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 Introduction to Quantum Physics 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 2020-2021

Sue DarlingtonPresident, Anthropology

Anna Feuer, Julian Steward Chair of Social Science

Brian Hill, Herbert Reich Chair of Natural Science

Sarah Stickney, Academic Dean, Literature

David McNeill, On Leave 2020-2021, Philosophy


Visiting Faculty and Scholars

Summer Seminar (Term 1, July-August 2020)

David Arndt and Julie Park, English Composition, Literature, Political Philosophy


Fall Semester (Terms 2 & 3, September – December 2020)

Jocelyn Saidenberg, Humanities

Katherine Lee & Zane Fischer, Art


Winter Semester (Terms 4 & 5, January – April 2021)

Antón Barba-Kay, Philosophy

Patricia Locke, Humanities

Margiana Petersen-Rockney, Environmental Science


Interim Summer Term (Term 6, May – June 2021)

Ben Holtzman, Geophysics

Ana Kielson, History

Justin Reynolds, History

Christine Sajecki, Art

Dan Schillinger, Political Science

Faculty Bios

At Deep Springs, the student to faculty ratio is usually about 5:1. The college currently employs three long-term professors: 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.


Current (Academic Year 2020-2021)

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 Associate Professor of Philosophy. At Deep Springs in the fall of 2020 he is teaching Kierkegaard’s Either/Or.

Sue Darlington

Anthropology (BA Wellesley; MA and PhD 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, the 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.

Anna Feuer

Julian Steward Chair of Social Science (BA, Columbia University; MSt, University of Oxford; MA, School of Oriental and African Studies; PhD (expected 2020), Yale, Political Science). Anna’s research interests include political violence, history of the British empire, environmental history, and the history of technology. She previously taught at Yale University and The George Washington University. Before beginning her PhD, Anna worked in policy analysis in Washington, DC. She is the recipient of a 2011 Marshall Scholarship.

Zane Fischer

Zane is an award-winning culture critic and journalist. He is co-founder of MAKE Santa Fe—a community makerspace—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.

Brian Hill

Herbert Reich Professor of Natural Science (BA, Univ. of Washington; PhD, Harvard University). Brian came to Deep Springs in 2020 from the Physics Department at Saint Mary’s College of California. His PhD and postdoctoral research are in theoretical particle physics, and his research topics include 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 followup observing program. While proposing and teaching courses in physics, astronomy, mathematics, and computer science, he is avidly establishing an observatory at Deep Springs in which students will be able to do spectroscopy, exoplanet observation, and astrophotography.

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.

David N. McNeill

Robert B. Aird Professor of the Humanities (BA, St. John’s College, Annapolis; PhD, The University of Chicago, Committee on Social Thought). David has been the Aird Chair of the Humanities at Deep Springs since 2015. 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.

Platinotype portrait of Jocelyn Saidenberg

Jocelyn Saidenberg

Humanities (BA, Columbia University; MFA, SFSU; PhD, 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.

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 in widely in journals; her manuscript Portico was the 2016 winner of the Emrys Press chapbook competition.

Recent (Academic Years 2018-2019 and 2019-2020)

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 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.

Katie Peterson

Poetry, Literature, Summer Term Faculty (B.A. Stanford University, Ph.D. Harvard University). Currently Associate Professor of English, 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.

Amity Wilczek

Evolution, Genetics, Dean and Long Term Natural Sciences Faculty (AB University of Chicago, PhD 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.