development and workforce training. Fischer is the CEO of Extraordinary Structures, a modular construction solutions company, and design/build firm. His previous experience includes leading a creative agency, professional writing and editing, and extensive non-profit arts management. He is a frequent speaker, presenter, and panelist.

Katherine Lee

A native of Iowa, Katherine has pursued her painting career from Northern New Mexico. Her work has been exhibited nationally and is in many private and museum collections. Aside from her artmaking practice, Katherine has creative interests in spinning, weaving, and fiber production and craft. She is a capable woodworker and fabricator. She has experience as a panelist in public forums, a presenter to art students, student teaching, and on-the-job training for aspiring fabricators.

Patricia Locke

Philosophy (BA, Gonzaga University; PhD, Boston College). Patricia teaches at St. John’s College and serves as an MFA critical theory advisor at the Marchutz School of Art, Aix-en-Provence, FR. Her research focusses on French phenomenology. Her just-about-finished manuscript, The Nighttime World of Marcel Proust, takes a phenomenological approach to Proust’s novel, In Search of Lost Time, to think about our experience of sleep, dreams, gender fluidity, and wandering by night. Her nascent project considers Merleau-Ponty’s relation to Daoist thought. While at Deep Springs, she is teaching Dao De Jing/Zhuangzi in Term 4, and Journey to the West in Term 5.

Margiana Petersen-Rockney

Margiana is a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow at UC Berkeley’s Dept. of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management. Margiana’s current research pillars are 1) agricultural adaptation to climate change, focused on ecologically based farming practices, working landscapes conservation, and gender and generational change in farm and ranch management; and 2) inequity and local control using the case of cannabis re-criminalization efforts by county governments in California. She has published across disciplines from ecology, to history, to public policy. Currently she is working on a book manuscript about agrarian change in the rural US. Before academia, Margiana worked in several non-profits, primarily with immigrant and refugee farmers, ran a diversified vegetable and pastured livestock farm, and was a community organizer with new farmers and founder of the Young Farmer Network.

Katie Peterson

Poetry, Literature, Summer Term Faculty (B.A. Stanford University, Ph.D. Harvard University). Currently, Associate Professor of English, the University of California at Davis, Katie is the author of three collections of poetry, This One Tree, Permission, and The Accounts, and the forthcoming A Piece of Good News, and she is the editor of the New Selected Poems of Robert Lowell published by Farrar Strauss in 2017. The recipient of fellowships from the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters, she publishes poetry and reviews widely. A former Professor of Humanities at Deep Springs, Katie is also a member of the college’s Governing Board.

Platinotype portrait of Jocelyn Saidenberg

Jocelyn Saidenberg

Humanities (BA, Columbia University; MFA, SFSU; Ph.D., UC Berkeley, Comparative Literature). Jocelyn is a writer, educator, and performer. Her recent books include kith & kin (The Elephants, 2018), Dead Letter (Roof Books, 2014), and Negativity (Atelos Press, 2007). She has taught creative writing and literature courses at UC Berkeley, The Prison University Project at San Quentin, and at Deuel Vocational State Prison. Her work has been published in numerous journals and anthologies, most recently in BAX: Best American Experimental Poetry, edited by Myung Mi Kim (Wesleyan UP, 2018), and is forthcoming in Pathos, edited by Eileen Myles (Grove Press, 2021) and Queenzenglish, edited by Kyoo Lee (Roof Books, 2021). She has received awards from the American Academy of Poets and New Langton Arts and fellowship residencies at The Headlands Art Center and The Lighthouse Works.