When L.L. Nunn was building his successful hydroelectric enterprises in the late 19th Century, he frequently established remote outposts in the American West for his workers to maintain the facilities. Partly from necessity, these small groups were given a great deal of autonomy in managing their tiny isolated communities. As Nunn shifted his emphasis to educational endeavors, he applied the same principle for his isolated groups of students.
After founding Deep Springs, Nunn turned over the majority of his estate to the college. A key clause of the Trust reads in part: It shall be the duty of said Trustees to accord the Student Body the full right, power and authority of democratic self-governance in accordance with its traditions and the ideals and policies of Deep Springs set forth in the correspondence and documents of the Grantor…
It’s common to hear that “the students run the college.” While this isn’t entirely true, students are responsible for many functions that in a regular college setting are the sole purvey of administrators; doing so meets a key part of the educational goals of Deep Springs. The Student Body convenes once a week to deliberate and take action on any issues concerning their participation in community life, labor on the ranch, academic plans, disciplinary matters, election of office holders, and more.
The SB – as it’s called – has its own set of by-laws distinct from the college and determines its own rules. There are three primary standing committees, all of which are chaired by students (though one or two staff members sit on each committee, students carry the majority of votes). At the beginning of each year, students vote to determine who will serve on which committee and the groups meet weekly throughout the subsequent academic year.
Ground Rules – The Student Body historically maintains two ground rules for its members during academic session: a prohibition against use of drugs or alcohol, and the “isolation policy” which prohibits students from leaving the valley except for emergencies, religious observance, or college business.
The Applications Committee reviews all student applications for admission and selects each year’s new incoming class. The Curriculum Committee reviews all applications from prospective professors, sets academic policy, reviews cases of academic misconduct, guides course selection and makes recommendations for faculty re-hire. The Review and Reinvitations Committee reviews individual student progress throughout the year to determine whether students will be re-invited for a second year.
In addition to the standing committees, ad hoc groups regularly gather to consider new staff hiring, safety issues around campus, special event planning and requests from potential visitors and media to the valley. These activities require diligent practice in the exercise of good judgment with both their peers and the institution. Since Deep Springs is a two-year program, students may often not even remain on campus to experience the results of their decisions. But just as they are the recipients of decisions made by students before them, so they are obligated to make the best choices for students who follow.
Besides these administrative functions, students also require themselves to engage in regular discussions of philosophical questions concerning tenets of the Deep Springs education. In this way, they continually reinvigorate the meaning and impact of governance “by, of and for the students.”