Left Behinds

The anti-andrewsullivan.com. Or, the Robin Hood (Maid Marian?) of bright pink Blogger blogs.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Deep Springs Continuum

"Two guys had been reading a lot of queer theory -- it was the nineties -- and there was some fairly persuasive talk of a homosexual continuum," a Deep Springer told me. "These two guys more or less argued themselves, on a strictly theoretical basis, into making out. It was not the practical success that it had been theoretically. You can read all the Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick you want without getting an erection."

-from Dana Goodyear's article about Deep Springs College in the current issue of the New Yorker

I'm pretty sure I know who this anonymous Deep Springer source is, and I'm pretty sure his name rhymes with Qantid Qoto.


  • At 6:25 PM, Blogger Antid Oto said…

    You'd think so, wouldn't you? But you'd be wrong.

  • At 6:27 PM, Blogger Antid Oto said…

    Though I have my ideas about who it actually was.

  • At 10:00 PM, Blogger Emma B said…

    And.... what does HIS name rhyme with?

  • At 12:45 AM, Blogger Phoebe Evergreen said…

    It wasn't me. I talked to her, but I didn't tell her about that incident. (Nor did I remember it that way, if it's who I'm thinking it was.) It's a good line though. Maybe one of my other (real) namesakes?

  • At 2:17 AM, Blogger Antid Oto said…

    It doesn't sound like either of them to me. It sounds like a certain blond country boy given to wry humor, but I don't know if Goodyear knows him. If not, it's almost certainly someone from your year, and I can only think of a couple she's likely to have talked to.

    Far more interesting is who the quote is about. I don't remember it that way either, but maybe I'm also not thinking of the right people.

    Next week's blog posts will be all blind items.

  • At 6:28 AM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    Did you read the entire article?

    What I didn't understand is whether Deep Springs has really gone downhill or if she's just poisoning its applicant pool by sheer dint of her hack writing. She makes not one positive observation without a coupled snarky putdown. The coda of the piece could be summarized "and who has Deep Springs produced in the past 50 years, anyhow? Answer: no one."

  • At 11:23 AM, Blogger Antid Oto said…

    No, I haven't read the article yet. I went to my local newsstand to try to buy it yesterday and they were still selling last week's issue. Perhaps they'll have it today.

  • At 3:52 PM, Blogger Antid Oto said…

    I don't think it's gone downhill. It just read like a standard Deep Springs profile: it gets some things right, obsesses too much about aethetics, and completely misses the most unusual and absorbing element of the place (communitarian self-governance). It's most stupid when it comes to the agricultural methods, which are not an anachronistic reflection of innate conservatism but deliberately low-impact and organic. Or at least that was the idea when I was there. It's why, for example, they just planted a whole fieldful of solar panels.

    But the obsession with aethetics I think is the most serious flaw. Most profiles of Deep Springs try to get to know a few personalities at least a little, so the reader can get some idea of why anyone would want to go there. In Goodyear's piece the students and alumni are an undifferentiated crowd of dirty, pretentious, upper-middle-class white guys. All of those descriptors are correct, of course, except for "undifferentiated."

  • At 2:12 PM, Blogger Phoebe Evergreen said…

    I just read it and liked it more than AO did, although that may be a function of temperament. I think Dana was right to pick up on the reactionary tendencies, and especially right to frame the coed debate in terms of the place's separatist conservatism -- Breiseth's quote about how Deep Springs will have to negotiate that issue through its sense of otherworldliness was her clincher, and I thought that was appropriate.

    I was a little disappointed in the bit about how science isn't "abstract" enough for DSers -- but to be fair, that was in the words of a science professor. The obvious response to that is, well, the labor program isn't all that rarefied. I also thought Dana was a little snarky about DSers only interested in the politics of themselves -- the idea is that the focused concern on one's own community leads to a concern with one's future community, and that should have been tested (and perhaps found wanting) rather than left alone.

    I thought her approach to describing DSers was pretty right on. Frequently naked, dirty and hairy; preposterously philosophical; emotionally somewhat uncontained. And I think I know who had a crush on a cat, and which cat it was.

    As far as the recruitment effect goes, my guess is this will be attractive to people who are drawn to the all-maleness, and good freaks in general. I remember that my class was all in a tizzy about the Tad Friend profile in Esquire, but a member of your class said he applied pretty much on the strength of that piece.

  • At 1:46 AM, Anonymous whetstone said…

    Sorry to butt in, but this is the only discussion on the article I could find (haven't read it, so I was looking for *something* online).

    If it's anything like the Tad Friend piece, agreed on the previous comment. That was still the most prominent bit of coverage out there when I applied, and I had the same reaction as everyone else in my class who read it--intriguing enough to pique my interest, and the negative stuff isn't really going to bother anyone looking for that weird an experience anyway. Also, figure anyone willing to make that weird a committment is either going to ignore the press altogether or read more than one piece. In my personal experience, the pieces I read, averaged out, were an okay thumbnail of the day-to-day there with all the juicy bits exaggerated. It's journalism, so it goes. It's not like the Esquire piece, written by a DS spouse, wasn't guilty of the same sins.

    It will piss me off, however, if the coda is as described. Someone needed to drop some "complete renunciation of the self" philosophy on her. Besides, I went on to Chicago, where the Important Alumni and Faculty are busy wrecking America. I'm OK laying low if that's what the expectations are.

    Funny thing: I know who Qohn Qewis is referring to, despite never having met the man. I miss the oral tradition there. I do hope that doesn't go downhill.

    Glad I found this blog, anyhow. Cheers.

  • At 1:48 AM, Anonymous Whetstone said…

    Er, by "Esquire" I mean "Vanity Fair." Great pix in that one.

  • At 8:36 PM, Blogger Antid Oto said…

    You're far too modest. Yours is much better.

    You can find a bit more discussion the Deep Springs Yahoo group, a link to which I'll email you if you write us at the blog email.

  • At 2:44 AM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    Oh god I forgot that I wrote some comments to this while drunk (the 7 am ones, cuz god knows I don't wake up that early, ever). Drunkblogging is such a mistake, but at least one that I don't make very often (as opposed to, say, drunktexting).

    Anyhow, what I described (while drunk) as a coda was not really the coda, just something she included at the end of the main argument ("after the 1940s ... there have been very few alumni of national stature," which is not really fair, since the entire alumni pool, ever, is smaller than one graduating class at a major university). The actual coda was just after that, a True Grit portrait of the current student cowboys.

    Which gets to one of the problems of the piece: pretending to extrapolate a stable essence of Deep Springs based on the current class's characteristics, rather than realizing that one crucial aspect of DS is its unstable character. OK, so none of these 26 guys this year is into science. I have on good authority that ten years ago it was full of math and science geeks, who spent their time in the valley doing advanced field research. Neither class is more or less Deep Springsey. The point is, there is no such thing, at least not in that shallow a sense. She hints at the "short institutional memory," but doesn't account for it strongly enough as she describes the current student body. She doesn't get it.

    What's more, I thought the whole piece was pretty snarky. Maybe I'm too cynical, but I thought most of her observations about the current student body were pretty condescending. But how hard is it to make fun of some precocious 18 year old boy's pretentious predilections? Heidegger and Lipstick Traces? Cute, not snarkworthy. And, more importantly, it again misses the point (I wish she had emphasized the intellectual rigor more, rather than the pretentiousness).

    Nothing against Goodyear personally. I just thought she really didn't get it. And it's too bad, because the New Yorker is influential enough that it could affect the character of future classes (rather than quirky intellectuals, macho wannabe-cowboys). Though like you guys said, misleading profiles in the past probably didn't radically change the applicant pool.

  • At 2:50 AM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    But I quibble.

  • At 3:07 AM, Blogger Antid Oto said…

    Jesus, it's not like it's easy to read and understand Heidegger when you're 18. Or ever.

  • At 4:03 AM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    That's what I'm saying. She makes it sound like the worst kind of pretentiousness, whereas it's not too hard to make even the most brilliant 18-year-old sound like Ethan Hawke.

    Also, I just noticed something about the ecologist who is quoted as saying "the students' fascination with the abstract is very boring. But as soon as the abstract grows concrete they grow bored." He is described as "an ecologist who taught at the school until last spring. Hm, background drama much? Sour grapes much?

    But I should say there were moments in the essay I really liked. Such as the observation that the willful obsolescence of the various technologies becomes more and more conservative with each year, since during the first years the technology was pretty up to date for 1917. A Nunnian argument could be made for why many technologies should nonetheless not be introduced, but it's still a good point.

    Anyhow, send me that DS yahoo group, could you?

  • At 11:30 AM, Blogger Antid Oto said…

    I actually thought that technology argument also missed the short-institutional-memory point. How up-to-date DS is depends a lot on the current personnel. On the communications front, Deep Springs has pretty much all modern technologies (except for TV, which would require a satellite), but without Joe Szewczak the microwave tower and phone system don't seem to have been kept in perfect repair. Similarly, when Andy Jennings came back from Cornell Ag School to run the farm (which is California Certified Organic--it still bugs me that she implied pesticides aren't used because of conservatism), he did a suite of soil tests and instituted a bunch of new methods. Without him, maybe the farm's methods haven't been kept up to date either.

  • At 2:33 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    Ah, good point. I was just thinking of the irrigation wheels.

  • At 10:21 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    Can I emphasize once more that I wrote "Qohn Qewis" while rip-roaringly drunk? Egads.

    Anyhow, here's what someone wrote elsewhere:

    For what it's worth, I thought the article was unobjectionable. Like Antid Oto, I thought it missed the essential character of the place--there was a great
    deal of attention to what DS looked like, which never struck me as particularly important, and it made Nunn sound more important than I think he is in the life of the school today. The article didn't understand that in
    fact, most of what the students do is study and labor--that self-referential irony is actually only a small part of the entire experience. But I didn't
    find it all that negative ("academics and activists" is, in fact, a pretty accurate description of our alumni).

    Perhaps more to the point, for a place like DS, there is almost by
    definition no such thing as bad publicity.

  • At 1:43 PM, Blogger Phoebe Evergreen said…

    "Academics and activists" brings up an interesting point. I've felt for a long time that the role of public service in the Deep Springs experience is undernourished and under-debated. I don't think that the stereotype of DSers as ivory-tower hermit crabs is entirely accurate, but I think it is a metric by which the school should be seriously evaluated (which is why I thought the "just who have they produced, anyway" bit was snarky.

    While we don't have any prominent public servants in rotation right now, I do think that the ethos pays off when you look at where we go. My class includes a pair of erstwhile labor organizers (one now in government/politics, one in academia), a career military man, a (sometime) EMT, an urban youth services advocate-turned-nurse, and a political consultant, and a eco-business owner, all of whom I would place somewhere on the public servant/hearty blacksmith continuum (some of these may be outdated, I'm not in touch with everyone). Not to mention our best-known, um, public intellectual is a pretty engagé type himself. (We also have a Tuscan vineyard-owner, which raises the question: why am I not visiting him?)

    So I await the profile that evaluates Deep Springs on this part of its self-conception. Maybe it's of more interest to our own alumni magazine than to a general interest publication, but I've thought it was a discussion that I would enjoy having.

  • At 3:01 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    And the class below yours has two celebrity gay bloggers, only one of whom is actually gay. Talk about engagé.

  • At 3:08 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    Less flippantly, yes, agreed that a story about DS by someone who gets it would have to include a more nuanced evaluation of the public service imperative.

    I think what Goodyear was picking up on was that DS does not achieve Nunn's grandiose ideals of producing ubermensch masters of the universe (who look really cute as he watches them irrigate alfalfa fields half naked). But it tends to attract guys who have less grandiose but no less earnest commitments to social justice (or however they interpret public service).


  • At 3:15 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    An optimist might suggest that even if DS attracts wannabe-ubermenschen, after two years of rational debate about public service and social value, even the most die-hard Hayek-ite will emerge as a labor organizer.

  • At 3:37 PM, Blogger Antid Oto said…

    Judging from the diehard Hayek-ites who were there with us, I'd say that optimist would be wrong. But the Hayek-ite might be more likely to clerk for a Federalist Society judge than become a corporate lawyer. You can call that a kind of progress if you like.

    Seriously, though, it's very hard to judge whether Deep Springs alters a person's political outlook more or less than your standard liberal education. People change a lot between 18 and 20 anyway. But look at my class: one guy started an urban education nonprofit; another makes documentaries; another did Indymedia for a while and now is starting a firm consulting for municipal wireless networks; a few are artists and writers; another runs the Berkeley Neuroscience computing department; another is a landscape architect (who in his last email to my class asked "if you could help me tie in Heidegger's thinking on Dasein's fallenness and the role of gossip/ambiguity in the political discourse levelling down an entire culture's Being-Toward-Possibility... I am serious about this, but also seriously out of my depth, I think..."); another is an ecologist; another is an electrician who until recently ran an arts venue in Berkeley. A couple are in law school. Not one stockbroker, investment banker, or literary agent.

  • At 4:48 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    Hm, I wonder what could have prompted the inclusion of literary agents in that devil's litany...

    Yeah, it's hard to separate cause and effect, of course. It probably attracts quirky iconoclasts with a touch of grandiosity, then maybe makes them even more committed to that quirkiness.

    It takes a quirkyalone village...

  • At 8:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    The science professor was Peter Sherman who is now at University of Redlands. He was a total failure--not because of his discipline but because he was an idiot. He wasn't half as intelligent or mature as the average student, but this did not deter him from attempting to reform virtually everything at Deep Springs. After he left, he was part of an effort to remove the current dean, David Neidorf, who is one of the most successful professors in many, many years.

  • At 9:24 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    Sounds like he deserved to be called out by name.

    Also, today is Friday, September 8, and a lot of people are still reading this post every day and emailing us about it. I guess there aren't that many blogs interested in drawn out discussions about Deep Springs, shockingly, but the few of us who care about it really do care. The point is, feel free to continue commenting. Chances are, your old classmates and professors will be reading.

    Just don't drunkcomment at 7 am.

  • At 3:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Whetstone, "Qohn Qewis" was very much still part of the oral tradition when I left in 2004. It marches on...

    Fun thread. Still haven't read the article, living in Europe and don't have regular access to The New Yorker, but look forward to picking it up off a DS coffee table during my next US tour... /Johan02

  • At 1:43 AM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    Maybe I'll put the article on a mirror site, when I get around to it...

    In the meantime, here's a good response from Whetstone.

  • At 2:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I just came across this blog, which I found after Googling "Deep Springs" and "New Yorker," which I did because I went to the former and subscribe to the latter, and thus it came to pass that I read Goodyear's article...

    Her article certainly was bitchy and snide (is that what "snarky" means?) Sounds to me that she resented the fact that DS doesn't admit women and therefore, by her worldview, there must be something terrible wrong about the place.

    I'm sure her comments about the "handsome second-year classicist" who commented that a visiting lecturer's (Katie Peterson, a 31-year-old "Harvard PhD candidate) Virgilian reference was "a classic example of aposiopesis," were meant to portray the DSer as arrogant and pretentious. "'What?' Peterson said, with a faint, indulgent smile."

    Goodyear has no sense of tone. Rather than make the DSer look like a pompous young man, she makes Peterson look like an ignoramus who made the mistake of quoting Virgil to students who obviously understood the literature better than she did...

  • At 11:00 AM, Anonymous jdl said…

    Y'all sure can write well, a major point in Deep Springs' favor right there.

  • At 6:24 PM, Blogger Antid Oto said…

    I hope it isn't too much against the forum's etiquette to post this comment another alum made on the Yahoo Group. We all seem to be alums here anyway.

    I agree with Jamie: no ink is bad ink. The New Yorker piece is high- handed and biased, but it'll probably attract more of the throwbacks and renaissance geeks that Goodyear had such a hard time sympathizing with, and, like previous classes, they'll probably find themselves transformed.

    These last few years, it seems like the big, peculiar dream of the college is an ongoing novelty for the press. For Goodyear, it was an excuse to see some beautiful country and write a tight, well-styled piece about a place she didn't get and people she didn't get along with.

    The woman had an angle, made her excursion among the savages, and walked away with a notebook full of DS's absurdities and excesses. I can almost hear her newsroom cooing over what a "good read" it was as they savored anecdote after anecdote. But it's all a certain type of anecdote, and in order to keep the piece coherent Dana couldn't let people say much that was warm about each other or the place. I find it hard to believe that most people just talked about DSrs' social shortcomings, intellectual esotericism, and evolving misogyny. Goodyear just took the extended metaphor of arrested development and applied it to everything – thus the necessity of Nunn's pervasive presence. We're stuck in 1917!

    In that sense, I think the piece was unfair – that is, unethical in journalistic terms – even if Dana wasn't saying anything outright false. She was clever enough with her quotes that other people made her points, which is one reason why DSrs seemed so undifferentiated. They were all either parrots for Dana Goodyear or items in her curiosity shop.

    My guess is that if DS was all-female, we would have read a different story, full of courage and wit and human depth. I'm flabbergasted that she could have spoken to all those people and not somehow cared about them or the idea of the college. I thought her style was polished, her thought glib and her tone chill. It's the voice of our generation, as alien to DS as DS was anachronistic to the reporter.

  • At 10:55 PM, Blogger Doug said…

    In the 80's, we mostly just rented.

    It was a long time ago and besides, the wench is dead.

  • At 11:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    After all this has been said (and even something new since this Sept. 13 morning), I've been dying to get into the mess, but I've not known how. I don't know any of you who are blogging, and would probably only vaguely recognize your names. I'm DS 96, and, as far as I can tell, the only Deep Springer who is not named or quoted in the article, just obliquely referred to.

    I know a woman who went to Bryn Mawr in the 60s/70s, and she was irritated by the piece. I don't want to misrepresent her here, but as far as I gather she had a somewhat similar (but larger and less isolated) experience at her single-sex college. Overwhelming rhetoric regarding leadership and society, the idea that there were fundamental parts of education (most of all philosophy) that no learned person (man or woman) should be without, the fraternity/sorority bonds that get woven into the social fabric--similar stuff that's often mocked or wearily tolerated in the article--were all part of her college, both as a student and an alumna.

    Does it matter that there's this similarity between her experience and mine? Is it still like that at Bryn Mawr? Hey, why don't I write an article exploring this and then get it published in a major national magazine!

    I'm sad that a publication like the New Yorker couldn't do the dirty work of comparison. What's life like for 18-20 year olds at Wellesley and Bryn Mawr? At monestaries and yeshivas? At that one other all-male college whose name I can't remember? What happened when VMI went coed? When Sarah Lawrence and Vassar went coed? Aren't there studies? Shouldn't the pantheon of single-sex higher education get mentioned AT LEAST ONCE?

    I have a half-baked theory about why the piece evolved this way. Goodyear was interested in talking to my wife because she was talking to women who dated Deep Springers. She asked my wife if she felt excluded when she was at a big get-together or reunion with Deep Springers. She asked if she had ever been interested in other Deep Springers or known women who were serial Deep Springs daters. I know that she did talk to some people who dated Deep Springers and it didn't end up in marriage (to put it mildly). If I wanted to get a good grasp what a college did to its students, I don't think I'd spend a lot of time talking to the exes of the people who went there. Especially if they stopped dating before the age of 28.

  • At 9:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I feel like I should back off a bit from the comments I made last night (argh late night blogging--there's a reason not to do it). If Goodyear interviewed exes in order to get a certain angle, it doesn't look like they had terrible things to say about the place. It'd be really interesting to hear what they--or anyone who came in close contact with Deep Springs--have to say, good or bad. We can't sound at all like we're saying, "You didn't go there so you can't criticize it." That's irresponsible.

    That said, when I heard about the article I thought it was going to have a lot from the vantage point of women who come in contact with the place, and I thought that'd be pretty interesting. I wonder where all that stuff went?

    In the end, Goodyear interviewed a ton of people, and still didn't really feel like the place was all that. Which is fine, and her right.

    I still feel like it should have been more contextualized.

  • At 10:06 AM, Anonymous vonnik said…

    One word for Goodyear: ressentiment. We can only speculate on the why.

    Whatever Dana’s hang-ups are, I think small, exclusive communities – Hutterites, Gypsies or Deep Springers – inevitably provoke a backlash. Like Oblique was saying, rummaging through their failed relationships is an oblique way of getting to know a bunch of guys. Even if the ex’s didn’t have a lot that was bad to say, Dana apparently did. I don’t believe she came in clean and walked away with a considered opinion. I think the belief of it oppressed her already.

    Sidenote: I always thought that DS itself was treated like an ex-girlfriend by returning alums, just in the way one guy might stake a claim to having known the school better than anyone else, making pronouncements on its nature and faults, even though the school, oblivious, had become a different lover for another class.

    What seems worthwhile, now that we’ve plumbed the shallows of the New Yorker article, is talking about what it might have been, and asking ourselves why we chose to DS (or places like it), and what it did to us, and what it might mean in America. Let’s open it up.

  • At 11:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Yeah, I think "resentment" describes Goodyear's attitude towards DS, and I think that she had this resentment going in. As I said earlier, I think the idea of an all-male place like DS just grated with her liberal feminist perspective, and the clincher for her was seeing "Harvard PhD Candidate" Peterson, obviously her avatar of the potent female intellect, made to look like a moron by one of her DS boy-students.

    Look, I know this is rough criticism, but she deserves it. Let's suppose she had been wfriting an article on the Eureka Valley Girl's School (anyone remember that mythical place?) and she witnessed a EVGS visiting lecturer, "Brad Manley, a Harvard PhD Candidate" responding to "a shapely Sapphic second-year classicist" EVGSer the way Peterson responded to the DSer. Do you doubt that Goodyear would have presented the vignette differently? I don't.

    While Goodyear's article irritates me, I don't think it will hurt our reputation or recruitment. Goodyear is glib, as you'd expect from a writer for the New Yorker. As I said earlier, however, she has a poor sense of her tone, and I think her prejudices should be evident to good readers.

    I went to DS in the 70's, which was a while ago, and I haven't been back there since.

  • At 10:24 AM, Blogger Phoebe Evergreen said…

    Woah, this baby won't quit! I love the point about how DS alumni treat the place like an ex-girlfriend, staking a claim and never entirely letting go. I'm not at all taken with the "reverse ressentiment" strain of Anonymous's last couple of posts -- I think Dana had a polemic tone towards the single-sex/coed dispute, and I think that part of it was done with less snark and more circumspection than other parts. The idea that her treatment of Katie Peterson was motivated by a desire to portray a woman as superior to the DS men seems grasping at best. Of course, you also use "liberal feminist perspective" as a put-down, so my guess is that we diverge on many more questions than the fate of a literature professor in the White-Inyo range.

    Also in relation to the email list quote:

    I find it hard to believe that most people just talked about DSrs' social shortcomings, intellectual esotericism, and evolving misogyny.

    I don't.

  • At 11:21 PM, Blogger Antid Oto said…

    Ok, let's take on the coed thing head-on, then. Here's what I would say is a generous reading of Goodyear's article: Deep Springs operates with a fundamental injustice by excluding women. It can rationalize that injustice only if it performs some valuable service for society as a whole. Otherwise, all Deep Springs accomplishes by keeping out young women is to improve the experience of the young men who already get to go there. (Or possibly not improve it.) The only other fair argument against admitting women, to me, is that the place would utterly fall apart if they were included. Personally, I think that's just ridiculous.

    That, then, is the background for Goodyear's question:

    But what, exactly, is that work? Since its founding, the school has claimed that its mission is to form leaders, but after the nineteen-forties...there have been very few alumni of national stature.

    It's a fair question, and one I think Deep Springs wrestles with consistently. It wouldn't be such a difficult question, though, and Deep Springs wouldn't have to struggle to justify its existence so much if it didn't have to produce a justification to counterbalance its central injustice (excessive and somewhat sophistic use of the word "justify" intentional).

    vonnik, I guess that's how I would begin to answer your question. To me, if Deep Springs offered its free education to all people (relatively) equally, it wouldn't have to mean anything to America, although I also think the place would be meaningless if it abandoned its ideal of service defined broadly. It wouldn't need to do more than put the men and women who attended it on a path to serve others. (It might need to be more than that for fundraising purposes, but that's not what I mean.) But it places an extraordinary restriction on admittance, and that requires an extraordinary justification in my ethical world.

    Deep Springs is deeply conservative. Phoebe, when you and I were there it seemed as if coeducation was inevitable. In particular it seemed as if student body sentiment would inevitably be in favor of it--profiles written about DS at the time identified the one year where the student body split evenly on the issue as an aberration among years where the student body was overwhelmingly in favor. But when I went back to teach a few years ago it became clear to me that the student body was not interested in the issue of coeducation, and to the extent that it was interested, it basically felt that the place was fine as it was; change would be bad. I wonder if our time wasn't the aberration. I know everyone's time at DS is an aberration, but maybe ours more than most. I have heard alumni from before and after our time there make arguments that simply were not credible during our years.

    In the interest of full disclosure: When I was at DS I was opposed to coeducation, and I changed my mind only after I left.

    However. Goodyear's characterization of the class she witnessed remains insulting and glib because she refuses to recognize just how unusual it is. I have taught college freshmen. They do not spend hours mapping and diagramming the poem the night before.

  • At 11:30 PM, Blogger Antid Oto said…

    Incidentally, am I the only one who read that and then tried to figure out the grammatical status of the word "contain"? The "It's"-es must be mis-punctuated, right? It can't be

    It is Infinite contain
    It is Past--enlightened to perceive
    New Periods--Of Pain.

    Can it? I would be right there with those boys: how can you talk about the poem's metaphorical meaning until you sort out its literal, grammatical meaning?

    Also, college freshmen usually have not digested Derrida any more than they've gotten through Heidegger.

  • At 10:17 AM, Anonymous vonnik said…

    I don’t have a book of Dickinson with me, Antid Oto, but Bartleby’s runs the poem like this:

    Pain has an element of blank;
    It cannot recollect
    When it began, or if there was
    A time when it was not.

    It has no future but itself,
    Its infinite realms contain
    Its past, enlightened to perceive
    New periods of pain.

    Which would resolve speculation, albeit creative, about the meaning of 'contain.'

    I'm glad we're going to be generous with Dana; polemics are a slippery slope. Of course she's got a point about the injustice of excluding females, and she's got a point about the conservatism, and both of those issues deserve lengthier examination.

    That said, the article has a central conceit, which may not be entirely Dana Goodyear's doing, but it’s important: she's invisible. She's excised the "I" without attempting any balance, so what is essentially an opinion piece assumes an air of objectivity, only to be undermined by its impressionism and partisanship. If it was unsuccessful, it's because she wrote a hybrid of straight reporting and personal journalism, which probably reflects contradictions at the magazine itself.

    As one alum from '96 remarked, the article only illustrates how far the New Yorker has shifted away from quirky, personal nonfiction towards a newsier tone under David Remnick, himself a newsy newsman once.

    To argue with your version of Dana for a second, I'd say that gender injustice and a justification of DS are two entirely separate issues.

    The all-maleness of the school stands on its own, and I don’t think there’s anything morally reprehensible about it, regardless of the historical context in which it arose. It’s overdetermined at this point. And there’s a monastic element to DS that can be a refuge from the ways that a young man might torture himself as he relates to women. I say that because I felt that, even though I supported co-ed then and now.

    DS should make a more sincere attempt at co-education than the Telluride exchange program. That would change the place, and hundreds of alumni would have their nostalgia dented, and we’d all see what unfolds instead of wasting air and jaw oil on it for decades. But if a lot of current students oppose co-ed, it's partly because they're fresh from actively choosing an all-male school. They’re trying to preserve the novelty of it to experiment with their own lives, and I don’t think that’s conservative.

    In any case, as it stands DS attracts people for manifold reasons, and the all-maleness is one of them. Which leads me to ask more broadly: what is it about the school that makes it necessary for people, what compels them to apply? Why does America drive them there? What is the nature of their suffering and fulfillment as they live it? And in what state do they depart? As far as I'm concerned, that's the real story.

    DS promises all kinds of communion. In books, nature, work, each other. Communauté, égalité, fraternité, in a way. We spent most of our time in some stage of pursuit or conscious abandoning of those communions while I was there. Even the filth was metaphysical, to borrow another DSr's words.

    Even if the communions are problematic, you leave with the sense that your words and actions have wide and immediate consequences on myriad aspects of your existence. Whereas in the dispersed, six billion person world we live in, it’s possible to exist among strangers, ignore politics, waste without second thoughts and sleep like a babe. At least we have that memory of directly confronting our responsibility toward one another. Once we come back to the world we’re forced to invent ways of feeling that again.

  • At 6:11 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    September 18

    Antid Oto, can you remind me what your argument against coeducation was? At the time I thought it was clever and dissimilar to everyone else's arguments against. Almost clever enough to persuade, I remember thinking.

    By the way, I, too, have since changed my mind, in the other direction. For one thing, I think it's a matter of almost no consequence whether 6 girls a year are allowed or not allowed to go to some weird program whose grads are, as Dana put it, not exactly of national stature. There was something preposterously self-aggrandizing about how seriously we took the question of whether or not women could access our great institution, as if we were arguing for and against the Civil Rights Act.

    And with the question of justice tabled, I can indulge my inner LL Nunn (i.e., creepily encourage the homosexualization of smart young men).

    Also, I, too, caught the it's/its mistake, but I assumed it was Emily's. I mean Emilys.

    And since we're getting gossipy (er, since I'm getting gossipy?), the moment I read the article I texted a friend of mine who's friends with DG about how crap it was. "She's the LA correspondent for the New Yorker," this friend texted back (before reading the piece), "and she's a straight girl. I guess it clouds her judgment. Boots are sexier than brains." This person then also revealed that in college Dana loathed theory-heads and was too busy reading John Dryden to have any time for the likes of Heidegger.

    You can only imagine how difficult it was for me to have sat on this gossip lo these many weeks.

  • At 8:32 PM, Blogger Antid Oto said…

    For one thing, I think it's a matter of almost no consequence whether 6 girls a year are allowed or not allowed to go to some weird program whose grads are, as Dana put it, not exactly of national stature. There was something preposterously self-aggrandizing about how seriously we took the question of whether or not women could access our great institution, as if we were arguing for and against the Civil Rights Act.

    I know you well enough to know you can't possibly mean this. You're too well versed in ethics to think you can defend a bad thing just by saying not very many people are hurt. Is the debate self-aggrandizing? Of course. It is of absolutely no consequence to America whether or not Deep Springs stays all male. I was trying to argue that that, in and of itself, condemns the all-male policy, since it is a matter of consequence to the school and to the small number of women who would like to go there.

    I also note that your first comment and your second kind of contradict each other, though I'm sure you knew that too.

    My own argument against coed, if I'm remembering it correctly (and it was more than a decade ago) was basically a version of something I've heard and read from other people since then: that being in an all-male environment releases young men from the rigid confines of masculinity. Now, since I was a young theoryhead I couldn't say that without dragging in Simone de Beauvoir's use of Hegel, essentially arguing that a dialectical system like gender depends on the opposition of the mute Other (the feminine, or Hegelian slave), so if you get rid of the Other you can destabilize gender constructs in general.

    I still believe this is true, actually. Young men at DS are a lot more "feminine" than they are elsewhere. (Articles like Goodyear's never seem to mention that DSers cuddle, and often in public, a lot more than they have sex with one another--Brokeback Mountain sex is less alien than cuddling, I guess.) And it would be sad to see that go--I am not one of those who thinks admitting women would have no effect at all. I just don't think it's enough.

    DS promises all kinds of communion. In books, nature, work, each other. Communauté, égalité, fraternité, in a way. We spent most of our time in some stage of pursuit or conscious abandoning of those communions while I was there. Even the filth was metaphysical, to borrow another DSr's words.

    Even if the communions are problematic, you leave with the sense that your words and actions have wide and immediate consequences on myriad aspects of your existence.

    I would hope, however, that this aspect of DS would not disappear no matter what. I felt this very strongly too: DS is about living in a community, warts and all. Everybody is always in your face and there's no way to get away from them; you just have to fucking deal with each other. Nearly every DSer I know went somewhat batty his second year as a result. I am no exception: I spent the better part of a term my second year avoiding people as much as possible, not attending anything but classes and eating only when no one else was in the BH. But it's still an invaluable thing to have done. It's very rare nowadays to get a real community experience out in the real world, and we are all much poorer for it.

  • At 11:20 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    Ha, that's right. Your argument was that the lack of girls made us cuddle with each other more. I knew there was a reason I was almost persuaded.

    And yeah, I was being glib in that first comment. The following was meant to be humorous:

    And with the question of justice tabled, I can indulge my inner LL Nunn (i.e., creepily encourage the homosexualization of smart young men).

  • At 1:09 PM, Anonymous vonnik said…

    Whether or not DS regenders its students is a matter of indifference to me, and it seems silly to prescribe it like a treatment. I think DSrs can embody any virtues the school or society might hold up and still retain their original gender, whatever the hell that is. I am struck by how you, AO, along with Goodyear and her interviewee, Dot Fortenberry, are suggesting there is something inherently progressive about regendering away from the masculine, as though it were overdone, unthinking or unnecessary. I find most Americans almost negligent in how lacadaisically they represent the adult specimen of their sex, devoid of charm or power (is it the adult or the sex they’re neglecting?), and I think “progressive” regendering encourages that. Even if regendering was desirable, I don’t buy the idea that there is some moral calculus we could use to decide whether its benefits outweigh the injustice of excluding females.

    In a way, I’m happy with the all-maleness of Deep Springs. That a few guys have some place to call their own doesn’t seem so bad to me. School as hunting lodge. Something about it seems right in itself, and arguments for opening DS up are irrelevant and alien. Admitting females would make it a different animal, no better or worse. I don’t feel a moral impetus to change it, I’m just curious to see what would happen.

    I don’t think that the absence of females released us from the rigid confines of our masculinity, however much cuddling was going on. DS bred competition and rivalry, which were constant impediments to a generous community and two major causes of batshit. Belonging wasn’t simple, or even possible, except maybe once we moved on. My experience there at times reminded me of Lord of the Flies, and I left after my first year, depressed. An extreme, maybe, but part of another DS continuum: not knowing how to handle the place. It drives you in.

  • At 2:26 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    I find most Americans almost negligent in how lacadaisically they represent the adult specimen of their sex, devoid of charm or power (is it the adult or the sex they’re neglecting?), and I think “progressive” regendering encourages that.

    Wait, what? Something about the idea of the American as a neglected, charmless specimen of failed adultness rings true to me (though I hope that's not in contrast to its Other the elegant yet virile Frenchman or something), but I don't think I really follow what you're saying. Since it's not at all clear to me how progressive regendering (whatever that is) would encourage that.

    For me, the real benefits of DS only happened in the years afterwards (from friends I made there, mostly, and I suppose from a kind of Lodge Brotherhood, though I'm loathe to admit that). The same being true for my other university experiences, though more distinctly with DS, since we share more of a we-made-it-through-the-crucible bond.

  • At 2:30 PM, Blogger Doug said…

    I'm enjoying this thread. I was DS '85 and wasn't sure Goodyear captured my recollection but this sounds like a conversation the people she interviewed would have.

    Regarding the comment just above, it absolutely rings true for me. As a student I was something of a Deep Springs skeptic but the experience came to mean much more almost immediately after and continued to. But as long as she's happy with her new men, I'm happy for her.

  • At 6:26 PM, Blogger Antid Oto said…

    vonnik, I'm not going to defend ideas about gender and coeducation I had when I was a theory-steeped 18-year-old. Solomon asked me to repeat what I used to think. Today it strikes me as it probably struck you--basically full of crap--for reasons most simply put by Solomon in an email to me: "it is, of course, also a good argument for all-white social clubs." Besides, in the long run for me at least I think being freed temporarily from my own expectations of masculinity made me more comfortable and confident with my maleness, rather than having any real destabilizing effect.

    I agree with you about some of the other things you say, but believe some were particular to your experience of DS or mine. My experience of DS, for example, was largely noncompetitive. Shows what happens when you try to make generalizations about the place, I guess. I should have known better.

  • At 8:38 PM, Blogger Antid Oto said…

    From the DSAlum Yahoo Group again, this letter to the editor will appear in the September 25 issue of the New Yorker (coming out Sep. 18):

    I admired Dana Goodyear’s piece about Deep Springs College and welcome the wider knowledge it will bring of the Deep Springs vision of education for leadership (“The Searchers,” September 4th). It is important to note that much that may seem merely odd to the reader is part of that vision. The philosophy has three key components: academics, labor, and self-governance. The academic program is a traditional liberal-arts program, while the labor program creates a healthy contrast between the physical and the intellectual. It is hard to take one’s self too seriously when shovelling cow manure. Combining academics and labor with genuine self-government in an isolated setting creates a microcosm in which the consequences of each student’s actions are rapidly evident to the entire community. Classes are small; if a student doesn’t do the reading, discussion suffers. Leave the wrong gate open on the ranch, and a cow could die of bloat. This unique education has produced MacArthur Fellows, numerous Truman Scholars, members of the National Academies and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a winner of the National Book Award, and business leaders, as well as many who have made the world better through lives of service—an extraordinary record for a school that graduates only a dozen students per year.

    Michael Stryker
    Deep Springs Class of 1964
    San Francisco, Calif.


    --Michael Stryker, Chairman of TDS

    I sure as shit never had trouble taking myself seriously, anyway.

  • At 12:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Well, let's see...

    Vonnik quotes Martha Dickenson Bianchi's (Emily's neice's) version of the poem. ED sorely needed a good editor, as Yvor Winters remarked, and many of her poems are wrongly admired for their "quirkiness," which results from her non-standard punctuation. Winters illustrates this opion with reference to the great poem "There's a certain slant of light..." The "quirky" (and to be fair to ED, probably her version) of the poem continues "That oppresses like the heft of cathedral tunes." Winters prefers the version that continues "That oppresses like the weight of cathedral tunes." I have to agree with him. "Heft" is quirky and can generate whole PhD theses of exegesis. "Weight" is less quirky, and presents the reader with a clear statement that leaves him dumbfounded.

    Peterson obviously liked the quirky version of XIX, though the version published by Emily's neice is pretty clear. Her "its" is "its" and not "it's" and makes perfect sense. The MDB version of XIX is a decent, if minor poem. It makes a clear statement about the experience of pain, which is consistent with that experience (I'm speaking as a physician here).

  • At 1:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Now, as to the CoEd debate...

    I was at DS in the early 70's, which is well before the time you other guys were there.

    We had a raging debate about Co-Ed from '73-75, but I think that it was a later class that actually published some sort of "report" on co-education. As I recall, our Trustees from that period were much opposed to co-education. I once heard Jim Withrow get hot under the collar about it and say that if DS ever decided to go Co-Ed he would "disinherit" the place and cut it out of his endowment. JW, for those of you who never met him, was quite something. He was a member of "Wild Bill" Donovan's early version of the CIA...a real cloak and dagger spook who later became a big-shot Washington lawyer. Another Trustee at the time was a guy who wrote a textbook on quantum physics and created DARPA...He also thought Co-Ed was a bad idea...

    Not that this is relevant to the current discussion...

  • At 10:48 AM, Anonymous vonnik said…

    I can understand that, AO. It’s hard, without controlled variables, to identify what changes us and somehow separate the absence of females from the rest of DS, which is also forcing and allowing change. I don’t really have any problem with regendering if it’s just synonymous with freedom. But when there’s a hint of some normative vision, which I heard in Goodyear’s article, and perhaps in your statements when you were 18, regendering seems less a chance for individuation than for reprogramming towards a normative vision I don’t aspire to. When that’s the case, Solomon, I think it acts as a leveler, erasing distinctions in favor of some equality where we are all a bit closer to being androgyne bisexuals whose libidos don’t discriminate between man and woman. Much as I can admire adrogyny and respect bisexuality, I don’t think anyone should be making limiting assumptions about identity, masculine or feminine.

    Although Fortenberry’s comment was one of the most positive things said about DSrs in the article, I think the idea of simply growing up – with all the responsibilities and capacity to listen that that implies – was confused with ideas of gender and regendering. I don’t think those ideas are necessary to talk about how DS shapes students in general, although I can appreciate that that was operative in your case, AO.

    If I remember, you were talking gender when you picked me up from Lida in the spring of 95 as I was applying. A Unitarian guy was there with me. I think you said something about being unable to fully understand what it is to be female. I said I felt I did understand, which was pretty stupid when I think about it, and the discussion more or less ended. I think you even told us you had a plan to ambush us in Goldfield, but it had fallen through. Am I right? Were you driver then? And were you in Berkeley in the late 90s eating waffles with Mr. Logue?

    Anonymous, M.D., while it’s clear that between the New Yorker rendition of the poem and Bianchi’s there’s a lot of m-dashes missing, I think the big issue is the word “realms.” If realms is used, “its” and “contain” make sense, if its not, we’re left to scramble. So is there a version without the word “realms”?

  • At 11:46 AM, Anonymous Katie Peterson said…

    My name is Katie Peterson. I teach at Deep Springs College. I am heartened that your discussion has focused so much on Dickinson. That is always nice to see. But Anonymous' characterization of the version of the poem used by the course lacks both judgement and knowledge. In the course I used Ralph Franklin's edition of the Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson; this edition replaces the Thomas Johnson edition published in the fifties. Franklin's edition is now the most commonly accepted version used by scholars and poets alike. It has also been published in a reader's edition, at a pretty reasonable price if Anonymous wants to pick up a copy. Franklin's edition preserves the manuscript versions of Dickinson's poems as well as possible. But Dickinson, like so many great poets, was her own editor. The "fascicles," as they are called, are sewn manuscript books appropriate for circulation but not true publication; the poem in question was in fascicle #34, dateable to 1863. Dickinson's versions, preserved in Franklin's edition, are edited: by her. Bianchi wanted to get the poems into print, and thank goodness she did. But it was a trade off. To do so (among other things) she titled all of them (which Dickinson never did) and changed the original texts. But, as I have said, the original texts are edited. Dickinson edited them. Anonymous, like Winters, Higginson, and Bianchi, and many of the critics of the 50s and 60s, seems to think Dickinson needed an editor. Many people say this; what they REALLY mean is that Dickinson needed re-editing. It is striking in the history of Dickinson's poetry these re-editors have all been men.

    People tend to say this: that the poems need an editor: because the poems are hard and require close attention. Which is why we did a close reading course on Dickinson in Term 6 of this year, where we focused on one poem per class, looking at as many of the manuscript versions as possible. The New Yorker misprinted the poem. To imply that the Franklin version is "quirky," scholarly, or academic in the extreme is not only absurd - it is a way of belittling the achievement of a great poet and handing her over, as history has so often wanted to do, to secondary, academic editors - not readers. Shame on you. I teach the Franklin version at Deep Springs because we teach primary texts here and avoid secondary critical languages. I teach it because the students I have taught prefer to encounter difficulty and rely on their own "original" readings rather than assent to received wisdoms and the simplifying mythologies of literary history. I teach it because literary history has yet to understand what Dickinson's place is in it and I think students (readers uncorrupted by academic discourse, or at least without the static academia can create) have a valuable role to play in figuring that question out. Say what you like about the article, but get your facts straight about E.D.

  • At 1:18 PM, Blogger Antid Oto said…

    vonnik: It was almost certainly I who picked you up in spring of 1995, although I don't remember a plot to ambush you in Goldfield (doesn't mean it didn't happen, I just have a bad memory). I also don't remember visiting Berkeley any time after the mid-1990s.

    Katie Peterson: You say "Say what you like about the article." What did you think of it? Specifically, what did you think of the description of your class? Also, where did the class come down on the question: "it's" or "its"? And what is the grammatical status of "contain"?

  • At 11:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…


    Yes, the insertion of "realms" makes the meaning of the poem perfectly clear, by filling in a gaping ellipsis in the poem, as presented in the Hew Yorker article.

    Prof. Peterson,

    I was actually aware of the details of ED bibliography that you mention. That is why I qualified my statement about my preference for MDB's version by admitting that the version you used was probably ED's final and prefered version. The poem is ED's, not mine.

    This doesn't mean that I (let alone Yvor Winters) is an insensitive Yahoo for preferring a plainer version of the poem that clarifies its meaning. It's interesting that you feel it is important to comment that the critics who have lamented the fact that ED would have benefitted from editorial assistance were men. Why is this worth mentioning? Does it really mean anything at all? Do you mean to say that these critics should be discounted because they are men and ED was a woman?

    You seem to believe that there is some independent value in obscure "difficult" verse that requires readers to "encounter difficulty" and rely on their own "original" readings rather than rely on received wisdoms and the simplifying mythologies of literary history...

    I don't agree with you, but I won't stoop to saying "Shame on you" for having your opinion. I agree with what Winters had to say about your view of poetry. Since you're an academic, I'm sure you are familiar with Winter's arguments. I'm sorry that YW was a man. I knew his wife, Janet Lewis, and we discussed ED's poems, and specifically the matter of their various versions. Janet agreed with her husband's comments about this "problem." JL was a very fine writer and was definitely not a man, like her husband.

    I'm glad to see you post here on this blog. I enjoyed your New Yorker article.

  • At 10:22 AM, Anonymous katie peterson said…

    Hey. Look. Us ED lovers can get a little reactive when it comes to her texts. It's significant that all her editors were men because, mostly, of the way they talked about her and to her. No one edited Hopkins that way (he was writing at the same time); Mary Shelley didn't re-edit her husband's strange late work to make it "easier." It's not the job of editors to make poets' work "easier," and this isn't a postmodern view. Most editors across literary history have tried to share the goals of presenting the work as what it is and presenting it in the form of current discourse. Trouble is, Dickinson's editors didn't do that. John Clare was publishing strange mad poems; it was ok to be a mad male poet. It was not ok to be a mad female poet. My point is that the version you mention, the Franklin version, isn't "quirky," any more than the desert (nearly unmentioned by Goodyear) is a "quirky" part of Deep Springs. It's, at the very least, what the rest of the versions are built from. At most (and what I believe) it's an edited version, probably edited by Dickinson and probably by either her sister or her sister in law.

    If you look at some of the letters between Winters ( a critic I adore. I knew Janet because I grew up in the SF Bay area and my friend and I sometimes used to take their dogs for a walk) and Hart Crane, you'll see what I mean. They love her; they appreciate her poetry; they patronize her; they don't understand her. They don't make her poems less obscure, they change them and make them more literal. Winters is additionally famous for saying he wanted to re-publish Sunday morning in two stanzas. Dickinson isn't the only writer he honored (and it was a form of honor for him) by trying to change.

    I don't really care about the article. What I care about is the implication on this blog, the one you're making about my preferences for certain texts, that seems connected to your portrayal of me as some kind of overly academic teacher, or a scholar committed to ideals of scholarly difficulty, which seems potentially connected to a misunderstanding you might have about my class. I'm not totally certain whether you got this from the article or not, since you seem to be spinning out some independent thoughts from my comments above about what my preferences are in literary criticism and poetry. I care about the article insofar as it has to do with that. "Since you're an academic," you write. I don't want to read too much into your tone, but I mention it because it seems connected to the problem in understanding we seem to be having here. What does that mean, exactly? I mean, right now I'm an academic because I have an academic job. But my job is at Deep Springs College, which is (as far as I can tell from the comments on this blog, my students, and the current journalism) both an academic institution and a institution not wholly defined by academic pursuits. I reiterate: I give my students Franklin because I give them the original texts. That is what you want to read at Deep Springs, right? That is certainly what the students here have asked of me in the three semesters and two interim terms I have taught here.

    "Shame on you," may seem a bit harsh to you (almost as harsh as your strange implication that I have written some form of a / the New Yorker article? I didn't quite understand the final line of your last post) . But these texts have been the subject of heated debate for years! Not everything in this world has to do with sex discrimination. But this DOES! Nearly all of her editors at some point called her "little Emily." She wasn't THAT short. When you look at some of the titles - "the Mystery of Pain," for the poem mentioned - I think it's easy to see why they're basically redundant and imposed. Some of the changes in her religious poems actually change her theology. She did mean to write all those dashes; go look at the manuscripts. Neither Lewis nor Winters saw all the manuscripts. They didn't have access to the poems as a whole. It was certainly hard for them to make the kind of judgement - not about the quality of the poems but about how best to see the quality of the poems - that needs to be made. The difficulty in ED's poems lies in the fact that you have to untangle metaphorical meaning and literal meaning at the same time. But this is also fantastically close to definitions of poetry's difference from prose from time immemorial. The students in the course didn't only sit and puzzle over a literal meaning; they read the poem, metaphorically and literally, at the same time, as poetry tends to ask for. And yes, I think they may even have enjoyed the difficulty.

  • At 11:11 PM, Blogger zac unger said…

    Since this is my first post in this string, I ought to match the rest of you folks in your earnest and admirably intellectual tone, but I have a pressing question--a knowledge emergency really--that demands I bring us down a few notches. I must know: is it possible that the "SF Bay Area" Katie Peterson in this article is the same woman I attended high school with in the SF Bay Area, a woman who, while I was at Deep Springs, appeared with chaps and a riding crop in a "Women of the Ivy League" issue of Playboy? To be honest, I would never have guessed that my old classmate would turn out to be an eminent scholar of Dickinson. When the "article"--the Playboy one, not the NYer--came out I received no small amount of celebrity-by-acquaintance, and even the grudging respect of a dickish second-year man who had always unduly intimidated me. Thanks for that, Katie. And congratulations on having made the switch from porn to poetry. And if you're not the same Katie Peterson from the SF Bay Area, well, more power to you.

  • At 11:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…


    Thanks for your thoughtful response. The guys at DS are lucky to have you as a professor.

    No, I didn't mean to imply that you wrote the article *though that's what I wound up writing...maybe I need a good editor...).

    I would like to know what you think about the way Goodyear presented that vignette from your class. I made some comments about her tone earlier in this thread. She makes you seem a bit simple and without-a-clue. It's clear to me that you're not, and I'm sure that Goodyear was not trying to portray you that way. But that is exactly how you come off in her article.

    Were the dogs you walked the Airedales?

    I don't want you to think that the "quirky" versions are bad poems. As I said, they are ED's poems, as ED wrote them. They are often frustrating to read and I often feel as if I am listening to the disconnected thoughts, snippets of perception if you will, of a brilliant and sensitive mind trying to make sense of the world. The fact is that in all cases where you can compare them side by side, the quirky and "edited" versions of her best poems are great. I referred to "There's a certain slant of light" because it is a great poem. The version Winters preferred is easier to understand, but it is also more defined (i.e. less ambiguous). It gains something (precision/clarity) but it also loses something (mystery). The quirky versions give the reader the sense of observing another mind struggling with perception, and they force the reader to do some of the work that the other mind had to do to achieve the perception.

    Winters, for various reasons that he discussed in detail in his criticism, distrusted such writing, and he preferred a more universal plain style, to the other type, which he called "obscurantism."

    I never met Winters, but I did know Janet Lewis and many of his Stegner Fellows. From what they have told me, Winters had a real fear of the subconscious. It was more than a mere distrust of the unconscious mind. It was an actual belief in a supernatural world that was not at all gentle and benevolent. It was more like the view of Melville that the natural world was actually framed upon spheres of fright.

  • At 1:02 AM, Anonymous chiptic said…

    Wow, I just read the whole thread...like sitting through an SB meeting without saying a word...although I was able to fast forward. They should do SB TiVo... BTW the pink sidebars are way better than Yahoo.

    To clarify, the Berkeley Neurosciences guy and the Heidegger dilettante are distinct. I would hate to have the good name of the one libeled.

    The roostering should be discussed alongside the opposite and equally unhealthy tendency, which is to run away from what you desire; a problem corroborated by one Deep Springer I met in a foreign city. I would be curious what percentage of alumni fall on each side.

    Part of the problematic about DS, is that as ex-lover she (forgive the gendering, it's my perspective) is always saying "ok, we can still be friends; you can sleep over occasionally, and send money, but we're _definitely_ not going to have sex again". That is to say, why would I bother? Though I appreciate the altruisim (though ultimatly selfishness, also) of one poster: "If she's happy, I'm happy"...that's very mature of you.

    In a similar vein, and to go back to the beginning, I remember coming across some letters in the green shed among other hastily left belongings (half of which I mailed to the rightful owner on my own dime, before learning that said owner had billed hundreds of dollars of personal phone calls to TDS); among them was a letter from another DSer continuing an ongoing conversation (philosophical, no doubt) about whether or not they should have sex. Further clue, or a timeless theme? If that letter was in one of the boxes I sent, we may be able to get a primary source. Otherwise, it's the ashes of the smenge barrel. Lacking further evidence, the Goodyear citation is not much more than a game of telephone. i.e., gossip.

    BTW, is DG single? I may be in LA this weekend and have three pair of cowboy boots at my disposal. For whatevery they may prove useful for.

    Zac, can you post the article you mentioned? There's a mini-archive on the yahoo groups site.



  • At 1:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I'd like to mention that "'Twas warn at first like us" is my favorite ED poem. The second stanza:

    The forehead copied stone,
    The fingers grew too cold
    To ache, and like a skater's brook
    The busy eyes congealed...

    sends shivers up and down my spine, which is a visceral reaction that I have to great poetry.

    We can theorize about what constitutes great poetry, but I defer to this sort of visceral reaction. I'm sure Winters would have distrusted such subjective reactions in favor of more "objective" criteria. Yet I'm amazed at how often I admire the poems that Winters admired (I admire almost all of the poems in Quest for Reality, for example). My only problem with Winters is that I admire a lot of poetry that his criticism could not account for. This includes a lot of poetry by Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop, Theodore Roethke, William Stafford, and many others.

    I thank Wimters for calling to my attention WCW's great poem, "To a Dead Journalist, which I view as a companion piece to "'Twas warm at first like us:"

    Behind that white brow
    now the mind simply sleeps-
    the eyse, closed, the
    lips, the mouth,

    the chin, no longer useful,
    the prow of the nose.
    But rumors of the news,

    cling still among those
    silent, butted features, a
    sort of wonder at
    this scoop

    come now, too late:
    beneath the lucid ripples
    to have found so monstrous
    an obscurity.


  • At 1:37 AM, Blogger Phoebe Evergreen said…

    Dana's engaged, but I'm in L.A. and am in the market for another pair of boots, preferably black or dark grey, size 9 1/2 or 10. You sellin'?

  • At 2:44 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    Chi: It doesn't seem quite fair to dredge up peccadilloes from when we were 19. I wrote a whole dissertation on the economics and ethics of free riding. Is that not penance enough? How many times over again must I pay for a few lousy phone calls? God.

    ZU: This is KP. Or, really, KP (as we all are) is her work, but that's the corporeal instantiation of KPness.

    Anon: Reading Dickinson's own versions of her poems is not radical or controversial in the slightest. It's the same logic by which we read unabridged novels rather than the Reader's Digest versions.

    KP (who I doubt is reading this): One quibble. I don't think John Clare would agree that "it was ok to be a mad male poet." Maybe that was true for a couple poets, but Clare's biography in particular is one long, sad lesson in class struggle and the reading public's capriciousness and limited appetite for originality. Perhaps you could get away with madness (for a while) if you were Rimbaud or the Marquis de Sade, but not if you were some peasant from the boonies who happened to have a real talent for verse. In fact, many of Clare's publishers edited his unconventional punctuation and grammar, as well, even in the early, popular pastoral stuff (before he became "mad" and, I'd say, great).

    I should emphasize I didn't even study English in college, so I don't really know what I'm talking about. Everything I'm writing should end with ", right?"

    But I mean, here's John Clare famously extolling how awesome it was for him to be a mad poet:

    I Am

    I am: yet what I am none cares or knows,
    My friends forsake me like a memory lost;
    I am the self-consumer of my woes,
    They rise and vanish in oblivious host,
    Like shades in love and death's oblivion lost;
    And yet I am! and live with shadows tost
    Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
    Into the living sea of waking dreams,
    Where there is neither sense of life nor joys,
    But the vast shipwreck of my life's esteems;
    And e'en the dearest--that I loved the best--
    Are strange--nay, rather stranger than the rest.
    I long for scenes where man has never trod;
    A place where woman never smil'd or wept;
    There to abide with my creator, God,
    And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept:
    Untroubling and untroubled where I lie;
    The grass below--above the vaulted sky.

  • At 2:50 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    It occurs to me that that long and overwrought comment would have been better if I had just written

    "Chi: My friends forsake me like a memory lost; I am the self-consumer of my woes. Enough already."

  • At 11:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    John Clare was "crazy," and I doubt that he was happy about that. In current medical terminology, he would have been considered to be "dysthymic," that is troubled and uncomfortable with his mental illness. He spent a lot of his life in a lunatic asylum. William Blake was probably "mentally ill," but he came from a "higher" class than Clare, and he managed to avoid being locked up in the madhouse. Blake's madness was "indulged" by his society. Clare's was not.

    I don't know if Dickenson would have been considered mentally ill by modern day psychiatry. She was certainly reclusive, odd, and quirky, but she had the advantage of living in her corner of 19th Century New England, where odd folk who withdrew from social interaction could exist without prompting the powers that be to lock them up in the nuthouse.

    Jones Very was another 19th C American poet who was diagnosed as mad in his lifetime. Like Clare in England, Very spent some time in the looney bin... Emily lived in roughly the same region at roughly the same time as Very. She may have avoided his fate because of her more solid socioeconomic underpinnings. She owned her own home and she had a more supportive circle of family and friends.

  • At 3:23 AM, Anonymous vonnik said…

    Call me sentimental, but Captain Automotic's song "I Remember Travis" is an elegiac anthem for DS, or for the DSpora, whether it was meant to be or not:


    Chi: you're ex-lover sounds more like a prostitute who won't put out any more. I'd rather talk about it in terms of alimony. If you send money now, you're doin' it for the kids. Mix the metaphor and it gets oedipal, but maybe it should.

  • At 10:57 AM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    Also, what's up with Dana not even mentioning Vollmann or Kunkel?

  • At 2:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I am surprised by many people's unsympathetic reading of Goodyear's article. I was frustrated by her inability to see Deep Springs for what it is, as well, but it's understandable given the limitations of time and perspective that she had. These are limitations endemic to every journalist and every outsider.

    A different and incomplete perspective emerges in her article, but not one that should be tossed aside or ignored because of that. Since her article is so short, we do not have 'time' as an excuse to not take what she has to say seriously. (Perhaps it is the excesses of our own overly protective or overly bitter 'perspective' as former insiders, which is our counter-point to her ‘outsider‘ perspective as a journalist?).

    I agree with Whetstone's blog and several other comments that her piece chose a 'critical' tone rather than the more romanticized fair we've gotten recently. While this is bad for applications, it is good for the Deep Springs discourse. (Although I don't think the article will lower applicants overall, I think the tone of it may push away some good ones. I remember the trepidation with which I approached applying, a certain incredulity about even its very existence that lasted even after I visited as an applicant. I don‘t think it would have taken much to put me off and see its romance in a different light).

    The frustration I had with Goodyear’s perception of Deep Springs, was no greater than the frustration I had with several classmates’ visions of the college when I was there (or Trustees’ or Faculty‘s, for that matter). These strong disagreements and critiques are, in my opinion, one of the key strengths of the college, and the discussions that ensue, one of the college’s most important features. Just as we are given responsibility over the day-to-day functioning of the ranch and college, we are given responsibility to articulate and push for our own long-term vision of it as well. Jack Newell has probably spoken better than anyone else about the educational benefits of this. Thus, I think we should continue to mine Goodyear’s article for what it adds to our discourse, rather than criticize it for what it is not.

    This is why my response was to respond to her main thrust to situate Deep Springs in a progressive/conservative dichotomy, rather than to re-tell the romanticized version of what Deep Spring is (meant to be?). I interpreted her use of the terms, in their standard way: conservative, meaning to preserve or conserve the past, and progressive, to change for the good. It felt like the dichotomy itself is part of what led to her confusion and unsympathetic portrayal. Conservatism, in her treatment, has no reference to what is 'good', just a desire to hold on to what came before. Progressivism implies moving towards some end good. It implies not just change (which would be the actual binary opposition to conserving) but change toward the better. Conservatism is moving backward toward some original starting point; progressivism is moving forward to some future endpoint.

    Perhaps there is an implicit belief that conservatism is conserving some original good state, as opposed to a conception of ‘conserving’ as “better than the fast-paced and uncontrolled changes of the world.” I think this is where some of the confusion at Deep Springs has come: people have confused the desire to preserve its strong pedagogical foundation, with a desire to conserve in reaction to the fast-paced change of the world.

    If anything, I think the “thoughtfulness” of Deep Springers may make it appear conservative to an outsider. It takes time to make a thoughtful decision. However, as one of my classmates Hunter Blanks pointed out, Deep Springs has not really been technologically conservative at all: solar panels, gravity-feed irrigation, round-bale tractors and the internet are all evidence of the college trying to progress, just in the last six years. The fact that it doesn’t adopt ALL the changes of the outside world, does not in itself make it conservative, unless we are to deprive “progressive” of its moral/political content. Progressive, if it is to mean anything at all, must mean change with some end in mind, not just change for the sake of change.

    It is commendable, and one of the benefits of the college that the student body is so concerned with their interactions that they would spend the time to consider how something so seemingly small as, say, joining facebook, would change the way the community relates. The fact that they took such time to make the decision, is commendable; the fact that they came to a different conclusion than much of the rest of the world, is commendable, not because it is different, but because it was thoughtful.

    Goodyear makes no attempt to understand how students might consider their relations on the internet important: she treats it as odd, peculiar and because of her lack of understanding, her critique is glib and hollow. The same is true with her critique of the co-ed issue. The arguments she gave were fine if not exhaustive, but she did not take seriously the arguments for remaining single-sex. I had probably fifty discussions at Deep Springs about the issue that went deeper than her analysis. The issue itself could easily have been a whole article, so I don’t fault her for this. But her overall critique is not of any one decision we make, but the tendencies of all our decisions.

    Thus, it seems to me she critiques the depth of our arguments, without ever achieving that depth on any one of the issues herself. She selectively discusses only those issues that she thinks warrant change but have not been changed. Where is the “balance” we are supposed to get from reporters in the US?--she should have at least mentioned the changes that have occurred over the years, before dismissing them with an argument as to why they were not important changes, or the right changes. Instead, she name-calls the institution “conservative”, rather than making a full, persuasive argument for any single change. Again, I don’t fault her for this, due to space limitations. What I do fault her for, however, is a lack of a respect for the arguments and the discussion itself. She disagrees without respect.

    One of the most important “lessons” that I learned at Deep Springs is to passionately argue for what I believed, but at the same time respect the decision of everyone else when they came to a decision that was different. I think this highlights the way the college combines its conservatism and progressivism. The institution is structured so that change is almost always possible. The college is, for the most part, open to being “left better”. But the trick is, you have to convince everyone else. This leaves it open to the so-called problem of the “masses”, which she refers to as the problems of short-term institutional memory. Change may come too quickly. Without saying so explicitly, she faults the college here for being too progressive, in the midst of her argument for why it is too conservative.

    The conservative counterpoint, however, to the ’problem of the masses’ is that the students have to appeal back to Nunn. The possibility for progress always exists, but forcing the appeal back to its foundation provides a kind of quasi-constitutional foundation for the college. Goodyear seems wrong to imply that the college has taken a “literalist” interpretation of Nunn’s original vision: the appeal is to the original mission and values Nunn espoused, not the original machinery. As the college--and the Supreme Court--have discovered, however, appealing to such ethereal values such as “service” and “leadership” is not easy. Because the court has not agreed with you on abortion or detaining enemy combatants or affirmative action, or whatever the issue--does not mean that the court is a faulty institution. It does not even mean that it is a conservative institution. The appeals are to values and ideals, things that, arguably, cannot be reified neatly into a conservative past or a progressive future. Whatever we think of the ‘metaphysical’ status of these values and ideas, it is through their discussion that they are constituted in our political life.

    This institutional discussion is not overly conservative: it is, if anything, overly-deliberative. If the college errs, it is on the side of deliberation, not on the side of conservation. That is a totally different excess.

    Goodyear seems to totally neglect the process of Deep Springs, which is in my opinion at its core, for particular outcomes. The process by which Deep Springs functions is neither inherently conservative or progressive, even if we might label a particular outcome that way. Sure, due to its smallness, the college is financially at the whims of rich alumni: but just as this has been used to put pressure on conserving single-sex education, Mr. Hitz’s money now provides a strong sound-board for technological changes. Outside factors may influence the college’s decisions one way or another. But deliberation is neither inherently conservative or progressive. We can be persuaded both to leave things as they are and to change them. Goodyear does not make a convincing case that the people who go to Deep Springs are inherently conservative types; that outside influences such as money consistently err on the side of conservation; or that the form debate takes at Deep Springs is skewed toward conservative outcomes. I can site a number of articles in the New Yorker with a conservative stance and call it a conservative periodical, but only a more rigorous analysis of its personalities, its structure and its outside influences would be persuasive.

    Perhaps, however, the most distorting part about situating Deep Springs in a conservative/progressive dichotomy, however, is that Deep Springs is not primarily a political institution. It is an educational institution. Practical political education and the political preservation of the college are animportant part of the college. But if Goodyear had spent more time situating Deep Springs into an educational schema and context, (apart from the connections to Dewey), perhaps she would have noticed more of its central features, which she missed. Talking to Jack Newell about its particular place amongst radical colleges; or David Arndt about how the college forces students to work on all four kinds of knowledge that Aristotle enumerated; or David Neidorf about how the student’s responsibility at Deep Springs extends to a responsibility to attend carefully to original texts--all would have been good places to start.

    If Goodyear faults the college for being overly self-concerned, the reason is that she focuses largely on the college’s political dimensions: the political aspect of Deep Springs is, by its very nature, self-concerned. An educational focus might have caused her to take the discussion of the Dickinson poem more seriously. (Thank you, Ms. Peterson for your posted responses, by the way. I only wish I could have been around to take your course). And in the course of the poem, maybe she would have had a brief glimpse into the passion of an insight, of the uncovering of something that feels profound and powerful. Perhaps she would have briefly understood the paradoxical condition of turning inward to prepare for turning outward.

    Such seriousness is easy to undermine. Who wants to be pidgeon-holed as a fanatic for taking something seriously these days? Surely, we all could have used some perspective during our time in the valley. But could we not all, now, benefit from a little more of that passion we left in the valley?

  • At 3:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I know this thread is ancient now, but I couldn't resist speaking up:
    As the girlfriend of a current Deep Springer, I've spent a fair amount of time there during the past year and a half. And it's an amazing, gorgeous, endlessly fascinating place-- but I'm uncomfortable with much of the attitudes toward gender that are prevalent there. I actually don't think coeducation is a good idea; I'm in favor of the "sister school" option. More realistically financially, I'm in favor of DS students working harder to include women in a real way in their intellectual lives. Female faculty members are scarce. The few women in the valley (besides the admirable Katie P.) are the wives of the President and ranch manager and cook; they occupy themselves with "feminine" pursuits, such as gardening and maintenance of the guest rooms... And every single girlfriend and sister who's visited during the breaks I've been there (besides me; kids hate me) winds up babysitting the campus kids. Basically, there's exactly one woman in the valley who doesn't conform to an antiquated notion of femininity.
    These points may seem nit-picky after all the preceding theoretical talk. But that's part of my point: Deep Springers (and maybe Deep Springs alumnae) seem unwilling to look at their lives head-on, up close, and see how they don't match up with their theorizing. Perhaps through their own hiring decisions, they've created a place that's closed off from the intellectual contributions of women. I think this contributes to the low-level mysogyny that pervades DS and this thread-- maybe I'm being overly sensitive, but would Katie and Dana G. have been criticized so much if they were men? (For the record, I thought that the NYer article was a hack job style-wise, but that some good points were made.)

    The drudge work of the campus-- otherwise known as womens work-- often goes uncompleted; the laundry hangs on the line until it's stiff. During my last visit I ended up cleaning a bathroom that was so neglected and revolting I retch a little at the memory. (It involved mouse carcasses and lots of bad aiming.) These are boys who may have never cleaned a toilet; they haven't outgrown the expectation that their mothers will clean up. Most DSers seem to be too busy agonizing over Derrida to confront their own feelings about women, and about how they will or should behave towards women in the world outside. That, I think, is a major flaw.

    FYI--- the bitter bio teacher was ejected, albeit gently, and his time there (I've heard) was fraught with conflict.

  • At 12:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Your comments about gender are very interesting and provocative. My response is to try to offer you a picture of the complex ideas and feelings I had about gender when I was there. This is not to rebut what you said but to explain why, as a self-identifying feminist, I was not up-in-arms about the role gender played at Deep Springs.

    Let me give you an example. I think you are right that one of the struggles many students have at Deep Springs is trying to reconcile their theoretical ideas and how they live out their every day life.* However, I think many students come to the school in search of just that sort of reconciliation. Part of the attraction is that students are not supposed to be able to live just in their heads. I certainly could not. I bumped heads into other members of the student body and community and in my farewell speech, I spoke about just how central this tension was to my experience. Do you think that such 'theoretically inclined' students would do better going to a regular University, where they are forced to do no more than study? Indeed, the review and reanimations process was a very difficult bi-yearly, institutionalized reminder about the chasm between our ideals and actions.

    I think something similar happens at Deep Springs with gender. When I was there we had two female professors who were extremely well versed in feminist literature. (Probably the main reason we have fewer female faculty is that about 1/3 of our faculty were alumni, since one of our main troubles is to get faculty to even know who we are, let alone women who would even consider working at the college. I remember in the discussion of one of the faculty members, the fact that she was a woman and was teaching a course on gender was considered a strong argument in her favor, since we were aware of how it could potentially expand our gender awareness in the community.) Even with their under representation, the women who were there caused me to think and write at least as much about gender in my two years at Deep Springs than I did in three years at Oxford.

    This is not the same as 'practical' interaction with other women, obviously. But do you think people's attitudes toward women dramatically turned toward the misogynist there? My experience has been more that people with those tendencies did not change much, and those people (I will boldy put myself in this group) that did what they could to understand, respect and live well in the company of women, did so.

    I think your comments about how the 'women's work' is debased at Deep Springs is a pointed assessment. I just wanted to articulate the flip side of this, which was the reasoning I heard people express when I was there. I think there was a deliberate attempt to cultivate a kind of masculine 'aesthetic' there. The dirtiness was not meant as putting our thumbs down at feminine cleanliness, but to celebrate a kind of minimalist, get rid of the frills, and embrace the harshness of the desert we live in, masculine toughness. There was some tension in the community, where more 'traditional’ women tried to push for a more 'traditionally' feminine aesthetic. How interesting that interaction was, though! How much I learned about gender through those experiences! Would you make a similar critique of women at an all female college who made a deliberate effort to cultivate a feminist aesthetic directly responding to its surroundings?

    I put 'traditional' women in quotes above because perhaps the only serious criticism I have is that I don’t think there is any benefit to denigrating and reducing down the complexity of the women at the college, two of whom have been central influences in my life, as somehow not being feminine enough because they don't correspond to an academic view of what a feminist should be. I think if you talked with them and lived with them as I did, you would see how amazing they both were and how their vision of feminism is not one of repression and conformity, even if they hold certain views that might initially make it seem that way. Maybe your experiences have been different?

    For me, probably the most important gender issue is the difficulty of the very real relationships with women at Deep Springs. I know high school couples have difficult break-ups at schools all over the country, but what I saw and experienced at DS felt a lot more acute, in part due to the isolation and the lack of women. I wonder if this has not scarred me? Left me more wont to 'objectify' women? (I've always felt like religious metaphors such as 'exalted worship of women' or something like that would be a more apt description than the metaphor of object-desire that 'objectify women' implies?.) To have difficulty committing? Etc.

    My overall point is that I just think it is very complicated. And the co-ed issue, bound up as it is in these gender issues, never seemed to offer a clear-cut 'right' answer to me. I came in wanting to go co-ed, reversed my mind when I was there, and am now ambivalent.

    Am I more misogynist for having gone to Deep Springs? Maybe. One of my best friends from high school said that I seemed a lot more masculine after having gone there. But on the other hand it was through my experiences at Deep Springs that I realized a great passion for relating to young people, and which caused me to enter the traditionally feminine field of teaching: no woman in the valley (besides the mothers themselves) played with or baby-sat the kids more than I did.

    I think it would be very interesting to ask certain set questions about gender to accepted applicants before they came, and ask them again when they graduated. Maybe add to that a body of evidence about how our interactions with women were before and after? I don’t know exactly how to get past the stand-off between people who charge that Deep Springs is gender-deforming and those who think it is gender-liberating, the stand-off between those who push for change and those who defend the status quo.

    Is it debilitating to be paralyzed by such uncertainty? Would it be more feminine to take away the complexity of this discussion and just act? Doesn’t that characterize femininity as being prone to a kind of irrational action? Or is it masculine to act boldly and righteously, without concern for the actual, tangible, practical impacts, which something such as going co-ed, would have on the life of the college?

    * (This comment is a re-articulation of a lot of the feminist literature on “masculine vs. feminine thinking”, one of the original articulations being the study of the moral development of children by Carol Gillian. )

  • At 10:02 PM, Blogger Antid Oto said…

    A brief comment in response to Anonymous-girlfriend-of-a-Deep-Springer above and to all other readers: Yes, the thread is old, but as of October 5 the discussion is still going pretty strong. Don't be discouraged from joining in by the thought that no one will read what you write. One of the annoyances of Blogger is that it doesn't date comments, so I may drop in from time to time to give a date if this keeps going, as I hope it does.

    Substantive thoughts later, maybe.

  • At 5:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I want to respond to a quote of Antid Oto from an email that Solomon wrote him. He quoted him as refuting a particular line of defense of Deep Springs’ all-male admissions policy, with the line, "it is, of course, also a good argument for all-white social clubs." I want to respond, not so much to defend line of argument that is under attack, but to call into question this attack because I suspect this argument has been, not just a counter-attack, but one of the main “offensive” weapons in the critique of the college’s all-male policy. Again, my point is not to defend all-maleness but to try to liberate the discussion from a certain blindness that I think this analogy brings to the discussion.

    The argument is really simple and it is so common, it hardly seems worthy of mention. The assumption is that liberation of blacks from slavery and again, their liberation during the Civil Rights movement, was an unqualifiedly good thing. That is a moral certainty, with perhaps only the holocaust even rivaling it as a stable-point, upon which the rest of our moral judgments revolve and depend upon for their stability. Even as racism persists for large numbers of Americans, for a vast majority, the idea of racism, at least, forms a bed-rock foundation for moral judgments to react against in modern America.

    Just as the Bush administration uses “9/11” as the undisputable premise upon which they then deduce a justification for their every action, progressive Americans often revert to using the Civil Rights era and the abolition of slavery as the undisputable premise upon which they can deduce almost any preferred outcome, whether it be queer rights, women’s rights, religious rights, environmental rights. The frequency of the analogy almost makes us forget that an argument is even at play. In an ironic twist, Condoleeza Rice made the comparison to abolishing slavery to justify her stance on Iraq to a skeptical black reporter of a prominent black publication--it seemed obvious to her that, just as abolishing slavery once seemed controversial, the success of the current policy in Iraq would some day be indisputable.

    We cannot totally get rid of this analogy from our consciousness, since Civil Rights/Abolition are central to our American conception of morality. But I want to argue that the extraordinary and pervasive segregation that exists in America, undermines the neat moral image we have of the moral success of the civil rights movement and the abolition of slavery. When this premise is looked at more closely, I think we can see issues, such as the question of co-education at Deep Springs, more clearly. In this case, I think it calls into question what one person here has termed “regendering”, or what in race terms I believe is referred to as the goal of “colorblindness”--trying to blind ourselves to skin color, or perhaps more precisely, to redefine race in some sort of morally neutral or inoffensive way.

    The initial evidence I present is two-fold: the continued support for cultivating a black identity within America by the African American community; and the resistance of many whites, even against popular opinion and laws to the contrary, to embrace integration, most egregiously in the south, but evidenced just about everywhere in the various forms of white flight visible in every major urban school system.

    There is little to suggest that blacks as a whole or even a great majority want race to be redefined in such a way that race loses a central place in their lives. All-black and majority-black colleges are thriving. Popular black culture, such as Tyler Perry’s Medea movies, are huge financial successes that reflect a desire for many blacks for entermainment and art that reflects their particular (often regional) black identities. Rap music and R+B dominate black tastes and reflect a continuation of a very distinct black artistic tradition, which many historians have argued has been America‘s most important artistic contribution to the world. The examples are manifold.

    What I think makes this evidence speak even more loudly, however, is the analogy we can make to other forms of identity that we have assumed people would discard in the name of a higher good. The list is long and can include such seemingly outdated notions now as the end of nationalism--held by so many, not just John Lennon and the Socialists, but appearing again and again in modern international relations theories, prominently in the Balkans and in the Middle East. Or even more seemingly outlandish, now, the once widely held idea of communists that religion would cease to be a viable source of identity. People have again and again made horrible political misjudgments by assuming an ideal endpoint that eliminates all difference (at least, the ‘bad differences’ )--since the most obvious way to end conflict, is to totally efface the distinctions upon which conflict can be based. But the reality of people’s choice has blown totally in the face of these ‘ideal premises’, ideals which were supposed to be the weapon that would eliminate these very realities from existence.

    Why should we eliminate our race consciousness? Because race has and continues to oppress blacks? Even though most blacks themselves are making choices that reflect a desire for a strong black identity? Are we to assume, in our highly privileged position of whiteness (as most Deep Springers are), that blacks are being duped into a black identity, systematically, to protect the privilege of others? Are we to totally disregard what black Americans say and do--because we believe we will oppress them less if they discard the identity that we oppress them for? Maybe the answer to this is obviously “no”, but I just think the point needs to be made clear to counter the simple readings of Martin Luther King’s supposed vision of color-blindness. The segregation that persists (and in many places that has been increasing) is not just the result of structural economic inequalities but is based also on the complicated choices and identities of blacks.

    Nor is the segregation just a black choice for black identity. Whites have not embraced the ideals of integration as consistently in their actions as they have in their words. And in some places and with some people, most prominently still in the south, some do not embrace integration even with their words. Where are the whites moving the well-to-do black suburbs in Atlanta, for instance? White flight cannot solely be attributed to economic differences and the associated cultural and criminal differences economic differences usually come with. Whites very often find being the racial minority just as alienating (if not more so in many cases) as blacks have. The historical/cultural reasons for the racial differences that begot this mutual alienation are manifold, but we cannot just deny that they exist or wish them away. It is part of our historical consciousness and, without implying any moral judgments, it seems to have a force of its own that is carrying forward. To put it the opposite of how it is usually expressed--whites are staying away from black communities, just as fast as blacks have been coalescing in urban centers and moving back down south. Although many Americans may express a preference for color-blindness, few Americans are willing to endure the attenuating feelings of racial isolation that are needed to eliminate our racial geography.

    Perhaps this means we should more carefully circumscribe the successes of Abolition and the Civil Rights movement. Just as the Abolition didn’t end inequality, perhaps the Civil Right’s victories were a lot more legal than they were lasting, substantive changes to our nation’s psyche. While we still condemn what we now consider the illegal actions of racism, our actions do not suggest we have embraced full integration, on either side of the color line.

    If we take this more complicated assessment of the Civil Rights movement, when we make the analogy to gender-roles, we get a very different picture of what this implies for gender polity. What this implies is that, again, where we abhor the legal inequality of the past, we have in no way embraced the elimination of gender differences. The fact that those gender differences are malleable and have been confused and complicated by many people, only further re-enforces the fact that most people fully embrace gender-differences in general. Just as many blacks and many whites have blurred some of the boundaries between what these racial identities mean--and where both races have come to take on features of the other that were once considered distinct--these exceptions only reinforce the fact that there are some broad differences that most people recognize and accept.

    No one is asking for the abolition of black colleges based on principal. Why should we, then, be asking for the abolition of all-male colleges based on principal? This is a much more difficult and telling analogy to make than the country-club example, because it exposes the fact that many people confuse the real moral principal at play, legal equality, with the more expansive principal of gender neutrality.

    Thus, the question arises whether there is a significant difference between the context of racial education and gender education. I would argue that there is. Firstly, isn’t the gender policy of Deep Springs even more justifiable today--where women outnumber men in college by a wide margin--than when it was part of a more systematic exclusion of women from higher education? Secondly, there doesn’t seem to be any justifiable pedagogical value to an all-white education, let alone a dearth of predominantly white institutions to choose from.

    Whatever you may think of the persuasiveness of the arguments, however, there are a number of arguments as to how a gender-isolated environment can impact learning and Deep Springs is now nearly alone in its support of an all-male higher education option. (And even though we do not label them as such, in fact there are many ’traditionally white colleges’ as well as traditionally black colleges. Deep Springs, really, is one of them, by default--a place who though not opposed to blacks, is just totally foreign to the experience of most young blacks in the country. In fact Deep Springs actively recruits black applicants--unsuccessfully--with a lot more gusto than the few predominantly black colleges I‘ve visited, spoke about going after white students.)

    Some might argue that, while there are racially based educational choices available, they are mostly not institutionalized, leaving it up to individual choice. But whereas (predominantly) racially segregated educational institutions have proven themselves to be sustainable through individual choice alone, perhaps the (hetrosexual) attraction between the sexes will always make sustaining gender-based educational choices much more difficult through individual choice alone. I’m not suggesting that the main reason women would apply to Deep Springs would be for sex, but that sex can be one limiting factor.

    I just want to conclude by saying that this is not an argument for Deep Springs to remain all-male. I just wanted to critique the idea that somehow excluding women is, in principle wrong, no matter what the situation, just as separating institutions by race is always wrong. If we compare Deep Springs to a more realistic assessment of racial integration in this country--we will see that, in their actions if not in their words, many Americans in fact support both de facto and explicit racially separate institutions. Although the ‘white country club’ example carries with it horrible resonances, let us not be so naïve to think that this is a thing of the past or that whites are alone in their racial preferences. Many of these ’country-clubs’ still exist. And Deep Springs is, if we are honest, one of them.

    Finally, I just wanted to qualify and be clear about the fact that I am opposed to racial segregation--and while I am currently living in a majority black town--ending racial segregation is not the sole basis of my life choices and I certainly cannot guarantee that I will for the rest of my life choose to live in only the most perfectly diverse surroundings or not at all. But I think there is a huge moral difference between trying to break through systematic racial segregation and trying to maintain small pockets of gender-segregation.

  • At 2:45 PM, Blogger Antid Oto said…


    Solomon was discrediting my particular, long-discarded argument against coeducation, namely, that removing women allows young men to destabilize the gender system. That is as ridiculous an argument as claiming that all-white country clubs destabilize race. In fact, as you rightly point out, we shouldn't even be trying to achieve some kind of "degendered" or "colorblind" state.

    As for your broader argument, I would certainly argue that there is a difference between de facto and de jure segregation. Deep Springs, de facto a mostly white institution, can partly justify its whiteness by pointing to its failed attempts to integrate its student body, provided they are sincere and sustained.

    But gender integration would almost certainly happen without effort if Deep Springs dropped its barrier to women. (In fact, Deep Springs would probably also find it easier to diversify its student body racially if it went coed, since gender differences in educational attainment are more marked among nonwhite students--that is, the pool of nonwhite, college-bound women is larger than the pool of nonwhite, college-bound men.) Now, as I argued earlier in this thread, I think excluding people de jure can be justified in some cases. But that justification is historically conditional, as you recognize, and should not pretend to be blind to real inequities of gender or race. For example, the justification for all-female colleges was stronger when women were excluded from other educational options. The justification for traditionally black colleges rests in part on social power differences related to institutional racism (though of course they are not segregated de jure, so to me their hurdle is lower).

    Meanwhile, the justification for an all-male college is what? That more women than men attend college now? I don't believe Deep Springs addresses that issue in any way. Very few if any of the young men who attend Deep Springs would have been excluded from higher education or opportunities later in life. Giving Deep Springs boys a special experience (and I acknowledge that all-maleness is special) is not enough, to me, to justify denying Deep Springs to women categorically.

    In any event Deep Springs does not traditionally justify itself on the basis of how great its experience is for its attendees. It argues that it prepares young people for lives of service. I think it is legitimate to question how all-maleness contributes to that end.

  • At 12:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Does the all-maleness of DS contribute to preparing young people [men] for lives of service? That is the questiobn AO asked, and it is a good question. The question is not whether an all-male school like DS can produce good public servants (by which I mean sociopoliticoeconomoacademic leaders and not merely "bureaucrats.")

    I think it is clear that single-sex and even racially segregated (such as the "black" colleges) can produce such graduates. Of course their sucess will depend on how they are set up. Those that are poorly set up, whose priorities are flawed, will fail.

    As regards the DS non-coeducation policy, the question is whether or not there is any benefit to having an all-male student body. If there is a benefit, we need to say exactly what it is. If we cannot say what this benefit is, then we should question the all-male policy.

  • At 1:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    It's been a couple of days, and no one has taken up the challenge of my last post...i.e., is there any compelling BENEFIT in having an all-male DS SB? Or could DS just as well fulfill it's mission to graduate "the leaders of the nation" if it were co-ed?

    This question needs to be addressed.

    Let me get the discussion started.

    One argument for an all male DS is that the presence of women students would allow "sexual tensions" that could "distract" DSers and interfere with the harmony of their fragile community and "distract" them from their education to become "the trustees of the nation." Indeed, this seems to be the essense of the argument for an all male DSSB.

    According to this argument, DS students, despite their putative intellectual brilliance, are still lusty teenagers full of raging hormones. They have sexual urges that can lead even the most intelligent young men to behave irrationally and stupidly. The Nunnian solution to this is to not admit women to DS, thus making the "problem" disappear.

    There are a couple of problems with this facile "solution." The first is that sexual desire is but one of many bases for interpersonal conflict. Eliminating women from the SB would probably reduce some incidents of conflicts based on heterosexual jealousy. There are still many other potential conflicts, but certainly the absence of women in the SB would serve to minimize heterosexual conflicts. So far, so good.

    But when you try to socially engineer a place free from sexual conflict, you run up against a lot of confounding reality.

    For one thing, you have to deal with a bunch of teenagers, however bright they may be, who ARE sexual beings full of energy and sexual desires, and given their age, these desires may be somehat amorphous and ambiguous.

    Some of them might even be bisexual or homosexual. Assuming that everyone who attends DS is strictly heterosexual and that having an all male SB would resolve these problems would be a nice fiction, but it just isn't true. The fact is that even with the DS single sex policy, sexual conflicts (homosexual) can develop and have developed.

    And it is also true that heterosexual conflicts have developed at DS, despite the fact that DS students are all males. Let's not forget that there ARE women in the DS community. There are faculty wives, female faculty, and other women in the DS community.

    This is something we should discuss.

  • At 5:57 AM, Anonymous fearless comrade said…

    "Sexual Conflict?" The coldness with which you argue about sex and love at Deep Springs leads me to believe you had none. It is not 'conflict' or 'tension' or even 'desire' that is the problem, it is PASSION and HEARTBREAK (yes, writ large) that are not merely distracting when at DS, but wholly traumatizing.

    Love, sex, passion, rejection, and heartbreak. It first happenned to me at DS--we were roommates--and I wouldn't wish that pain on anyone else. Because I had to see my ex day and night (and watch him take a new lover, eventually) I just never could heal or move on until I left the place. If there is anything I would change about my time at DS, it would be to excise that relationship, and not to have had female peers.

    Don't underestimate the tragedy that 18 year-old hormones and psyches are capable of. If every student at Deep Springs were subject to such tragedy, the place would simply not work. Nobody pretends that Deep Springs is "free from sexual conflict," but heartbreak and jealousy need to be reduced to a minimum, lest the isolation and smallness of the place drive everyone crazy (or crazier). To balance the necessary injustice of the single-sex policy, perhaps Deep Springs should suddenly become an all-female college. Maybe to mark the 100 year anniversary?

    By the by, while I was a student there I was a hard-core pro-coed activist. In hindsight, I think it was easy for us to attack this policy of sex-discrimination rather than work hard on diversifying the student body in other, perhaps more interesting, ways. Why, for example, is it taken for granted that Deep Springers are white, middle class, and American? The exceptions prove the rule. A truly international Deep Springs would be an even more amazing place than it currently is, certainly more so than a white, middle-class American COED Deep Springs.

    Oh, and I wasn't so bothered by Goodyear's article. Maybe a bit glib and high-handed, but so is the magazine itself, as well as that hamlet of cynicism that is its namesake.

  • At 11:30 AM, Blogger Antid Oto said…

    It is not 'conflict' or 'tension' or even 'desire' that is the problem, it is PASSION and HEARTBREAK (yes, writ large) that are not merely distracting when at DS, but wholly traumatizing.

    If that's really the case, DS should stop being so squeamish about it and ban sex altogether.

    As I said above, I don't believe in the slightest that DS would fall apart due to these dynamics. But I think that the fear that it might is the only plausible argument against coeducation I've heard.

  • At 8:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    If that's really the case, DS should stop being so squeamish about it and ban sex altogether.

    AO has a good point, and one has to wonder why LL didn't institute a "no sex policy" along with the "no recreational drugs" and "isolation" policies. One possible explanation is that he was a homosexual and did not think there was much wrong with some of his schoolboys getting it on together in the desert. From what I've heard, LL had pedophilic tendencies, though he seems to have been more attracted to "rough trade" (working lads) than the more academically and socially polished kids he recruited to DS, for whom he may have had more platonic crushes...

    One reason for an all-male SB is that although it would not eliminate the risks of psychosexual "conflicts," it would tnd to minimize their prevalence and frequency. Lets assume (Using Kinsey, et al. approximations) that in an SB of 25 that 2-3 students are "strictly gay," that 18 are "strictly straight," and that 4-5 are "bi- or bi-curious." Let's forget for now the fact that there will be faculty and staff women at DS, and forget that there may be a selection bias for gay or "curious" applicants that could skew the population.

    This means that the risk for what FC called traumatic "heartbreak" would be borne by a minority of DSers. That disportionate burden may be "justified" because it would "spare" the majority. Unfortunately, the SB is a small community, and even a handful of psychosexually "traumatized" students would impact the SB.

  • At 8:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Let me continue with the above.

    Should DS have a "no sex policy?" It could, but it would turn the place into a monastery and would probably lead to some serious psychosexual warpage that would be far worse than what FC experienced. Has anyone read that book, "Wympin" (sp?)?

    Admit women, and you increase the incidence of sexual liasons, so that now the straight guys and gals will be pairing off, the gays will still be getting it on, and the bi guys and gals will be really complicating things... Too bad Fellini is dead, otherwise we could invite him to teach a couple of terms at DS, and maybe shoot a orgie on the circle, or better yet in the dairy barn...

    I don't want you to think that I'm being flippant. DS is a great place. If it has a problem, the problem is that it has never really come to terms with sexuality. The all-male policy was not unusual when LL founded DS, in fact it was quite acceptable. But sex was something that was never openly discussed in polite society then, for better or for worse. The prevailing Victorian attitude was that sex was dirty and the less said about it the better. And that applied to normal male-female sexual relations...

    That was then, but this is AD 2006.

  • At 1:07 AM, Anonymous vonnik said…

    Oct. 12

    Can I ask everyone first of all to use some sort of tag, anonymous or otherwise? It’s as simple as opening the phone book and picking a name, and it wouldn’t make the threads of this discussion less coherent.

    Homosexual relationships are common enough at Deep Springs, but in my time there they weren’t practiced by the majority, and I doubt they are now. Solomon being an exception, I would guess that most applicants choose DS to live out dreams besides romance and orgy. When we talk about going coed, we’re talking about increasing the number of couples. A matter of degree rather than kind, maybe, but change the degree of anything – water, say – and it assumes another form. That’s one major issue here.

    Admitting women would undoubtedly magnify the passion and heartbreak at Deep Springs, and while I consider those good things, and I would wish them on everyone, I don’t think they mesh well with the rest of the community’s goals. Couples often become worlds unto themselves, as Freud pointed out, and what we are trying to establish at DS are other types interconnectedness. Coupledom is everywhere in the world, for two years it can wait.

    That said, there are communities that at least partially address the problem of couples even as they pursue en masse other goals. One of those is the San Francisco Zen Center, whose monastery, Tassajara, admits both men and women. I have lived there; another DSr still lives there as a priest. They ask that newcomers abstain from both sex and couple for the first six months of their stay, in order to absorb the ways and ideas of the place, and concentrate on what brought them there.

    I see nothing wrong with monasteries and nothing wrong with a ban on sex, which many DSrs live in a de facto manner anyway. A six-month initial ban, whether DS goes coed or not, might allow new students to integrate themselves in the community in ways that coupledom hinders. The great notion of DS is that of a secular monastery, with certain ideals substituted for deity. If anything, the school would do better to recognize its nature and draw lessons from monastic life elsewhere. Values like mindfulness and compassion made the Zen center a much kinder community than DS in my experience, and could be useful in helping students cope with the inevitable pressures of living together.

    Regardless of how coed is tackled, we should talk about what makes DS a “special experience,” AO, especially in its all-maleness, knowing that we’ll probably each come up with something different.

    I think DS represents, as an all-male school that confers upon its students an extraordinary amount power, an institutional recognition of manhood – that one has left adolescence and must give up one’s childish ways. Call it a rite of passage if you want, it’s no weaker for being cliché, and it’s rare enough in America. Nobody disputes that DS gives young men two years to discover what it means to have a place in community and a voice they can exercise.

    And the point is not to leave young women out, it’s just to realize the students as men, however you want to define that, and put a formal seal on it. It’s working on symbolic and real levels, and appealing to the imagination beyond even the cowboy mystique. Manhood is different than adulthood. The biological differences between man and woman inevitably give rise to other differences, malleable though gender may be. I think those differences, and the bald fact that they exist, are less historically and culturally conditioned than racial ones; that is, less the product of a human hand. Being less man-made, I think we’re less called upon, in this instance, to create equality out of difference. I’m not advocating widespread sexism, but I don’t think men and women need equal access to every institution to achieve legal and material equality in America in general. Single-gender enclaves have a place even in a fair society. De facto, men and women voluntarily create many such enclaves already. DS is de jure, and some would argue that’s only right, establishing as it does the link between the law and the man.

    I’m not saying variable treatment according to gender is so small a wrong in the case of DS as to be negligible – I’m saying it’s not a wrong, and that treating men and women differently, although it has resulted in gross injustice in the past, can also be a form of justice.

  • At 1:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Vonnik said:
    I’m not saying variable treatment according to gender is so small a wrong in the case of DS as to be negligible – I’m saying it’s not a wrong, and that treating men and women differently, although it has resulted in gross injustice in the past, can also be a form of justice.

    So you are saying that gender discrimination (at DS and elsewhere) although it has resulted in gross injustice in the past, "can also be a form of justice." That really is difficult to understand. You need to explain why gender discrimination that you admit results in "gross injustice" is "not a wrong" and actually a "form of justice." Sounds like tortured logic to me.

    Vonnik also said:

    Admitting women would undoubtedly magnify the passion and heartbreak at Deep Springs, and while I consider those good things, and I would wish them on everyone, I don’t think they mesh well with the rest of the community’s goals...

    So you would consider FC's type of heartbreak a "good" thing to be wished on everyone? OK, thanks for your sanguine opinion. I suppose there is some benefit in having Deep Springers experience intense psychosexual "heartbreak". It might make them "stronger" and "better" human beings. If it doesn't permanently warp their psyches...and make them, as someone has said, "misfits for life."

    I appreciate what Vonnik has to say about the "monastic" life, especially the SF Zen Center.

    The SF Zen Center can do what it wants. It's not DS. A former DSer may be a "Priest" there, but so what? DS is a college, and it is not a religious monastery.

  • At 7:34 AM, Anonymous vonnik said…

    Oct. 13

    Sorry, Anonymous 2:34, if I wasn't clear. "Good" was a quick and inappropriate word to describe passion and heartbreak. Traumatic though those feelings may be, I think they make us more human, feed our art, and make tango a little more understandable. Rather than warping the psyche, I would say they are, in large part, the psyche.

    But I was trying to make the point that Deep Springs, because it requires us to adapt in so many other ways, is probably not the best place to be wracked by those feelings. So although I would wish passion and heartbreak on people in occasional, nonsuicidal doses, I don't wish them on the SB any more than they already are felt.

    I know DS is not a monastery in the strict sense, but I think it espouses and requires a certain monastic renunciation and devotion to common goals, and an altruism that runs contrary to worldly success. DS is a college but also more than a college, which is precisely why it is a progressive institution, as a poster on the Yahoo group recently argued better than I can here. Inasmuch as DS aspires to being a community cut off from the world and cultivating goals opposed to those of America’s masses and elite, it would do well to learn from other communities with similar ends.

    The school is not as exceptional, in many aspects, as it is painted to be. Jack Newell has done a lot to frame DS in the context of other progressive schools, but, as one poster (Anon 12:47 am) said above, a lot more could be done to situate the school in a wider array of communities, be they single-sex schools or monastic undertakings.

    Not every instance in which men and women have been treated differently has embodied or resulted in injustice, and the idea that equal treatment amounts to justice is simplistic and false. Deep Springs, in my opinion, is an example of that.

  • At 11:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Vonnik said:

    Not every instance in which men and women have been treated differently has embodied or resulted in injustice, and the idea that equal treatment amounts to justice is simplistic and false. Deep Springs, in my opinion, is an example of that.

    Of course it is true that every instance of different treatment of men and women does not embody or result in "injustice." It would certainly be simplistic to equate justice with a "one size fits all" mentality. They tried that approach in communist China and it failed, miserably, and led to outrageous injustices.

    The biological differences between men and women are real. The physical differences are obvious. That's one reason why in sports women and men play on different teams. Billy Jean King challenged this issue in the case of tennis, but her brave challenge failed to refute the biological premise upon which we have gender segregation in sports.

    It is much more uncertain that men and women differ significantly in emotional and cognitive characteristics. They may or they may not. Unfortunately discourse on this question has been highly politicized and elicits strong personal feelings that really do interfere with honest rational debate.

    Unfortunately, this is taking us away from what should be the focus of this discussion of coeducation and Deep Springs. I stated the question earlier in very simple terms. Is there any advantage to having an all-male DS? If DS admitted women students, would this result in a disaster, such that DS would fail to fulfill its mission to educate "the trustees of the nation?"

    I tried to address the problems with the previous arguments against coeducation, especially the argument that the presence of women in the SB would lead to psychosexual conflicts that would disrupt the community. I think I provided a good argument that traumatic homoerotic psychosexual conflicts can exist at an all-male DS, and FC has provided testimony that confirms this. As I argued previously, admitting women to DS will undoubtedly increase the frequency and prevalence of such conflicts.

    So the question is this: would the benefit of admitting women to DS outweigh the risks?

  • At 1:53 PM, Anonymous vonnik said…

    I disagree with the terms of the question, Anonymous 12:14. I don’t think Deep Springs needs to fulfill its founder’s aim of producing leaders in order to “justify” its all-male policy.

    DS is not a machine under contract to produce stewards of humanity or be shuttered. Even if it sets explicit goals for itself on paper, we go to DS for our own reasons and we leave it for other reasons again. The school is the student body’s to create and recreate yearly as they try to embody some imagined community, unbeholden to Nunn or alumni or other external measures. Most outsiders who might apply those measures could care less, so why don’t we talk instead about what we gained from it, and how we might have lived it better?

    Even if the school were to admit women, I doubt it would produce more leaderly alums. DS attracts, cultivates and releases misfits of various sorts, and going coed wouldn’t radically change who it appeals to or even normalize it much, given the other selection criteria and the extreme conditions at the school.

    Furthermore, beyond the false dichotomy of coed and noncoed, there are myriad practical options to consider, and as we are talking about practical risks of change, we might as well address the manifold possibilities. We could vary the size of the SB, for one, and with it the nature of the community, if we thought that might mitigate the risks of coeducation. We could implement all sorts of living arrangements and rules of conduct, for another. Are we to deduce the risks and benefits of each variation without actually going coed? The lived community is unlikely to obey a Cartesian lockstep from premise to conclusion – it would simply unfold if and when the trustees and SB are moved to embrace the unknown. I could take it or leave it. Coed won’t redeem the school, as if that were even necessary, and it won’t ruin it either. And if the school started going downhill, a way would be found to avert it.

    Nor will you find a common yardstick to measure the risks and benefits of admitting females. Each of us has different preferences and estimations of risk – shall we take a weighted average of our hope and fear? Would the democratic spirit in that measure compensate for its foundation in irrationality? To put those risks and benefits in a balance where one outweighs the other is a false quantification. They’re impossible to measure, and their units would be incommensurate even if we knew the liquid ounces of risk we faced and the square meters of benefit we stood to gain. There’s a trade-off here along at least two subjective dimensions, bound to be disputed without logical resolution.

    And how is rationality to decide questions that rely on one-off experiments in the anticipated history of an institution? Most students of history and political science useless at predicting the future. Most students and alums have at some point switched sides in the course of the debate – because so many scenarios are believable. I hope you don’t think that we have simply failed to exhaust the arguments that might establish a final consensus and truth.

    Finally, the advantage you seek to establish papers over the real question: advantage to whom? Clearly, admitting females would please those females who wanted to be admitted (no matter that they may, paradoxically, desire admission to an all-male institution). Another coed bonus would be to assuage the guilt of current students and alums who insist on seeing the matter through the lens of “discrimination.” Those are the only benefits we can know. The rest is futile speculation until the school undertakes the experiment. Some would flourish in it, others would be traumatized, as FC attests. Still others would mourn the passing of a place where certain forms of desire and mating behaviors were momentarily kept at bay. And they are kept at bay, at least for the straight crowd. If the school is still all-male, one reason why is that it’s not clear we would make a moral gain. Moral terms don’t even apply to the problem, and yet we indulge this perennial crusade.

    There’s plenty of communities for women to enter, plenty of farms for them to work, and plenty of wonderful colleges for them to go to. We’re preening if we think we’re denying them something.

  • At 10:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Vonnik said:

    "I don’t think Deep Springs needs to fulfill its founder’s aim of producing leaders in order to “justify” its all-male policy."

    and further on, regarding the "advantage" of coed:

    "...advantage to whom? Clearly, admitting females would please those females who wanted to be admitted (no matter that they may, paradoxically, desire admission to an all-male institution). Another coed bonus would be to assuage the guilt of current students and alums who insist on seeing the matter through the lens of “discrimination.” Those are the only benefits we can know. The rest is futile speculation until the school undertakes the experiment. Some would flourish in it, others would be traumatized, as FC attests. Still others would mourn the passing of a place where certain forms of desire and mating behaviors were momentarily kept at bay. And they are kept at bay, at least for the straight crowd..."

    Thanks for your very thoughtful comments, Vonnik. I guess this is about as good of an argument for retaining the status quo all-male DS policy as we're gonna get. You essentially argue that DS is what it is and has been for nearly 90 years, and that because it has worked and ain't really "broke," it shouldn't be "fixed" especially if the benefits of the "fix" (coeducation) are uncertain.

    It's hard to disagree with that conservative argument.

    Nonetheless, as you say at the end of the last paragraph I quoted:

    "Still others would mourn the passing of a place where certain forms of desire and mating behaviors were momentarily kept at bay. And they are kept at bay, at least for the straight crowd."

    This is a rather significant "at least"... and it is the only aspect of the all-male policy that makes the policy problematic, because it allows a disparate and "split" experience for heterosexual and homosexual students, where the former are relatively immune from certain psychosexual conflicts and the latter are at higher risk.

    I think it would be a good idea for DS to consider openly discussing these sexual issues, even to the point of having a "seminar" on the subject. I suppose that it could be worked into the public speaking program.

  • At 2:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    What is the SB?

    I just read through my dog-eared and smudged copy of "The Grey Book," which is that 1950 TDS publication containd the "Constitution of Deep Springs" and "The Deed of Trust," along with some selected letters of LL to the SB.curious about the sentence on page 8 that says, "The students are, of course, the "sole beneficiaries" and hence also the "beneficial owners," but the students referred to are all the students over all the years, past and furure as well as present." Note that this statement was written by the 1950 Trustees. Nunn himself, in the 1923 Deed of Trust, section 5 (page 21 of The Grey Book), writes: "The students in attendence receiving the benefits of the educational work being conducted hereunder are the sole beneficiaries of this trust, constitute the Student Body, and are to be considered the beneficial owners of the property at any time held by the said Trustees under the terms hereof..."

    LL also wrote, in his 3/26/1920 letter to the SB, "I am a member of the Student Body." (Grey Book, p. 34)

    What does this all mean? Am I (along with my fellow alumni)still members of the SB?

    This is more than an "academic" question. If we are, it might be argued that on certain "critical" issues (like making radical changes in DS policy, such as coeducation) all DS alumni should be polled and allowed to "vote" on the decision.

    Also, does that mean that alumni who visit DS should be allowed to attend SB meetings?

    As regards the "inviolability" of Nunn's founding documents, I note that he wrote in his 6/1/1922 letter (p.42) that "The number of students is limited to twenty." That refers to the entire SB, not just the entering class. Recent SBs have been larger, and no one has, so far as I know, viewed that as a violation of the Founder's will... He also wrote that students should spend a minimum of 3 years, preferably 4, at DS. 2 years in now the norm, and 3 years is exceptional. Is this another "violation?"

    In the early years, both tobacco and alcohol were forbidden. Alcohol is still forbidden, but tobacco is tolerated, especially if you roll your own... Is this another "violation?"

  • At 5:22 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…


    It's odd to me that you guys keep referring to DS as if it were a stable institution. To me, one of its defining characteristics is its instability. Your DS is not the DS I remember is not the DS of this year is not the DS of three years from now. There are family resemblances, of course, but the differences and, more fundamentally, instability seem crucial.

    Having said that, I'll make one observation that I think might apply across most of its incarnations.

    I transferred in, and I always thought that I had certain advantages over the guys my year who had never known anything other than high school and DS. For one thing, they were a little too convinced of their own genius (having taken honors math classes my freshman year at a top university did the trick of humbling me). For another, their social skills tended to be, ahem, unusual. And finally, they tended to be a bit myopic in their worldviews, since most of them had never been exposed to much of the world other than their white middle class upbringings and, suddenly, DS.

    You know, all the typical things that make freshmen around the world so annoying. But in an echo chamber, and with a constant background rumble of "you're all geniuses."

    That phenomenon may have been specific to my time there, but I rather doubt it. If I were rejiggering the school, I would 1) radically push for more diversity, including class and national diversity, and 2) I would encourage as many transfer students as possible, or possibly even shift the entire program to Sophomore and Junior years.

  • At 5:25 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    Btw, people continue to read this post in droves (I think because of the Wikipedia link), so feel free to continue commenting.

  • At 5:37 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    After trying and failing to read all 86 comments above me, I feel compelled to say a word to any potential applicants who might be reading this.

    Contrary to the evidence in this thread, not all Deep Springers are so (adorably) longwinded. The laconic/pithy ones are just too busy, um, ruling/saving the world to post on some blog.

    OK, having said that, I have a question.

    vonnik said:

    Jack Newell has done a lot to frame DS in the context of other progressive schools.

    Really? Where was this published? This is exactly what I was hoping Goodyear would do in her article, but she didn't, really.

  • At 11:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I don't agree that the onus is on those who wish to justify Deep Springs’ all male policy, for three reasons. First, there is no moral imperative. Second, the school has an outstanding track record, which suggests the onus for big changes should be on those who wish to make changes. Finally, our understanding of what the real differences are between men and women, and how those differences would play out in Deep Springs' unique environment, is limited at best. For these reasons, I argue not that the school should remain all male, but that the onus should be on those who want to argue for change.

    There is no moral imperative to admit women with 57 percent of undergraduates and an even higher percent of graduates being women.

    I don't want to add much to the 'self-congratulation' of the college, but I think there is good evidence to suggest it is fulfilling its mission pretty well and I offer what I find to be three of the most persuasive pieces of evidence. One, the success of alumni in diverse fields--success that would be the envy of every college in the world (if all DSers could be thought of as comparable to a single class of students at a moderately sized university). Second, interactions with other alumni continually leave me with the impression of DSers' thoughtfulness, earnestness and hard work. Finally, the continual impact my experiences in the valley have on me, in my memories, my ideals, my interests and my motivation to serve humanity. Although it is difficult to 'prove' the success of the college, Goodyear's feeble attempt to denigrade the work of 'activists and academics' seems to suggest that there is a pretty fair consensus that the college is fulfilling its mission as it is.

    What I have tried to show so far is that there is no compelling and urgent need for change at the college, either morally or due to its own failures. Maybe it can be doing better, but the divisiveness of the coed issue suggests that, while it might be a positive change, it might also be the opposite. In the next paragraph I want to suggest briefly that perhaps we should proceed with more intellectual humility.

    Would the psychological harm of hetrosexual relationships in the valley detract as some suggest? Would the presence of women take away from the experience of men who are asked to take on both feminine and masculine aspects of leadership? Would the presence of women decrease some of the ‘special ness’ of the place, a common frustration that brings people together? (i.e. analagous to Rousseau's comment that a people are best brought together through a common enemy). Just as some argue that there is an advantage of women being able to find a single-sex environment to find a voice undominated by men in discussions--might there be a value to a kind of reverse, male, un-adulterated, dominating discourse, which requires a more forceful voice to survive and thrive?

    I'm not necessarily persuaded by any of these arguments, but I am persuaded by the success of the college. And I want to suggest that these arguments, among others, may hint at what we may not be able to articulate or understand very well--the differences between men and women, that would take a very unique form in the very unique environment of Deep Springs.

    Once the college goes Coed it seems unlikely that it will ever go back, even 20 years on down the line, or however long it would really take to see how alumni experiences have changed as a result. (Assuming we can control for other key differences, such as generational differences, etc.) My point is just that talk of a 'co-ed' experiment would be hollow--the real results of the experience wouldn't be available for a long time. The results of LL Nunn's incredible experiment, on the other hand, now has almost 90 years of evidence behind it. Perhaps we should ask for more clarity and certainty from those who argue that coeducation will substantially increase the college's ability to train students for a life of service--before we start an entirely new 90 year experiment.

  • At 4:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Well, no one has commented on my post that it would be a good idea for DS to at least openly address "sexual issues" at DS, e.g., as part of the public speaking program or even as a seminar. If this means talking about the taboo subject of homosexuality, so what? Better to deal with the issue head on rather than ignore it.

  • At 4:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Do we really need to address sexual issues in public speaking? ugh that sounds rather tortorous: did you not find that 18-20 year old boys talk about sexuality enough? It came up enough, more so than at more traditional universities: what is the justification for focusing on it so much? Is it really at the core of what we're trying to do at DS? My answer: no.

  • At 12:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Annonymous 4:50 PM (not me) said:

    Do we really need to address sexual issues in public speaking? ugh that sounds rather tortorous: did you not find that 18-20 year old boys talk about sexuality enough? It came up enough, more so than at more traditional universities: what is the justification for focusing on it so much? Is it really at the core of what we're trying to do at DS? My answer: no.

    My answer: YES. Why not? Would it be "uncomfortable?" Certainly. Would the discomfort be outweighed by the benefit of open honest discussion rather than letting the "problems" fester unaddressed? I think so.

    I'm not proposing that DS chuck its all-male SB and become co-ed. Doing that may or may not ruin DS, and I don't know if it would, and neither does anyone else. What I propose is far less radical and ought not be controversial...namely that DS should directly address these psychosexual issues by having open and honest discussions of the subject.

  • At 7:28 PM, Blogger kyle said…

    As an aside, I'm applying to DS this year. Alot of the stuff I see online implies alot of "drama" at the school. How accurate is that perception?, it could be that I'm just mistaking hard debate for bickering.

    Let me know if this isn't the kind of traffic you want.

  • At 2:26 PM, Blogger kyle said…

    That is to say, I've noticed a big discrepancy in what the college says about itself and what alums and journalists say about the college, in that the college seems to further the idealist's romantic "scholar-cowboy" while the others discuss DS as though it were in constant peril of being overrun with instability and negativity.

    Maybe tension is unavoidable, considering the character differences between classes?

  • At 8:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…


    Good luck on your application. DS is what it is. This blog is also what it is. Contributors to this blog include former DS students, such as myself. In my case, my experience at DS was more than 30 years ago. I don't know what you mean by "drama."

    I can tell you that if you go to DS you will have a unique educational experience. That experience is not for everybody.

    If you apply and make the first cut, you will be invited for an interview. You'll get to see the place and meet with current members of the DS community, and decide for yourself if you belong there.

  • At 3:05 PM, Blogger Antid Oto said…

    That is to say, I've noticed a big discrepancy in what the college says about itself and what alums and journalists say about the college

    I think you'll find that discrepancy with any school. Promotional self-presentation is not the same as the critical eye. As anonymous says, if you make it to the interview stage you'll get a chance to make up your own mind to a certain extent, but you won't feel the pressure cooker. Here's the thing: everyone goes a little nuts out there, usually in his second year, and each in his own way. No one is happy all the time, and sometimes the tensions with people you have to deal with all the time can be tough to take. Nor does that tension inevitably teach anything. But it can. I know hardly anyone who went through Deep Springs who doesn't consider it to have formed him for the rest of his life.

    To Anonymous who wants open discussion of "psychosexual issues": I'm having a hard time conceiving of that discussion's form. While I was a student we had a class on "Queer Theory." It didn't save students from having their hearts broken. Maybe the problem was that it was too theoretical, but I think that's the bias of the place. Anyway, can you be more specific about what you want students to discuss?

  • At 11:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    AO wrote:

    To Anonymous who wants open discussion of "psychosexual issues": I'm having a hard time conceiving of that discussion's form. While I was a student we had a class on "Queer Theory." It didn't save students from having their hearts broken. Maybe the problem was that it was too theoretical, but I think that's the bias of the place. Anyway, can you be more specific about what you want students to discuss?

    Well, "Queer Theory" would be a good start...when I was there in the early 70's we had nothing like that. We had "Community and Authority in America," which was pretty good for general issues about living together in a "polity." We got to read and discuss Toqueville, the Transcendentalists, and all the other "theoretical" guys (my favorite was Henry Adams and his beguilingly goofy ideas about the social implications of the Second Law of Thermodynamics). What this had to say to guys who were trying to make the best of life in the desert was unclear, though it was certainly exciting. It was too "theoretical" and not very practical. I suspect that "Queer Theory" was just as interesting and just as impractical.

    BTW, I was at DS when Nixon resigned, facing impeachment. I remember sitting down to lunch in the BH one day when a classmate at my table blurted out "Did you hear that the President has resigned?" One of my classmates said, "No, why is that? I thought Jim [our SB President] was doing a really good job."

    What, exactly, is "Queer Theory."

  • At 10:04 AM, Blogger Antid Oto said…

    Ah. I see. Anonymous, there was relatively frank and open discussion of things gay while I was at DS (Solomon can feel free to disagree if he likes), which was why I had a hard time envisioning what a structured discussion would include. More evidence that the place is always in flux.

    Anyway, I don't remember all of the Queer Theory reading list, but I think it included:
    Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, The Epistemology of the Closet
    Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Part I
    Judith Butler, Gender Trouble
    Definitely some Freud
    Hmmmm...some other things...

  • At 11:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    This is in response to both Kyle’s observations and Oto’s response:

    I think the ‘bickering’ and the quibbling, the ‘unhappiness’ , the ‘tensions’--these are in some ways more acute at Deep Springs than in other places. (In some ways, I think, it is less acute--I remember the vastness of the desert swallowing up at least some of it.) But I think if we are honest, these are experiences we encounter wherever we are and whatever we are doing in life. The most amazing work--creating great art, political leadership, teaching in a school--all can descend away from their higher purpose.

    In contrast to this, one of the unique advantages of Deep Springs is its focused, idealistic mission: taking the responsibility for a working/learning community in the name of some day turning to a life of service. I always felt that, somehow, this greater mission of the college was something that we were all were invested in on some level, and it served as a reference point with which to continually push ourselves to rise above the pettiness and bickering, the banality and routine, with which we so easily fall into.

    In this respect, I think the college continues to serve as an idealistic reference point with which many of us alumni continue to gauge our life’s work, and strive to push ourselves out of the thickness we get stuck in, even if we never entirely escape.

  • At 1:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    AO wrote:
    Anyway, I don't remember all of the Queer Theory reading list, but I think it included:
    Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, The Epistemology of the Closet
    Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Part I
    Judith Butler, Gender Trouble
    Definitely some Freud
    Hmmmm...some other things...

    OK. Sounds pretty "theoretical," especially the Freud and Foucault... Probably a good place to start, but eventually the discussion would have to get "real and personal," i.e., practical. Take it out of the ivory tower and bring it down to the nitty-gritty of living together in that tiny community. It's one thing to talk about "queer theory" from the hyper-literary effete point of view of a Foucault or a non-effete hyperliterary but pig-heeadedly Mosaic Freud. It's another thing to let it all hang out and the public speaking program would offer a good forum for that to occur.

  • At 7:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    At the very least, Deep Springs get some publicity in a major publication. Be it unfair, inaccurate, or too caught up in aethetics, it can help draw a good pool of applicants by dint of being a non-trivial article with wide readership. I've had many friends and family notice the article before I ever heard of it!

    Aaron Dulles-Coelho '01, dulles@artifex.org

    ps: any readers here in Boston?

  • At 1:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Is this thread dead, defunct, finished, or just moribund?

  • At 1:45 PM, Blogger Antid Oto said…

    As of 12/08, it appears to be sleepy. But I at least still check it. If you have something to add, shoot.

  • At 11:42 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…


    First, this thread still gets a lot of daily views, probably because it's linked on Wikipedia. So feel free to continue posting your thoughts. They will be read.

    As far as DS being especially prone to bickering/constantly on the verge of self destruction, it's too bad that's the impression this thread is giving. My memory of DS is that we were a lot more devoted to the life of the mind than my classmates at university and grad school subsequently were. In many ways it was how I had fantasized college would be (impromptu Of Grammatology reading groups in the silo, all night conversations in which we resolved the great philosophical questions once and for all, etc). That's probably too romanticized, but I'm trying to balance the other, more negative comments.

  • At 11:44 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    Oh also, can I get a whatwhat for Ben Kunkel being a runner-up on Granta's list of the Best Young American Novelists of this decade?

  • At 8:48 PM, Blogger adigun said…

    testing...charlie abbott, ds84 here

  • At 9:59 PM, Blogger adigun said…

    ok, it's still me.

    Big shout out to Doug E. Fresh, DS85, who found this blog months ago and posted already. He also has his own awesome blog, "waking ambrose."

    more people will probably continue to discover this blog thread in the future, so it is probably not dead just yet. I just found it from the wikipedia page.

    = - = new subject = - =

    if anyone reading this is a potential applicant, or a parent, or faculty applicant, go see the place for yourself. Don't reply on blog discussion threads. The college will definitely point you toward people to talk to, and also arrange a visit.

    = - = new subject = - =

    The _New Yorker_ article didn't generate intense feelings for me either way.

    The letters to the editor which came from alumni and were printed in the next issue helped clarify the purpose of the place.

    Some of those letters succinctly stated things about the college and its mission that the original article largely omitted.

    So i wasn't intensely annoyed by the article--but i'm not convinced it fairly described the place and its issues and challenges and what the whole point is.

    = - = new subject = - =

    co-ed is a big issue to be sliced approached in a variety of ways.

    1. is it fair to exclude women?

    (deep springs is small enough that we're only excluding about 6 of them every year).

    2. would DS be a better institution if it were co-ed?

    This is a tougher question. it's also an empirical question that cannot be easily answered in theory, which is how most discussions tried to answer things when i was there.

    = - = new subject = - =

    how many other DS groups are there?

    1. Bruce H. had an ADSTA (Alumni of Deep Springs and Telluride) listserv. He still has the archives but seems leery about letting anyone see anything. Thus if you didn't save any of the posts before the list became inactive and was retired, anything that anyone ever said is probably in the memory hole. and who saves all their listserv mail from the early 1990s?

    2. After a bit of thought i just tracked down the yahoo groups and applied to join them. So I found 2 yahoo groups. is there anything else?

    3. Robert S (DS85) has expressed interest in starting something that would be a well-structured bulletin board / bbs with threads and topics and interest groups.

    As he and i conceive it, it would have to be vetted and blessed by the college and the SB--because it would be some official representation of the DS community. So far the DS administration hasn't seen the need to start any such thing, and Robert hasn't sold it real hard, and it's his baby not mine (though i see the need).

    ...so to my knowledge it's a non-starter at this point. But it would be a nice way to promote discussions and have them archived for the long term. Some could be private; some public.

    = - = new subject = - =

    the new yorker article asks, "so what great men has DS produced?" That raises a couple of issues.

    1. the unit cost of DS is pretty high. It probably costs about $50k a student a year to have someone attend. Much of that is just taking the operating costs and averaging it over the number of people in the SB. If you did real accounting and amortized the physical plant appropriately, the cost might be even higher.

    Same thing if you calculated the opportunity cost of having a dedicated endowment of about $10m to throw off money to support the place--the actual cost might be even higher.

    I'm not so worried about whether or not DS produces great men--I am a little concerned about the institution subsidizing middle class white boys to go off and do what they were probably going to do anywway.

    Because that $50k a year is a gift to the folks who go there. It's not a loan, and it's not means-tested. It just goes to whoever is admitted.

    (this is on my mind because for more than ten years i was involved in doing fundraising for DS84, and on a good year our class might have given $4,000, so it's my guess that most of us (at this rate) will never pay back the cost of what we got.

    that's ok. We're under no ethical or statutory obligation to donate. But believe you me, the college would probably have folded long ago were it not for fundraising (Bob Aird's name was the one who saved it as president/trustee if anyone did, said one person off the top of his head.).

    so students basically get a subvention for going there. Presumably they go off and lead lives of service.

    but we can't figure out what the real impact of DS is, because we don't have a control group. We would need to compare people who went to DS to people who could have gone and almost went (and could have gotten in) but didn't quite attend. then we could see if the "treatment" of two years at DS seems to make people different.

    A final point: LL Nunn said that if DS were successful, the model would be replicated again and again. Instead, we basically just have the original DS. My sense offhand is that it goes through cycles of decline and cycles of renewal/rebuilding.

    When i was there, it cost a lot of money to keep the Student Body living in what was not that far from squalor. When i left in 1986 we still had old Xerox PCs with the 8 inch "flying pizza" floppy disks. We didn't have enough labor to run the place. (most of the labor is to provide services for other inhabitants--bigger alfalfa outfits in Fishlake Valley can rely on about 3 people working fulltime and close up for winter if they have no animals.

    So i guess what i'm wondering is...at the level of individuals, how do we know we're leading lives of service? At the level of the institution, How do we know the place is making an impact.

    Nonetheless, it's a triumph just to have sustained the place to it's 90th year.

    and BTW, is anyone going to reunion?


  • At 1:45 PM, Blogger Sudy said…

    Solomon Grundy mentioned somewhere far up the thread that Deep Springs should radically push for diversity.

    From my personal, and admittedly extremely limited point of view as an international applicant (who has been accepted to the class of '07 (or is it '09)), I think the single sex policy might affect international and racial diversity as well as the obvious case of gender diversity.

    When I informed other people of my application to deep springs, it was not the farm work or the lack of academic options or even the isolation policy that bothered people: it was the fact it was single-sex. Many friends found the whole idea of the institution interesting, but couldn't understand why I would even consider a single sex school.

    I certainly believe, at least in my experience the place would have been far better recieved among others had it been a co-ed institution. Certain parts of the world are far less tolerant of homosexuals, at least implicitly, and the single sex policy would definitely turn away many potential applicants (Even now for me this is the main issue, although I still plan to attend). Although other people's opinions are not a critical factor, I would be lying if I said it was completely irrelevant, and I am sure this was, is and probably will be the case with applicants, and perhaps especially with international applicants who often apply to American universities in the hope of attending ivies or equally prestigious institutions

    Certainly, part of Deep Springs' uniqueness comes from its single sex policy, and perhaps the extremely self-selected applicant pool is even better due to this. However, a case must be argued for not being completely different just for the sake of being so. Excellent arguments have been put forward for the continuation of the policy, and as an outsider I shall not try to evaluate them without perspective. Still, DS is a massive risk - renouncing tried and tested formulas at other institutions is a huge decision to make. The single sex policy is definitely not attractive for me, a heterosexual, and possibly for many other applicants like me.

    I do not wish to make DS homogenous to other institutions - indeed the greatest appeal of the place was the promise of something totally different - but there are some aspects that actively work against some of the other goals of the institution, like diversity in this case. And I understand that there are limits to which these should be considered - the isolation policy is also unattractive to some, as is the prospect of labour or the heavy responsibility of self governance - and in my (humble and uninformed) opinion these should never be tampered with, but there are perhaps some policies that warrant a second look.

    In 1917, women in America, as well as the vast majority of the world had not even been granted the right to vote. Back then, all male instituitions were far more common than they are today. However, the world has changed and it appears DS is now only 1 of 4 all male institutions in america - perhaps DS should consider whether the merits of the single sex policy are still as applicable or relevant as they were 90 years ago, especially if diversity is valued and what I have described is not an exceptional case.

  • At 12:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I am aware that previous "high profile" profiles on DS have not had a significant influence on the number of applicants in that particular year, however, I am wondering if the New Yorker article did have an effect this year?

  • At 4:50 PM, Blogger adigun said…

    is this thread still alive and kicking?

  • At 3:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    In 1917, women in America, as well as the vast majority of the world had not even been granted the right to vote. Back then, all male instituitions were far more common than they are today.

    This argument has always bothered me because it seems to buy into some historically inaccurate assumptions. When I was a student at Deep Springs, a lot of guys argued that the college had been made unavailable to female students because the cultural and social norms, because of “the times.” They argued that surely single-sex education at DS was not a distinct choice; it was a cultural mandate at a time when sexual segregation was considered the norm. Now that society has shifted, it is, naturally, time for DS to do the same. Regardless of whether or not DS should go coed, that assumption, that DS's single sexness was just a byproduct of the times and not a carefully made decision seems to be rather dismissive to me.

    I had to dig through my bookshelves to find Bob Aird's book on DS in order to find this line:

    L.L. Nunn “chose Cornell, a coeducational school, over Harvard, which then still had an all-male student body, as the site for his secondary branch training center” (Aird, p.89, Deep Springs Book)

    Cornell has always been pretty different. In 1872, Cornell became the first major eastern institution to admit women with men (although the first female student started taking classes at Cornell in 1870, but there weren’t any dorms and girls had to hike up their skirts and climb the hill from town and so they quit school in the snowy Ithaca winters). Nonetheless, in 1872 there was a girl’s dorm and the school was legitimately coed. It soon became a pioneer in establishing financial aid specifically for women. By fall 1899, three hundred sixty-seven female students were enrolled in the university. By the 1890s there were several African American Cornellians. The first bachelor’s degrees to African American students at the university were awarded in 1897 and 1898. In 1906, Alpha Phi Alpha, the first national college fraternity for African Americans, was founded in Ithaca by seven Cornell students. Martha Van Rensselaer and Flora Rose were appointed full professors in the Department of Home Economics in 1911 (that’s the year Nunn made his final decision to establish Telluride at Cornell instead of Harvard).

    In 1910, out of the nation's 1,083 colleges 27 percent were exclusively for men, 15 percent exclusively for women, and the remaining 58 percent coed. The year I am interested in is 1911, but I couldn’t find those numbers. Let’s just assume that nothing too crazy happened between 1910 and 1911.

    So, Cornell is wild and innovative, although not too innovative given the fact that the University of Iowa was coed in 1855. And let’s not forget that Oberlin College (Nunn’s alma mater) was founded in 1833. Oberlin was the first college to accept both men and women in college courses along with people of different races. The point being that Cornell was the face of egalitarianism within the Ivy League and historians of higher education often call Cornell "the first truly American university.” Its "firsts" in coeducation, nonsectarianism, and combining liberal arts with the practical arts were way ahead of their time. That was clear in 1911. Just look at this history and know that that was clear in 1911 and then consider that Nunn chose to make to secondary branch at Cornell, instead of his other top-choice, Harvard, knowing the huge and unmistakeable difference between the two schools regarding coeducation.

    Yet Nunn made DS all male...

  • At 8:11 PM, Anonymous psherman888@msn.com said…

    hi, this is pete sherman. Yes, a regrettable article in the New Yorker (much gratuitous melodrama and intrique and ultimately missed the deeper point of the place). And, flawed journalism to boot.

    So, just to set the record straight, here is my misquote ("The students' fascination with the abstract is very boring. But as soon as the abstract grows concrete they grow bored." ) I credit her for snazzing up my statement, but what I said was, "The students' fascinations with the abstract have the potential to lead to an incomplete educational experience. But, as soon as the abstract grows concrete, they grow bored."

    Yes, perhaps this was rough criticism but, for the cohorts with whom I shared the valley, it was the way I saw things. Given the applied nature of my wife's (and my) field research with indigenous peoples in the tropics, by comparison, the students' interests tended towards the abstract. Not a problem, but only part of a comprehensive education. I wish she had gotten that straight.

    I do want to make one last clarification: After I left DS, I went to Costa Rica to conduct my field research. While there, I unexpectedly received an email (and then an arranged for a call) from a concerned trustee member. He asked me about the dean and what my opinions were about his taking on the presidency of the school. I told him that I only had a sample from one year, but, I agreed with every other faculty member teaching there at the time that David was consummate teacher for the deep springs experience but had many troubles managing his faculty. The faculty (although I was speaking for myself) felt that his methods were far too heavy handed. He found it interesting that a Princeton grad from the humanities, an Amish surrealist poet and an tropical field ecologist would each feel similarly. He expressed that the board had had many concerns of their own and thanked me for the frank and professional conversation. That was the last I ever spoke to anyone formally on the topic and the last I ever heard (directly) about the issue. Hardly "leading" a coup.

    DSers of that time must realize that many (all?) of the faculty at that time felt stifled academically and professionally. We each had a professional concern about how we were managed by the dean. DS is set up to provide students with maximum oversight and insight into the inner workings of the place. But the cold hard fact is that much goes on there that flies well under the student radar. One can argue the merits of such undercurrents within the DS environment but the fact remains.

    The other truth (for most or all of the faculty) was that it was a hard year for us professionally.

    DS is a strange enough transition for the average faculty member to make... but when we don't have the guidance and support of the administration, we are left, to a great degree, to stumble and learn for ourselves. I certainly stumbled more than others who were less strident and eager to dive in to the experiment as a participant (not just an observer) and I did get knocked around quite a bit as I had to squelch my over-eager nature. I learned a great deal from that... but I still feel that we could have been more welcomed and appreciated as a faculty... and little or no harm would have come from that professional graciousness.

    In summary, yes, I too balked when I saw that mis-quote. I felt rather inpotent and that I should just hunker down and wait for the storm to pass. The quote was both incorrect, and to add insult to injury, sloppy English. Additionally, I suspected that students of the time might feel that I played a stronger role than I did (or than any individual did) in the expression of concern RE the administration of the time.

    The trustees, doing their job of oversight, had recognized (by their own means) a problem with the administration of the school. They inquired, as they must do, into the opinions of the professors. We responded with honesty and discretion and that was the end of things (at least for me). The trustees ran that show.

    I hope this clears some things up. I continue to speak widely and positively about DS and the students who go there. I support deeply the mission, the experiment, the realities and dreams that are DS. I look back upon that time with appreciation for the chance to see experiential education in its most raw form. This wonderful DS example remains with me as a guide for every course I now create.

  • At 1:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Pete Sherman,

    Thanks for expressing your gripes about your experience as a teacher there. Your tone seems a bit grumpy...it seems you fell you are mistreated and not properly appreciated by the DS adsministration. What did the SB feel about this? Were they supportive of your purported problems?

    I ask this because when I was s student at DS we had a couple of professors who had, well, "problems" fitting into the program. One was a guy who came to teach math, was obviously brilliant, but was also obviously not well equipped to handle the rigors of teaching at DS...He might even have been mentally ill (not my opinion at the time, but I wonder now if that was not the case).

  • At 9:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    FOR: fearless comrade,

    I'd like to talk to you about the history of gay students at Deep Springs, coeducation, and my own experience as a current Deep Springer.

    if you are still reading this blog, please email me:

  • At 3:02 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    Just a note that as of January 28, 2009, this post is still getting a lot of page views a day. So feel free to continue commenting.

  • At 12:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Jack Newell has posted the readings for a course called Experiments in Education at MITOpenCourseWare, here:


    They include pdf's of a monograph on DS as well as other progressive schools, like Antioch and Evergreen.


    And for those who would rather see it than read about it, there's this:


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  • At 1:33 AM, Anonymous jersey shore full episodes said…

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