In 2014–2015, St. John’s College marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Santa Fe campus with a series of special events and programs. It was a bold and visionary move to establish the campus in the Southwest, to offer St. John’s distinctive and in many ways radical academic program to more students, and to demonstrate conclusively that the St. John’s program has no geographic or cultural bounds. The yearlong celebration honors a key turning point in the story of St. John’s College and its connection to Santa Fe and New Mexico. With its exceptional faculty, community programs, and over 1,200 alumni living in New Mexico, the college’s educational, cultural, and intellectual impact is integral to the character and history of our state.



In The News

Low Default Rate Shows Strength of St. John’s College

November 22nd, 2014

Reader View: Low default rate shows strength of St. John’s College

Posted: Saturday, November 22, 2014 7:00 pm

An article on student loan default rates (“New Mexico leads nation in student loan default rates,” Nov. 10), cited effects from the recession and a difficult job climate as the reason for New Mexico’s colleges and universities ranking the worst in the country at 20.8 percent. Despite these challenges, St. John’s College has the lowest default rate in the state — at 3.9 percent, we’re well below even the national average of 13.7 percent. Our low default rate is a great credit to our graduates and is an important consideration as we examine the actual cost of a St. John’s education and how our students go on to fare in the world.

At $47,176, the listed tuition at St. John’s College is higher than that of New Mexico’s state colleges and universities. However, this fact cannot be viewed in isolation, because almost 90 percent of St. John’s students receive grants from the college that substantially reduce their actual costs. In addition, more than 30 percent receive government Pell grants. St. John’s takes great care to ensure that students and their families understand their financial obligations through entrance and exit interviews with our financial aid office. More importantly, the success of our low default rate lies in our community’s deep understanding of the value of this education.

St. John’s low default rate raises once again the issue of the Legislature’s unwillingness to make lottery scholarships available to New Mexico students who attend St. John’s. Students from New Mexico are more likely to remain in the state after graduation and contribute to the well-being of New Mexico over a lifetime if they can afford a first-rate private education in their own state. An increasing number of New Mexico students are choosing St. John’s, and in recognition of the lack of lottery scholarships available to these students, the college created and funded the New Mexico Odyssey grant.

There are more than 1,000 alums living in Northern New Mexico, and the Odyssey grant provides increased aid to make a degree at St. John’s possible for more and more of New Mexico’s best and brightest to pursue the kind of first-class liberal education offered at our school. This makes our college, city and community stronger. The average aid package accounts for 71 percent of tuition. Odyssey grants reduce the students’ and their family’s cost of attendance considerably and make St. John’s College a viable option for a quality liberal arts education in New Mexico.

We are currently celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Santa Fe campus, and we could not be more proud of the impact the college has created in Santa Fe and New Mexico. With an estimated yearly economic impact of more than $21 million, the college is a stable contributing factor to the New Mexico economy. We recently held a conference on the state of liberal arts education, which brought together educators, scholars and authors from all over the world who look to St. John’s to lead the conversation on the future and viability of the liberal arts.

On the surface, a low student default rate is an undeniable positive for the college and for New Mexico. But it also speaks to broader questions of St. John’s accessibility and value. St. John’s is proud of its students, its graduates and its place in New Mexico higher education.

Mike Peters is president of St. John’s College, Santa Fe.

To iew this article in its original context click here.

Ivory Tower vs. Fordist Education

November 13th, 2014

Ivory Tower vs. Fordist Education

November 13, 2014

American higher education has been in a self-proclaimed crisis for the last five years, ever since MOOCs (massive open online courses) arose as a threat to the offline classroom at about the same time states imposed deep cuts in higher education budgets at many institutions. Along with rising college costs, the litany of doom and vitriol on either side of the debate has engaged in versions of the Ivory Tower vs. the Fordist education model. Andrew Rossi’s 2014 documentary, "Ivory Tower," looks at this debate from an economic perspective.Recently, the conference at St. John’s College, Santa Fe,“What is Liberal Education For?”, has indulged in some good old theory-bashing to call for a return to the Great Books curriculum. There are two aspects to this current “crisis”: first, that college is too expensive, and second, that humanities or traditional liberal education is not worth the high cost, since it doesn’t lead to good, paying jobs.

Yes, a college education has seen tuition increase exponentially. However, this trend has also gone hand-in-hand with a ballooning confidence in the value of a college degree. Before the last decade, colleges were never seen as the only route to a decent, paying job; just one among many. The death of our industrial base forced parents to see a college degree as the savior of the middle-class dream. Let us be clear: this shift was based on fear, not on evidence.

Colleges, especially, liberal arts colleges, have never been a seamless conduit to industry. That is a fallacy. Yes, college graduates have historically landed paying jobs, and are paid higher than those with high school diplomas. But this is not because they have been taught marketable skills at college. When only a small percentage of men went to college (yes, mostly they were mostly men), colleges were a great place to get to know people who might help you launch a career. In  the more elite colleges and universities, they still are. Often their liberal arts graduates got better-paid jobs because their jobs were not replicable and technological, unlike what is assumed today. They involved judgment, thought and decision-making that could not be reduced to a formula.


To a large degree, colleges still try to do that. But now they are told that this kind of education takes too long, or costs too much, or does not lead directly to jobs. Our enrollment offices are in a  frenzy about creating job preparing or “vocational” programs. This is puzzling. Why would anyone stay four years in college just to learn a vocational skill? Wouldn’t that be better taught in a shorter period on a shop floor or through a system of apprenticeship (or internship, as it is called now) or through tracking students towards vocational studies in middle school as they do in some European countries? Wouldn’t learning a trade be a more cost-effective investment?

Bashing liberal arts education is another manifestation of this unthinking criticism of universities. I work at a large, private university in the Midwest. This year, our career office tracked students in different colleges within the university for six months to see how they fared after graduation. To their surprise, they found that 88 percent of undergraduates in the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences were in jobs in their field or in graduate school six months after graduating. This compared to 87 percent in computer science and 87 percent in business. This tells me that employers are increasingly looking for skills that are strong in basic comprehension, writing, and communication.

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the top three qualities employers seek are the ability to 1. Make decisions and solve problems; 2. Verbally communicate with people inside and outside the organization and 3. Obtain and process information. Not everyone is looking for an engineer. Almost 47.9 percent of liberal arts majors were offered a full-time job in their first year of job-hunting, more than any other division. 

Could the responsibility for this rush to colleges and dissatisfaction with traditional liberal arts and sciences instead lie with our elementary and secondary schools? Unlike college, most parents have little to no choice in the types of schools their children attend. Schooling is free in the US, but free is not always good. In many American cities, schools have become de facto day care centers instead of places of learning. Their calendar, their timing, their curriculum has more to do with managing children than with educating them. Above all, each school district is dependent for most of its budget on local taxes, making schools good or bad depending on the neighborhood’s income and property taxes.

This determines the number of teachers they hire, the numbers in each classroom, the facilities, almost everything. While conservatives like Campbell Brown and Michelle Rhee blame teacher tenure, long-term studies, like the one by Sean F Reardon at Stanford, point to the discrepancy in funding and parental class background as reasons that  more profoundly determine a child’s social mobility.

If we want to really fix the links between education and earnings, we should go back to  the basics. Instead of No Child Left Behind, let us change how schools are funded so all schools and their pupils, have a more equal opportunity at learning well and learning often, at many levels. If schools remain poorly funded day cares, good at holding children in while their parents work, colleges will spend part of their four years fixing basic writing and math, and students will never get to enjoy the pleasures of thinking and developing ideas. As a result, they may get jobs, but they will find it harder and harder to have a meaningful career.

To read this article in its original context click here.

President to bid adieu with Shakespeare seminars

November 12th, 2014


SANTA FE – As he prepares to say goodbye to the mountains and forests surrounding his bucolic 250-acre Santa Fe campus for the hustle and bustle of New York City, Mike Peters, president of St. John’s College, is planning one final and noteworthy project: a seminar on Shakespearean dramas.

Mike Peters

After a decade at St. John’s – now celebrating its 50th year in Santa Fe – Peters will retire in June. His farewell seminar will begin this month – Friday and Saturday – and wrap up on Feb. 13 and 14. The subjects are the history plays “King Richard II,” “King Henry IV” Parts 1 and 2 and “King Henry V.”

Peters will lead all four sessions, William Shakespeare and history being two of his favorite subjects.

For Peters, 10 years in one location represents a long time. He is a West Point graduate and Army colonel who has called nearly 30 places home. Although he grew up mainly in suburban Washington, D.C., he spent two high school years in Turkey, where his father, also a military man, was stationed.

One of his early missions as an Army officer took him to Vietnam. What was most impressive, he says, “was the commitment of the soldiers to serve under those difficult circumstances.”

He was later assigned to the office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Adm. William Crowe during the Reagan years. Also in the 1980s, during the Cold War when Leonid Brezhnev was chairman of the Soviet Communist Party, he served as an attache at the U.S. embassy in Moscow. And he played a role in ousting Manuel Noriega, the Panamanian dictator, during the presidency of George H.W. Bush.

The three assignments provided an illuminating and first-hand look at how policy is made and implemented.

After retiring from the Army, Peters took a job in New York as chief operating officer and executive vice president of the Council on Foreign Relations. He worked there nine years. So, in some ways, moving to New York City will be like going home. He plans to renew his ties with the council, and – more importantly – the move will place him and his wife, Eleanor, closer to his mother and their two children and five grandchildren.

At St. John’s, Peters has overseen a multi-million-dollar building program. Levan Hall, home of the Graduate Institute, was constructed, as was the Winarski Student Center.

He was also largely responsible for the growing number of foreign students who come from about 20 different countries and comprise 17 percent of the student body. “There was just a handful when I arrived,” Peters notes. “They bring a sense of community and diversity to the campus.”

As a liberal arts college, St. John’s main focus is on the great books of the Western tradition. Even the foreign students – many from China and Nepal – are up to the challenge. “For the most part, they do it well,” Peters says.

As president, he helped students get financial aid through the lottery scholarship. He also oversaw the creation of:

⋄  Summer Academy – One-week sessions introducing high school juniors and seniors to the seminar style of teaching.

⋄  Music on the Hill – Six free concerts held every summer on the campus’s grassy outdoor stage.

⋄  President’s Council – A kitchen cabinet of advisers not on the board of directors.

Peters is a big man, easily 6-foot-4, perhaps taller. At 68, he appears to be in excellent shape and health. But being a college president demands a lot of focus and energy and now is the time to slow down. “There’s a time for everything,” he says. He looks to King Lear for guidance, calling it “a great play as you get a little older,” particularly the counsel on “giving up authority, too early – or too late.”

His favorite book is Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace,” a work that clearly falls in line with his Army background. He is, after all, a man who loves literature, foreign policy, the military and education. He cautions about blurring the lines between information and knowledge, a mistake policy makers sometimes make in their haste to produce college graduates.

As far as St. John’s is concerned, he says, neither Santa Fe nor New Mexico truly appreciate the treasure that the college is, an institution “that really enriches the human capital of the state.”

If you go:

What: Seminars on Shakespeare’s “King Richard II,” “King Henry IV” Parts 1 and 2, “King Henry V.”

Where: St. John’s College, 1160 Camino Cruz Blanca, Santa Fe.

When: Friday and Saturday; Feb. 13 and 14, 2015.

Cost: $125 for each two-day seminar. Free for high school students; half price for teachers.

Survey cites St. John’s liberal arts education

November 3rd, 2014

By Mike Bush; originally published in the Albuquerque Journal


A nonprofit educational organization released results of a survey of nearly 1,100 colleges and universities Wednesday that found that St. John’s College in Santa Fe is one of only 23 institutions of higher education in the country that meet requirements “essential” to a liberal arts education. The report by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni says its 2014-15 edition of What Will They Learn? “peels away reputation to assess what value students are actually getting from college.”

Six New Mexico schools are included in the findings, St. John’s and five publicly funded schools: the University of New Mexico – which immediately challenged some of the findings, New Mexico State University, Eastern NewMexico University, Western New Mexico University and New Mexico Highlands University. St. John’s, with campuses in Santa Fe and Annapolis, Md., was one of 23 schools to receive an A grade from ACTA for requiring at least six of seven essential liberal arts subjects: literature, composition, economics, math, intermediate-level foreign language, science, and American government/history. Of those, only composition is not required at St. John’s, according to the survey.

New Mexico State received a grade of C, while UNM and Eastern each were given a D. Highlands and Western both received F grades. In a point-by-point rebuttal, UNM Provost Chaouki Abdallah called into question some of the survey’s main assertions about his school.

UNM requires English composition courses for all students, he said. As for literature and history, “We have a humanities core requirement of a minimum of six hours that includes literature, foreign languages and history, but also philosophy, religious studies and American studies,” he said.

In economics, UNM has a social and behavioral sciences core requirement of a minimum of six hours in subjects such as anthropology, economics, linguistics, political science, psychology or sociology.

“ACTA has come up with a list of the specific courses that THEY believe are the essential ones for students to take, and they use narrow criteria to measure institutions,” Abdallah said in an email. “While not necessarily a bad selection, it is an incomplete one, as they leave out American studies, philosophy, political science, psychology, sociology, and so on.

“We offer a wider variety of required courses from a broader number of disciplines, require that students receive a broad general education, and focus on ensuring that students receive the critical information processing skills they’ll need to be successful. While at UNM we monitor how we place in a particular survey, we believe that our core education requirements are exactly what is needed for a public research institution’s education. We continue to monitor and adjust such requirements as well as the learning outcomes of courses.”

The survey pointed out that St. John’s tuition is $46,286 a year, much higher than any of New Mexico’s public universities, which ranged from a low of $4,000 at Highlands to $6,846 at UNM per year. There was also a big difference in the schools’ four-year graduation rates.St. John’s is 45 percent, according to the survey, while the public schools range from 9 percent at Highlands to 16 percent at NMSU.

“Too many college rating systems rely on largely extraneous measures like alumni giving or selectivity to determine which colleges top their list,” said Anne D. Neal, ACTA president. “What Will They Learn? looks at the most important data – the strength of a college’s education – to find out which institutions are delivering the tools students will need to succeed in career and community.”

According to the ACTA survey, most students graduate from college without exposure to such fundamental courses as American history, basic economics or literature.

Abdallah cautioned against “using one survey or metric to evaluate a college education.” He noted that several highly regarded universities fared poorly in the survey.

(This article was originally published in the Albuquerque Journal.)

Long live Great Books Education — Great Books

October 23rd, 2014

By Alex Beam



I am here for a conference celebrating the 50th anniversary of St. John’s College, one of the few institutions of higher learning in America that I like. And they like me! I praised St. John’s and its regimented, we-read-Aristotle-in-Greek-and-you-should-too curriculum in a book I wrote a few years ago.

The “Johnnies,” as the graduates call themselves, emerge from college ferociously well-educated and not devoid of quirks. At their Annapolis, Md., campus, coxswains have been known to shout orders to the crew team in Greek. At Santa Fe, I found myself staring at an odd little booth, labeled “Telephon” — in Greek characters, of course.

On Facebook, that aspirational netherworld of happy kittens and supportive “friends,” I list myself as a St. John’s graduate. A man can dream, can’t he?

The so-called Great Books curriculum has traveled a sinuous path since the 1930s, when the Laurel-and-Hardy duo of University of Chicago president Robert Maynard Hutchins and his gnomish sidekick Mortimer Adler (“How to Read a Book”) foisted their educational plan on undergrads. Great Books reading groups were briefly modish. Adler and Hutchins famously led a discussion of Plato’s “Apology” before an audience of 1,500 businessmen, labor leaders, and ordinary folks at Chicago’s Orchestra Hall.

The annoying, brilliant Adler used to show up at the St. John’s campuses well into the 1960s, inveighing against cultural diversity and intellectual relativism, and defending the handiwork of the out-of-favor dead white men who created the Western canon.

The Great Books education has been floundering for decades. Almost every American high school graduate would rather attend a third-tier liberal arts college than wrestle with Anselm’s “Proslogion” — that’s what St. John’s sophomores will be discussing on Dec. 1 — at a college that offers almost no elective courses.

St. John’s experiences every problem faced by US liberal arts colleges, only more so. And it created its own problem: The classes are hard. Freshman washout rates have traditionally been much higher there than at name-brand colleges that socially promote half-literate dipsticks up to graduation.

Bereft of a large applicant pool and perennially strapped for cash, St. John’s and the Great Books soldier on. Once the favored curriculum of conservative culture warriors such as William Bennett and Allan Bloom, the mossback reading list finds itself on the educational sidelines yet again.

When I asked a group of academics at the St. John’s conference if conservative ideologues had taken the Great Books hostage, they scoffed. The liberal arts tradition is “thoroughly radical and skeptical of orthodoxy,” Rhodes College professor Dan Cullen answered. “It can’t work out well for conservatives in the long run.”

Adler’s biographer Tim Lacy agrees. “Conservatives no longer champion the Great Books idea as a solution to problems in higher education,” he wrote in an e-mail. “That curriculum isn’t front and center now. Today the discussion is about lowering cost, disrupting the entrenched education establishment, and promoting basic skills, via the Common Core, for the workplace.”

The Great Books are finished . . . or are they? In 2010, the California-based C.S. Lewis Foundation purchased some of the Northfield-Mt. Hermon campus in central Massachusetts, planning to launch a Great Books college in 2012. “We are going to follow the St. John’s model of Socratic pedagogy,” a Narnia gang member told the Globe. “This is about renewal of the civilization for years and years to come.’’

Obviously they are behind schedule, and they didn’t respond to my inquiries. According to their website, the college remains “in the early stages of fund-raising, state filing, and renovating the campus.”

The Great Books are dead — long live the Great Books!


Alex Beam’s column appears regularly in the Globe. He can be reached at alexbeam(at)hotmail.com.

To read this article in its original context click here.

“Less a Murder than a Suicide”

October 22nd, 2014

By Avi Snyder

Doing Themselves In?

October 20th, 2014



By Colleen Flaherty


SANTA FE – Part celebration, part intervention, a conference on the future of the liberal arts at St. John’s College last week offered high praise and harsh advice for an embattled tradition. Speakers on Friday said that while the future of the democracy depends on a broadly educated public, advocates need to return to a less politicized, more siloed vision of the liberal arts for them to survive.

The biggest wake-up call came from John Agresto, past president of St. John’s College in Santa Fe and former deputy chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities. (St. John's in Santa Fe, which celebrated its 50th anniversary by hosting the “What Is a Liberal Education For?” conference, has an older campus in Annapolis, Md.) Quoting worrisome statistics about the humanities today – English, long a go-to concentration, now accounts for just 3 percent of majorsnationwide, for example – Agresto said the liberal arts are “dying.”

But, he said, taking a different tone from speakers earlier in the conference – many of whom focused on defending the humanities to detractors – the death may be “less a murder than a suicide.”

‘More Critical Than Thoughtful’

Agresto said that much humanities instruction has been co-opted by hyperspecialization and especially by critical theory. He said overly-critical approaches at once demean the subject matter and limit students’ free inquiry. For example, he said, when professors portray the founding fathers as mere “white racists,” no student or parent “in their right mind” would pay $50,000 a year to study them.

To save the humanities, professors must value opening up students’ minds over “preaching and converting," he said. That means returning to an older mode of instruction, and instilling critical thinking skills. It means getting students to ask questions and helping them see the “variety” of answers – not leading them to a specific point of view, he added.

In the past and at their best, the liberal arts were a “gift” given to everyone, Agresto said. “It didn’t matter that Dante and Homer were dead white males,” and keeping Shakespeare alive wasn’t an “ethnocentric act.”

Eva Brann, St. John’s longest-serving faculty member, or “tutor,” also criticized what she called a “premasticated” mode of instruction. She said the most important feature of a true liberal arts education is “immediacy.” She defined that in multiple ways, including an unmediated mode of instruction in which students approach texts as they are. That’s the pedagogical approach at St. John’s, which follows a Great Books curriculum and is by design largely free of critical theory. Students graduate with liberal arts degrees only.

“I do think, tiny as we are, we’re helping to repair a more global loss,” of classic liberal arts instruction, Brann said, in which “a cat may look at a king.”

It wasn’t just St. John’s scholars who criticized the turn many humanities programs have taken in recent decades. In a speech called “Does Liberal Education Have a Future?,” Andrew Delbanco, director of American studies and Julian Clarence Levi Professor in the Humanities at Columbia University, said that humanities departments need to be less concerned about staking a piece of any core curriculum and about numbers of majors than about whether, say, engineering students are still exposed to the humanities in meaningful ways.

“The issue is not whether they’re concentrating in [the liberal arts],” he said. “It’s whether they’re reading books and having productive conversations and looking at the world.”

Delbanco also criticized efforts to defend the liberal arts that perpetuate a sense that they are the domain of the elite. Still, Delbanco said, “You cannot explain the value of a liberal education to those who have not had one.”

Several audience members took issue with that statement. Victoria Mora, vice president of advancement at St. John’s in Santa Fe, asked whether Delbanco really wanted to “stand by” the idea that the value of the liberal arts can’t be effectively argued. And S. Georgia Nugent, former president of Kenyon College and a senior fellow at the Council of Independent Colleges, asked how the value and lessons of the liberal arts could be missed by so many legislators who have traditionally received liberal educations.

Delbanco said those who had liberal educations but did not reap the benefits were probably just “going through the motions” and “didn’t really get it.” And the only true defense of such an education is to “bear witness” to its value, including through personal and professional success, he said.

Praise for the Liberal Arts

While speakers prescribed strong medicine for the liberal arts Friday, they offered at least an equal dosage of praise. One panel in particular focused on a common defense of the liberal arts: that they’re essential to democracy.

Wilfred McClay, G.T. and Libby Blankenship Chair in the History of Liberty at the University of Oklahoma and a St. John’s alum, said that the mark of genuine liberal education is that it aims to “instill a pair of paradoxical qualities”: the capacities for both “inquiry” and “membership.”

He drew on Plato’s allegory of the cave to show how liberal education can reveal that the shadows of reality are in fact shadows. But while in Plato’s vision those who had seen the light could never return to the cave for fear of being killed, McClay said, “reality is never so extreme as that.”

A liberal education isn’t just about the “pain” of discovery, McClay, continued, but also about what the historian and theologian Jaroslav Pelikan called “the vindication of tradition," or Ralph Waldo Emerson’s notion of heritage as a “task.” So a liberal education helps members of a society see where they want to go based on where they have been.

McClay said it was ironic that at the most prosperous moment in human history, in which the average citizen enjoys a standard of living that would have been the “envy of kings and queens in ages past,” there are so many calls to abandon “the highest and best kind of education,” because we can no longer afford it.

“Can we hear how absurd it sounds for us to be saying such things?” he asked.

Delbanco agreed that the liberal arts play an important role in shaping a democracy, saying that the discourse on such important issues as gun control, abortion and health care is currently “low.”

Daniel Cullen, associate professor of political philosophy and humanities and co-director of the Project for the Study of Liberal Democracy at Rhodes College, took a different route to the same point. He adopted a more de Tocqueville-like argument, saying that liberal education might best serve democracy “indirectly,” by protecting against some of its more homogenizing “tendencies” -- namely materialism and utilitarianism.

The “spirit” of liberal education is “countercultural," Cullen said. That's especially true in a “hyperutilitarian society like our own,” where the value of things is measured by how they may be bent to “immediate use," he added.

David Carl, director St. John’s Graduate Institute, said midcareer professionals, such as high school teachers, are returning to study the liberal arts at St. John’s because they feel they’ve missed out on a deeper educational experience. While they may have initially sought undergraduate training for their “first job,” he said these post-graduate students feel they’ve missed out on a formative experience, and want to study in a way that trains them for “a career.”

St. John’s recently announced that it will offer a short, Great Books-inspired science education program for post-graduates. Peter Pesic, another faculty member at St. John’s in Santa Fe who is a physicist, historian and musician, said the liberal arts aren’t just about the humanities. Other speakers pointed this out over the course of the conference, with some suggesting that taking a more liberal arts-centered approach to science instruction would free scientists to pursue more creative, meaningful work.

Quoting Baudelaire, Pesic said that “genius is childhood recovered at will.” He said that many students are drawn to study the natural world by “wonder” but grow disenchanted with science and math in particular as early as elementary school because they sense the material's “deep philosophic origins," which are largely ignored. 

Those subjects are difficult, he said. But what a good liberal education seeks to do is draw students in with wonder while giving them the courage to “pay the price” of discovery, withstanding the difficulty.

In that sense, Pesic said he hoped St. John’s has achieved “a school of genius.”


To read this article in its original context click here.

Looking back on 50 years, St. John’s conference explores value of a liberal education

October 18th, 2014

Posted: Wednesday, October 15, 2014 9:00 pm | Updated: 9:46 am, Sat Oct 18, 2014.

REPT-35-dedication_web_2.jpgJoey Leakakos, 30, said after he graduates from St. John’s College in Santa Fe next spring, he may become a social worker or a psychologist. It’s also possible he will be a teacher. If you ask him in two more weeks, he may tell you he plans to work on a huge mathematical thesis to help build his reputation. He feels he has a lot of options. One thing he’s not worried about is landing a job.

But his parents have told him they wonder if the annual $44,000 tuition for a liberal arts bachelor’s degree will pay off when it comes to finding steady employment. And no wonder. In May, a survey by the research and consulting firm Millennial Branding and the career advisory website Beyond.com reported that just 2 percent of companies are recruiting college graduates with liberal arts degrees.

St. John’s College President Michael Peters said he believes such reports focus “too narrowly on the worth of a liberal education.” He said the question of how to value a liberal education has become diluted and criticized and needs to be addressed.

Hence, the institute is hosting, “What Is Liberal Education For?” The three-day lineup of seminars and discussions will focus on the history, purpose and challenges facing liberal arts colleges. The conference runs from Thursday through Saturday on St. John’s Santa Fe campus. About 70 presenters will offer close to 30 different panel discussions covering everything from a Socratic education to the importance of liberal education in sustaining American democracy.

Among the offerings is Columbia University professor and author Andrew Delbanco’s discussion, “Does Liberal Education Have a Future?” at 12:25 p.m. Friday and a group panel talk, “The Value of Liberal Education as Experienced Today,” at 8:45 a.m. Saturday.

St. John’s Dean Walter Sterling, who helped organize the conference, said traditional liberal arts colleges are all asking the same questions regarding the economic, demographic, cultural and technological changes sweeping through their campuses.

“We are all on a ship out here in storm-tossed seas,” he said. “People who are committed to keeping liberal arts central to their institution are fighting for the core texts, for Great Books classes to survive, for departments and programs to survive. There’s a lot of shared anxiety and shared commitment in the face of those challenges.”

For St. John’s, specific challenges include rising tuition costs and declining applicant pools, as well as fear that the schools do not prepare students for a career.

The easy access to technology isn’t helpful either, Sterling said. “Who is going to argue that the Internet has not replaced the need for thoughtful citizens with a sense of equanimity and spirit and learning, and the ability to present arguments?”

St. John’s College, founded in Annapolis, Md., in 1696 as a prep school and transformed to a collegiate school in 1784, opened its Santa Fe campus in 1964 with a curriculum based on St. John’s nearly 30-year-old Great Books Program. Centered on 130 classic books covering theology, history, philosophy, economics, political theory and natural science, the program still drives the school’s Socratic seminar-style discussions between students and professors.

Liberal education advocates argue that such an education creates great thinkers who question who we are as a race and our place in the world. Those graduates can adapt to almost any work environment as a result, advocates say.

Jennifer Hobson-Hinsley, a 2004 graduate of the Santa Fe campus and owner and president of JHL Media in Santa Fe, said she looks back now and realizes what a good fit that education was for running a business driven by communication skills. She said she never worried about finding a job and has made her own career.

She said her education there “fostered the lifelong love of learning. That is so valuable that it can fuel almost any career path.”

And there is some good news: In January, the Association of American Colleges and Universities and the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems released a report saying that over time, liberal arts majors have long-term career success and earn about $2,000 more per year than graduates in specific professional fields.

But, that report notes, engineering and STEM-related graduates still earn more. (STEM refers to fields in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.)

Jon Hunner, a 1974 St. John’s graduate who works as interim director for the New Mexico History Museum at the Palace of the Governors, said specialized degrees may only pay off in the short run. “Long term, how do you deal with changes 10, 20, 30 years from now?” he said. “If you can’t think for yourself, you will be shortchanged in the future.”

He never worried about landing a job 40 years ago. “I didn’t think, ‘There’s no jobs for philosophers,’ ” he said.

Though the St. John’s conference is aimed at academicians and students, the general public can attend the panel talks and discussions for $20. That does not buy entry into receptions or lunches, however, which required pre-registration.

Visist www.sjc.edu and click on “programs and events” for more information.

Contact Robert Nott at 986-3021 or rnott(at)sfnewmexican.com.

Survey Cites St. John’s Liberal Arts Education; UNM challenges D grade

October 17th, 2014

By Mike Bush / Journal Staff Writer
PUBLISHED: Friday, October 17, 2014 at 12:05 am

A nonprofit educational organization released results of a survey of nearly 1,100 colleges and universities Wednesday that found that St. John’s College in Santa Fe is one of only 23 institutions of higher education in the country that meet requirements “essential” to a liberal arts education.

The report by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni says its 2014-15 edition of What Will They Learn? “peels away reputation to assess what value students are actually getting from college.”

Six New Mexico schools are included in the findings, St. John’s and five publicly funded schools: the University of New Mexico – which immediately challenged some of the findings, New Mexico State University, Eastern New Mexico University, Western New Mexico University and New Mexico Highlands University.

St. John’s, with campuses in Santa Fe and Annapolis, Md., was one of 23 schools to receive an A grade from ACTA for requiring at least six of seven essential liberal arts subjects: literature, composition, economics, math, intermediate-level foreign language, science, and American government/history. Of those, only composition is not required at St. John’s, according to the survey.

New Mexico State received a grade of C, while UNM and Eastern each were given a D. Highlands and Western both received F grades. In a point-by-point rebuttal, UNM Provost Chaouki Abdallah called into question some of the survey’s main assertions about his school.

UNM requires English composition courses for all students, he said. As for literature and history, “We have a humanities core requirement of a minimum of six hours that includes literature, foreign languages and history, but also philosophy, religious studies and American studies,” he said.

In economics, UNM has a social and behavioral sciences core requirement of a minimum of six hours in subjects such as anthropology, economics, linguistics, political science, psychology or sociology.

“ACTA has come up with a list of the specific courses that THEY believe are the essential ones for students to take, and they use narrow criteria to measure institutions,” Abdallah said in an email. “While not necessarily a bad selection, it is an incomplete one, as they leave out American studies, philosophy, political science, psychology, sociology, and so on.

“We offer a wider variety of required courses from a broader number of disciplines, require that students receive a broad general education, and focus on ensuring that students receive the critical information processing skills they’ll need to be successful. While at UNM we monitor how we place in a particular survey, we believe that our core education requirements are exactly what is needed for a public research institution’s education. We continue to monitor and adjust such requirements as well as the learning outcomes of courses.”

The survey pointed out that St. John’s tuition is $46,286 a year, much higher than any of New Mexico’s public universities, which ranged from a low of $4,000 at Highlands to $6,846 at UNM per year. There was also a big difference in the schools’ four-year graduation rates.

St. John’s is 45 percent, according to the survey, while the public schools range from 9 percent at Highlands to 16 percent at NMSU.

“Too many college rating systems rely on largely extraneous measures like alumni giving or selectivity to determine which colleges top their list,” said Anne D. Neal, ACTA president. “What Will They Learn? looks at the most important data – the strength of a college’s education – to find out which institutions are delivering the tools students will need to succeed in career and community.”

According to the ACTA survey, most students graduate from college without exposure to such fundamental courses as American history, basic economics or literature.

Abdallah cautioned against “using one survey or metric to evaluate a college education.” He noted that several highly regarded universities fared poorly in the survey.


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The Reluctant Pragmatist

October 17th, 2014



Giovanni di Ser Giovanni Guidi's "Lo Scheggia" (The Seven Liberal Arts) - (WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)


By Colleen Flaherty

SANTA FE – The liberal arts have long been subject to criticism and even ridicule from those who don’t see their immediate value; the debate over utilitarian versus broad education is ancient. But there’s something particularly pernicious about the current climate, it seems, with threats to funding models for such programs in some states, for example.

So how do advocates respond? Do they continue to extol the intrinsic virtues of the liberal arts or do they adopt the opposition’s rhetoric, making a case for their usefulness?

Is that dichotomy even valid?

These questions are at the heart of a conference here this week called “What is Liberal Education For?” St. John’s College is hosting the gathering to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its Santa Fe campus (its original campus is in Annapolis, Md.), but the topic is as timely as it is perennial. The last 18 months have seen blows to the liberal arts (President Obama knocking art history majors, for example), but also high-profile calls for public and private reinvestment in them, namely the American Academy of Arts and Sciences' “The Heart of the Matter” report.

In a session Thursday called “Liberal Education: Changing Conversations,” St. John’s faculty, along with alumni and outside academics, discussed the ongoing challenges to the liberal arts, and each made a case for their value.

Kathleen Longwaters, a Ph.D. candidate in Asian cultures and languages at the University of Texas at Austin who previously worked in medical research, for example, found previously unnoted parallels between “The Misery and Splendor of Translation” by the Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset and Plato’s Meno. While Plato asks if virtue can be taught, she said, Ortega y Gasset asks if anything can be translated. Although they were written millennia apart, the structural similarities between the two works are striking, Longwaters said. But they’re easily missed by one taking a “narrow, discipline-bound view,” reading each as an independent, original work.

More broadly, Longwaters argued, the liberal arts encourage making connections across time and disciplines – the kinds of connections needed for real “understanding” to occur. She said the liberal arts provide a “historical consciousness” revealing one crucial fact: “that we do not know all that we think we do.”

Barbara McClay, associate editor of The Hedgehog Review, which is affiliated with the University of Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, graduated from St. John’s Annapolis campus in 2012. She said that a broad education – even in a “specialized age” – liberates people from the kind of abject utilitarianism of Adam Smith’s pin factory, described inWealth of Nations. And even Adam Smith had mixed feelings about such specialized work, she said, noting that he elsewhere acknowledges that unchecked division of labor makes humans “monsters.”

In short, McClay said, pin factories may be good for the market, but they’re bad for people. A liberal arts education, however, offers some respite by allowing “a person to exist outside of his or her particular job.” That’s important because “most of human life isn’t lived for work,” she said. “Most human questions aren’t work-related.”

Longwaters supported that claim, saying that the liberal arts provide important ethical training. She linked the importance of ethical reasoning skills to the recent news that a health care worker in Texas traveled on a commercial airliner soon after she had cared for a patient with the Ebola virus. The nurse did not know she was infected with the disease at the time, but later tested positive.

But the most interesting and controversial case for the liberal arts came from Rob Goodman, a Ph.D. candidate in political theory at Columbia University. In a speech called “Metaphor and Innovation: A (Reluctantly) Instrumental Case for the Liberal Arts,” Goodman said he disliked having to adopt a utilitarian view of broad education. But he said it might be necessary to beat “instrumentalist” critics of the liberal arts at their own game – or at least in their own language.

“At this cultural moment the idea of ‘uselessness’ is inspiring a lot of anger in a lot of people, and it’s important to explore why,” he said.

Goodman, who is writing a book on Claude Shannon, known as the father of information theory, said the key to bridging the gap between the two camps might be to show that “useful” work is often rooted in the kind of critical thinking that happens at colleges such as St. John’s. The small, private college in Santa Fe's foothills has a set Great Books-oriented undergraduate curriculum -- no real electives -- that's heavy on math and science, as well as the humanities and social sciences. It offers liberal arts degrees only.

"When a technological innovation enters the world, it enters the world wrapped in metaphor,” Goodman said, noting that the original desktop computer was designed to resemble an actual desktop, right down to the “files” and “trash can,” for user-friendliness. That reliance on metaphors can be a good thing, he said. But metaphors left unexamined also can constrain innovation. He noted the failed “Magic Cap” operating system that took the desktop notion “too literally,” requiring many more steps than were necessary to accomplish simple tasks, all to keep with the original metaphor.

Goodman said he didn’t want to base his argument entirely on technology, or suggest “that the iPhone is the height or pinnacle of civilization." But, he continued, “My point is that [deconstructing] metaphors is a cognitively demanding task,” which takes “a lot of critical thought.”

Several audience members, including Victoria Mora, vice president for advancement at St. John’s in Santa Fe, appreciated Goodman’s argument. But they said it seemed to subscribe somehow to the argument that the liberal arts aren’t useful in and of themselves. Instead of “reluctantly” making the case for the liberal arts, Mora said, more advocates should be “shamelessly” declaring their utility.

“The liberal arts are in no way incompatible with a life and work that is satisfying and productive,” she said.

More shameless than reluctant, Colin Willis, a senior at St. John’s, said he felt wholly prepared to do whatever he wants upon graduation. (At the moment it's medical school.)

He, too, suggested that advocates for the liberal arts “bring back together” the notions of broad education and useful education, arguing that they’re not wholly separate endeavors.

“After four years here maybe I don’t know how to build an airplane, but I feel like I can jump in with both feet,” he said. “I may not be able to do it [technically yet] but I don’t feel like I’m doing something totally abstract here at St. John’s, either.”


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St. John’s Presents the Book as Art

October 8th, 2014

By Jackie Jadrnak / Journal North Reporter


You’ve got to admire the symmetry: the college that studies the Great Books is having an art exhibit on … wait for it … books.

“What Is a Book? The History of the Book” will have a public reception 5-7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 10, at the St. John’s College Gallery on the second floor of Peterson Student Center.book.jpg

The exhibit goes on display today, Oct. 8, from 3-7p.m. and also can be seen Thursday, Oct. 9, 5-7 p.m., and Saturday, Oct. 11, noon-4 p.m.

St. John’s student Caitlin O’Brien, along with local artists Marilyn Chambers, Marina Brownlow and Patricia Pearce are featured in the exhibition, which looks at books and book-binding as an art form — and sometimes a visual commentary.

In putting together the exhibit, St. John’s senior O’Brien said she learned this: “The book is a complicated form that has metamorphosed over the centuries, influencing what a person thinks about the contents and reflecting the people who made it.”

She said she plans to move on to a fine binding and conservation program at North Bennet Street School in Boston.

Sadly for those who love paper, with the proliferation of online publishing, books someday may exist only as art forms and cultural artifacts.


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Can We Talk?

October 1st, 2014

By Mary-Charlotte Domandi | Photography by Minesh Bacrania

v3-mary-charlotte.jpgI am the daughter of two college professors and grew up in a house full of books, but I was not good at academics. At my Ivy League school, I felt like an outsider, a confused teenager who couldn't learn Middle English or think of anything clever to say about Rembrandt in classrooms full of competitive egos. I longed for something I couldn't name, a kind of humble inquiry into big, basic questions like human nature, the existence (or not) of God, the mystery of beauty. I wanted to make sense of the world around me, to learn to be a better and wiser person. Yale wasn't really set up for that. At graduation I felt like a failure.

But I also felt liberated. Now gloriously free from having to write papers, I immersed myself in movies, art, theater, music, and books. I got high-powered jobs, bought nice clothes, envisioned being a success, wondered what that meant.

Then I visited New Mexico. The vast desert grew sparse vegetation, much of it a pale green that instantly became my favorite color. These modest, tough plants seemed like words to me; they spoke with a spare elegance, in contrast to the opulent green verbosity of the East Coast. I spent my two weeks here watching the horizon, feeling the wind, hearing the rush of a forest stream, seeing the stark formations and colors of the earth. I slowed down and started listening. I realized I was tired of the questions running through my head: How can I be more productive? What is my ideal career? Do I look good? It was all about me, and I was boring, even to myself. The big city seemed rather full of itself, too. I started dreaming up ways to get out.

My escape turned out to be the Graduate Institute summer program at St. John's College in Santa Fe. In my late twenties, I was ready to enter the classroom again.

The course of study at St. John's is based on the Great Books—a list of titles that are considered the basis of Western thought. Yet despite the classical readings, there is a freedom from traditional academia there. The St. John's method is grounded in questions, and the conversations to which they lead. Every seminar began with an "opening question" posed by the tutor (they're not called professors), based on an assigned text. At its best, the process was breathtaking. The tutor rarely gave us answers; rather, we were led to think aloud and try to understand the thinker at hand. One student would reach his or her intellectual limit, then someone else would take it a step further, and by the end we'd discovered a depth and complexity far richer than we could have imagined when the original question was posed. The texts were like seeds; conversation let them grow and flower. Week after week we explored things like What is Good? What is Love? What is Justice? Are human beings inherently good or bad? What is the fairest form of government? What is Freedom, and what are the limits of individual rights? What is Technology, and what are its benefits and drawbacks? I felt as if I were part of a community of monastic scholars, secluded from the busy world, sleeping in a little white room, discussing classical texts over dinner. I read on the top of the mountain next to the campus, where the silence was broken only by the wind through the piñon trees and the skittering of lizards—which somehow helped me to comprehend Aristotle and Heidegger.

Seen by some as an elite institution on the hill, St. John's College, which is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its Santa Fe campus this year, actually has a populist lineage. The idea of a Great Books curriculum was popularized in the 20th century by philosophers and educators like Mortimer Adler, who strove to bring philosophy to ordinary people, reasoning that the best education for the elite is the best education for everybody. This tradition is very much alive at St. John's and particularly the Graduate Institute, which confers a master's degree after four eight-week summer sessions. My fellow students included not just recent college graduates but teachers, business people, housewives, retired people, and a Catholic monk. In seminar everyone is equal, addressed as Mr. or Ms., and inevitably they become better readers, listeners, speakers; they become more receptive, and sometimes even more humble.

After that first summer at St. John's, I was done with the big city. The following spring I packed up my little car and moved to New Mexico for good. While Santa Fe has a reputation for being full of spiritual seekers, I was more of an all-purpose seeker. I had abandoned not only academia, but the urban definitions of success—money, material possessions, power. I wanted just enough of those things to stay afloat, no more; instead my goal was to figure out how I could explore ideas, be of service, and be happy at the same time.

Eventually I found a way to do that. It turns out that a St. John's education is excellent vocational training if you're going to be a radio talk show host. For the past decade I've produced and hosted a daily talk show, the Santa Fe Radio Café, on Santa Fe Public Radio KSFR, on which I interview anyone I want on any subject—arts, politics, science, local events. (The show has its name because I actually broadcast during breakfast from a lively café, the Santa Fe Baking Company.) What I found by doing this is that Santa Fe is one of the best places on the face of the earth for conversation of the kind St. John's taught me to love. And that is partly because the city is full of institutions that make this town an intellectual mecca.

One of these is the Santa Fe Institute. An independent science research institute founded by Los Alamos scientists and other luminaries like Nobel Prize–winning physicist Murray Gell-Mann (who, among other things, discovered the quark), SFI takes a multidisciplinary approach to research. This is unusual in science, which has tended toward ever greater specialization. I happen to love science, but I am also driven bananas on a regular basis by the fact that a lot of it is not accessible to ordinary people. That is partly because each sub-discipline has its own dialect that even scientists in other fields cannot understand, much less the general public. At SFI, economists, biologists, archaeologists, and physicists all not only talk to one another but actually collaborate, which means they have to be able to think and speak and work across disciplines. Which also means that most of them are amazing on the radio.

SFI has pioneered work in an area sometimes called "complexity science," a multi-disciplinary approach to questions about how individuals and the systems they are part of interact and affect one another—whether that system is an algae colony or a metropolis. One early project included a collaboration among economists, computer scientists, and mathematicians working together to make a computer model of a stock market, to see if they could detect patterns that would predict a crash. Other projects involve making models of the immune system, of traffic and crowds, of ant colonies, of marine food webs. Amazingly, all these systems have something in common: discernible and predictable mathematical patterns. But why? How do ants or proteins or white blood cells make decisions, and how are they all related? Apparently no one really knows, but at SFI some of the best minds in the world are working on these questions. And so many other questions, like: How does a principle as simple as natural selection give rise to the incredible complexity and variety of species on this earth? Why is it that while countries (and companies) arise and vanish, cities solidly endure, often for millennia? What is a computer-based social network, and how is it like—and unlike—a society? How can epidemics and financial crises and climate catastrophes and wars be averted?

Luckily for us, SFI has a series of free public programs in which speakers talk about all this and more—to overflowing houses. The intellectual hunger is palpable. After every talk, there are Q&A sessions where I've heard scientists field questions they'd never been asked before, that they themselves had never thought of.

If SFI is intellectual Santa Fe's brain, then its soul is the Lannan Foundation. Founded by businessman Patrick Lannan Sr., who had a deep love of art and poetry, the Lannan Foundation moved to Santa Fe in 1997, after its cultural programs expanded to include a focus on indigenous communities. Their public programs center around evenings of talks, readings, and conversations by some of the most distinguished authors and thinkers alive. To me their work can be summed up simply: Truth and Beauty.

There are many ways of telling the truth (we could have a spirited St. John's seminar on the meaning of the word itself). One is speaking truth to power. Lannan brings in thinkers involved in the various struggles to make the world a better place, speaking on topics including the Middle East, the environment, racial justice, human rights, border issues, U.S. foreign intervention, and immigration. And through some kind of magic, these evenings transcend the rhetoric of media punditry; instead they open a space in which people can freely tell complex and powerful stories that respond to the times in which we are living.

Truth's luminous partner is beauty. I often go to Lannan events featuring authors and poets whose work I don't know. I have never once been disappointed. In both their readings and the conversations afterwards with well-chosen interlocutors, I am reminded that, no matter how hopeless our world might appear, with the very crises and injustices that Lannan brings to our attention, it is worth saving if civilization can produce poetry and stories as profound and accurate and rich as this. In the beautiful 821-seat Lensic Performing Arts Center, the events are well attended by both perennial intellectual seekers and many local students, to whom Lannan provides not only free tickets but also opportunities to meet the authors in their classrooms.

Yet another institution whose roots run deep in Santa Fe and the Southwest is the School for Advanced Research. Its handsome and spacious campus in the heart of Santa Fe is home to visiting scholars and artists who come to finish a PhD, to write a book, to develop a project. Originally established to study the cultural heritage of the Southwest, its mission expanded to all the Americas and eventually the world. While much of the work there happens quietly—scholars and artists are given generous time and facilities to work—SAR is actively engaged with the local community in many ways, including lectures, displays of Native American art and artifacts, field trips, and colloquia. They are in a continual process of addressing deep questions about people's relationship to the land, about the transformations wrought by colonialism, about migrations and identities.

For a city of 80,000, the intellectual offerings of Santa Fe are almost overwhelming. Its many museums have regular lecture series. The Renesan Institute for Lifelong Learning offers serious classes geared toward older students. Several independent book- stores have readings by both local and national authors, and innumerable book clubs meet regularly. Three independent cinemas offer international films and all kinds of special events. As a radio host, I try and fail to keep up with it all, but I put as much of it on the air as I possibly can. And what I have discovered is that the fundamental lesson of the Great Books seminars that I took at St. John's—that engaging ideas can and should be avail- able to everybody—is alive and well in Santa Fe. ✜

Mary-Charlotte Domandi is producer and host of the Santa Fe Radio Café on KSFR 101.1 FM. It streams live at 8:05 a.m. weekday mornings on ksfr.org; access podcasts at santaferadiocafe.org.


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St. John’s College has the Proper Climate for Vintners

August 8th, 2014


We think of Annapolis as a state capital, a maritime city, a source for blue crabs and Navy officers. Here’s one to add to its resume: crucible of winemakers.

St. John’s College, founded in Annapolis in 1696 on a quaint Colonial-style campus, is tiny by any measure. Only about 450 students are enrolled there, with the same number at a sister campus established in Santa Fe, N.M., in 1964. It offers a classical liberal arts curriculum. Yet the number of influential winemakers who graduated as “Johnnies” is long enough to deserve a separate chapter in any Who’s Who of American wine.

Larry Turley of California’s Turley Wine Cellars is a graduate, as are his sister Helen Turley and her husband, John Wetlaufer, of Marcassin Vineyards in Sonoma County, Calif. So is Rory Williams, winemaker of Calder Wine in Saint Helena, Calif. The Speck brothers — Daniel, Matthew and Paul — of Henry of Pelham winery in Canada’s Niagara Peninsula; August Deimel of Keuka Spring Vineyards in New York’s Finger Lakes; Zach Rasmuson of Goldeneye in California’s Mendocino County; Abe Schoener of California’s Scholium Project — all are graduates, as are the father-and-son team of John and Alex Kongsgaard at Kongsgaard winery in Napa Valley and Grayson Hartley of David Girard Vineyards in Placerville, Calif. So is Sue McDonough of the French company Bistro Frères.

Why do so many noted winemakers come from such a small college, whose curriculum seems to offer the antithesis of a technical, science-oriented oenological program such as the one at the University of California at Davis? Shouldn’t they study geology, chemistry and microbiology rather than Euclidian geometry and Hegelian dialectic? And with their lofty, intellectual education, what drives them out of the library stacks and into a vineyard?

“I think it has something to do with what I call a disaffiliation with the modern world,” says Warren Winiarski, St. John’s Class of 1952. Winiarski abandoned an academic career in the 1960s and founded Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars in Napa Valley. He — and California wine — catapulted to fame when his first release of cabernet sauvignon topped the best wines of Bordeaux to win the famous Paris Tasting in 1976.

“Grape growing is one of the oldest activities in the world, dating back to Noah. . . . It represents a reintroduction to the Divine,” Winiarski told me recently in a phone interview. He said the covenant that God made with Noah — not to destroy the world with more floods — allowed humans to settle in one place and develop agriculture. “It represented longevity, and a connection between man and the divine,” he said.

“I think the mild disaffiliation from modernity that may come from a St. John’s philosophically based education — the exercise of reason, the exercise of questioning and rational effort — implies a new dedication and a new kind of effort which is related to the soil and to the Earth fundamentally,” Winiarski said. “So it’s not only disaffiliation there, but the dedication is there as well. It’s a reaffirmation at another level.”

Rory Williams of Calder grew up in a winemaking family: His father, John Williams, is the owner of Frog’s Leap Winery, which he founded three decades ago in Napa Valley with Larry Turley. He says St. John’s prepared him for the vineyard in ways a specialized enology program could not.

“I learned at St. John’s to view the world as a land of many languages,” Williams, of the Class of 2007, told me during an April wine tasting on the Annapolis campus. “So when it came time to master the language of chemistry and fermentation, I could do that. And then I learned the language of the vineyard, how these vines grew last year, and what are they saying this year. St. John’s teaches how to recognize what the world is trying to tell you.”

Daniel Speck says his St. John’s education “focuses one’s thoughts, makes one identify the question that needs an answer.” That’s helpful not just for winemakers but for any entrepreneur, he adds. His Henry of Pelham produces more than 100,000 cases of wine each year.

For these vintners, growing wine is more than balancing acidity and sugar. It’s a way of connecting with the Earth and continuing a conversation that began back in college.

St. John’s Successes Reach Far Beyond the College’s Classrooms

July 11th, 2014

By Victoria J. Mora 

PUBLISHED: Friday, July 11, 2014 at 12:05 amVictoria Mora

An article celebrating St. John’s College’s 50th anniversary ran in Journal North the week of June 27-July 3. It relied heavily on email correspondence from SJC alum Philip Chandler, a valued member of our alumni body and graduate of the St. John’s 1968 founding class.

Still, I would like to offer some context and correction to aspects of the article informed by Mr. Chandler’s contributions.

To be sure, Mr. Chandler was absolutely correct in his evaluation of our faculty – they truly are exceptional teachers, distinguished by their learning across disciplines and their commitment to student learning.

Our students do leave SJC prepared to live an “examined life,”and they do so across a variety of professions and disciplines, from law to education, medicine to business, entrepreneurialism to science and technology.

In all that they do, graduates of St. John’s are distinguished by the rigorous and imaginative habits of mind they have gained in the learning community that is the essence of St. John’s College.

Unfortunately, Mr. Chandler’s impressions of our financial aid packages and student life on campus failed to accurately depict St. John’s as it enters its 50th year in Santa Fe.

Specifically, 82 percent of our current undergraduates receive financial support from the college, which accounts for 71 percent of the total cost of tuition, making a degree from St. John’s College accessible to more and more students every year.

As a native New Mexican from Albuquerque, I am happy to say that an increasing number of New Mexico students are among these recipients. The Odyssey Grant, designed for New Mexico students, provides increased aid to make a degree at St John’s possible for more of our “best and brightest” who would otherwise go out of state to pursue the kind of first-class liberal education that small residential colleges like St. John’s offer.

Even given our ranking as one of the most rigorous colleges in the United States, our students enjoy a robust and well-rounded collegiate experience, with activities ranging from intramural sports to theater, newspaper and community volunteer programs.

Our students also engage in an outdoor program with activities offered each weekend, and on school breaks and holidays. Local excursions include hiking, backpacking, rock climbing, skiing and rafting, while longer expeditions include sea kayaking and multi-sport trips in surrounding states.

In fact, student demand for increased outdoor programming has led to the founding of a new wilderness leadership series that gives students the opportunity to increase wilderness skills through education outings in backcountry settings.

Students are also active in Atalaya Search and Rescue, an all-volunteer nonprofit organization headquartered on St. John’s campus that is dedicated to recovering lost or injured people in New Mexico’s backcountry.

The success of St. John’s College is founded on the commitment of students and families to achieve their academic goals. Financial aid is one important part of the equation and St. John’s continues to rise to the challenge.

When our unique liberal arts curriculum is paired with our expansive student activities programming, our students experience something not available anywhere else in the United States. Far from “stuffy,” the real and lively exchange of ideas among students from all walks of life, and from all 50 states and multiple countries across the globe is alive and well at St. John’s, as is the spirit of exploration that drives our students inside and outside of the classroom.

Victoria J. Mora is vice president for advancement, St. John’s College.


50 years of ‘a learning community’

June 27th, 2014

By Jackie Jadrnak / Journal North Reporter


SJC Weigle Hall

Students take advantage of pleasant weather to hold class outside St. John’s Weigle Hall. (Courtesy of St. John’s College)

Some colleges have a big rock where students dump paint and write slogans for the football team or their graduating class or their fraternity/sorority.

St. John’s College in Santa Fe has the Ptolemy Stone, where students chart eclipses and other astronomical events.

That, in a nutshell, might illustrate what sets St. John’s apart from the mainstream of U.S. higher education.

Not to say the students don’t have fun. They have their traditional senior prank, where they descend on a seminar near the end of the school year and rout the students to the Great Hall to watch the seniors’ satirical review of the past four years, theatrically poking fun at tutors, fellow students and campus life in general.

St. John’s College 50th anniversary

Events that will mark the golden year include:

  • St. John’s hosting its first national academic conference, “What Is Liberal Education For?”, Oct. 16-18.
  • Unveiling of its Oral History Project in 2015.
  • Beginning publication this summer of “Rational Animal,” a digital magazine.
  • A closing event on June 26, 2015, featuring New York Times op-ed columnist and author David Brooks as speaker.

St. John’s is celebrating its 50th anniversary in Santa Fe this year. The original campus in Annapolis, faced with increasing interest from potential students, decided to establish a branch out West, with classes starting at that new Santa Fe campus in the fall of 1964.

Philip Chandler, a member of that first class and now a lawyer in Alamogordo, describes a different Santa Fe, where many streets were unpaved and the campus was far from downtown, with none of the houses that currently surround St. John’s.

“The setting was extraordinarily beautiful, more so than it is now,” he wrote in an email.

Describing Santa Fe as not yet “discovered,” Chandler added, “Families who had lived in Santa Fe for generations had not yet been forced out of the old neighborhoods on the east side by skyrocketing property values.

“Colorful local characters like (the late artist and eccentric) Tommy Macaione were easy to spot; the town was not subject to traffic jams; there were no gross hotels downtown; and Cerrillos Road was not a parade of strip malls,” he said.

Dissecting ideas and arguments

So why would a school on the Eastern Seaboard look to set up a campus in the high desert, with no big city amenities nearby?

There wasn’t room to expand at Annapolis, said Heather McClure, a St. John’s librarian who had researched the history. And, Library Director Jennifer Sprague added, if the Annapolis campus got too big, it would dilute the climate of a connected learning community that is sought at St. John’s.

Richard Weigle, college president at the time, “was firm in the idea that a St. John’s education needed to be open to more people,” Sprague said. “He actually had the idea of having multiple campuses.”

 Ptolemy StoneOnly this second one came about though, chosen from some 40 possible sites, according to a St. John’s quarterly publication from June 1963.

It gives a number of reasons, including “the need for a good liberal arts college in the Southwest, independent of the government or the church”; strong local support; Santa Fe’s cultural treasures, such as museums, artists and the opera; proximity to the scientific resources of Los Alamos National Laboratory; and a nice climate.

Robert McKinney, owner and publisher of The New Mexican, played a pivotal role, the librarians said, marshalling supporters to lure the college. There’s even a story that he used his influence to divert an airplane carrying St. John’s officials headed to California to land in Albuquerque, then gave them the grand tour.

Of course, it didn’t hurt that famed architect John Gaw Meem offered to donate some 200 acres in the Sangre de Cristo foothills.

So, with faculty imported from the Annapolis campus and 88 students, the new St. John’s opened. Four years later, about 35 graduated.

St. John’s offers a Great Books curriculum, with students reading and dissecting ideas and arguments from some of the greatest thinkers of all time. Faculty members are called tutors because they are intended to help students with their own discovery, rather than giving them facts and explanations to parrot back.

“St. John’s is primarily a learning community; it is only secondarily a learned one,” Chandler wrote. “Some of the tutors are world-class scholars, but all of them who remain for the long haul are wonderful teachers. They inspire students with the goal of life-long learning … .

“The habits of mind – particularly the willingness to learn for and by oneself, as well as from others – that one develops at the college stay with one through life. And these habits of mind form the basis for judging the truth and the persuasiveness of whatever lays claim to one’s attention,” he wrote. “In sum, St. John’s prepares one to lead an examined life.”

Seminar 1980

Campus has become ‘somewhat stuffier’

Many new buildings and many more people have come to St. John’s since those founding years. It currently has 178 faculty and staff, with 450 undergraduate and graduate students.

Programs have proliferated, with many offered for the community outside the campus, such as the Summer Classics program, the Greek Institute, the Summer Academy for High School Students, Tecolote: a teacher training program, and the new Film Institute.

Some 800 alumni live in Santa Fe and northern New Mexico, with another 400 statewide, according to a news release from St. John’s. Its economic impact is estimated at $21 million annually.

But despite the growth and the loss of the stables where students could bring their own horses or ride some provided for them, some things have remained the same.

On a Saturday evening in February, each senior has to turn in an essay to the college president, who solemnly reads out the title to gathering students, said McClure. In celebration, each senior then rings the bell in the campus Bell Tower.

Later, an oral exam is held for each senior in the library, attended by classmates who listen to the grilling. “They’re really good at supporting their classmates, so there’s a real celebration when they’re done,” Sprague said.

Yet Chandler, who also served as a tutor at St. John’s after completing his Ph.D. in history and has led an alumni seminar for the past six years, says there are some things about the feel of the campus that have changed.

Students are less outdoorsy, one of the early characteristics that distinguished the St. John’s student body from the one in Annapolis, he said. “One of my classmates used to run up the trail to the crest of Atalaya and back every morning,” he said.

And, “though the Coffee Shop is still a meeting place for students and tutors, its vibrancy, like that of all other venues around the world that once were havens for serious conversation, is being sapped by the intrusion of laptops and tablets.”

Overall, “it has become somewhat stuffier, partly as a result of the desire on the part of Annapolis campus faculty to rein in a certain free-spiritedness that characterized the early (Santa Fe) years,” and partly as a result of increasing tuition and restricted financial aid leading to an influx of more students from well-to-do families, leading to a more conservative student body, he said.

Then again, despite the civil unrest and protests of the ’60s, Chandler acknowledges that the only protest he recalls at St. John’s consisted of “many of the male students placing themselves just inside the entrance to one of the women’s dorms, daring the administration to expel us … .”

“As the result of this earth-shattering protest, some visitation hours were allowed,” he added.




St. John’s College Celebrates 50 years in Santa Fe

June 19th, 2014

The New Mexican 

By Robert Nott


Dedication Ceremony 1964Red Chinese Attempt to Shoot Off Political As Well as Atom Bomb,” read one headline. “Commies Kill ’Copter Pilot,” read another.

But among the grim headlines in that Oct. 9, 1964, edition was one that, nearly 50 years later, continues to resonate in the City Different.

“St. John’s Dedication Saturday,” it said.

The freshman class that year numbered 81 students — 14 from New Mexico. Tuition, which included room and board, was $2,500 a year, although more than half the students received some sort of financial aid. It cost $3.5 million to complete the first phase of construction, which included the student center, a classroom building, eight dormitories and upgraded roads to reach the 250-acre campus. Phase 2 cost $4.5 million. The average teacher-student ratio was 1-to-8.

Today, St. John’s College begins a yearlong celebration of its 50th anniversary in Santa Fe with an opening reception. In October, it will host a national academic conference titled “What is Liberal Education For?” In 2015, it will release its 50th Anniversary Oral History Project, commemorating its history with interviews with former students, teachers, board members and others involved with the school.

“St. John’s has added to the intellectual and cultural level of any people who have had any association with it over the past 50 years,” said Daniel “Bud” Kelly Jr., one of the initial movers and shakers behind the Santa Fe campus back in the early 1960s. “One of the unique things about St. John’s is that its course of study is pretty well-defined by the Great Books. It teaches students to think.”

That initial curriculum, based on 130 classic books that cover theology, history, philosophy, economics, political theory, economics and natural science, still drives the Socratic seminar round-table discussions between students and professors.

“The program we studied in the fall of ’64 is essentially what it is today, with minor alterations,” said Steven Shore, a SJC dedication ceremony 2 in 1964member of the inaugural class. “Many colleges and universities have courses of study on the Great Books, but, with few exceptions, they are led by people who have doctorates in that field, and they will tell you what Hamlet is about or what Plato’s The Republic is about. You take notes in class and then give back the points told to you in midterm and final exams. That’s not the way St. John’s works.”

Selling Santa Fe

St. John’s College in Annapolis, Md., was founded in the late 1600s as King William’s School. In 1784, the state chartered it as St. John’s College, which, according to the school’s website, was likely after St. John the Evangelist.

In the late 1950s, officials with the college decided to open a second campus. They narrowed their choices for a new site to three cities in California, according to a history of the college written by former school President Richard Weigle.

Kelly said a group of leading Santa Fe citizens, including former New Mexican Publisher Robert McKinney, began meeting sometime in 1961 to devise ways to convince St. John’s to make Santa Fe its second home. By Weigle’s account, in January 1961, he and his wife, Mary, stopped in Denver for a college association meeting. While there, McKinney called them, reached Mary Weigle on the phone and asked her if he could talk to him about Santa Fe.

“I almost replied, ‘Where is Santa Fe?’ ” Mary recalled in her husband’s memoir.

Kelly told a more colorful story of McKinney using his weight to divert a California-bound TWA flight carrying St. John’s officials to Albuquerque and then giving them a grand tour of the city. McKinney introduced Weigle and the other dignitaries to famed architect John Gaw Meem, who offered more than 200 acres of free land to house the college if they chose Santa Fe.

Weigle and the others weighed the pros and cons of California against Santa Fe. The latter, Weigle reflected, offered access to a capital city, a lively cultural environment and “proximity to Los Alamos and the great minds.”

The land offer, then valued at about $700,000, cinched the deal, Kelly said.

McKinney served on the initial board of trustees, along with such local heavyweights as Meem; Col. E.E. “Buddy” Fogelson (then married to movie star Greer Garson); and Jack M. Campbell, governor of New Mexico from 1963-67.

Student life

Some locals initially were wary of the new students up on the hill, Kelly recalled.

“There was a sense in the community that they were pretty liberal, wild ‘hippie’ types,” he said. “It was the era of long hair and not wearing shoes, and the students were not conventional in appearance or action.”

Shore recalled it differently, saying that students were required to wear ties on campus in those days.

“As the [Vietnam War] escalated, some people began to unravel, and the people who began to unravel left,” he said. He said any of those 1960s students could return to the campus today and experience a “Rip Van Winkle moment and they wouldn’t be too surprised at what St. John’s looks like today.”

Original CampusIncoming 1964 student Philip Chandler said that since everyone started out as a freshman that year, “there were no upperclassmen to greet or harass us. … Those who entered at the beginning were, in a sense, seniors for all four years.”

As a result of its small size and lack of upperclassman, the inaugural class became very close, he said.

He recalled a classmate’s father contributing two 1956 Cadillac limousines to bus the students to town and back.

“A popular place for late night or very early morning coffee and green chile was the old Ly’N Bragg Truck Stop. Tony’s U and I was the place for great steaks,” he recalled of two now long-gone Cerrillos Road eateries.

There were strict rules concerning the separation of sexes when it came to dorm life. No thresholds were to be crossed for hanky-panky. But Chandler said students of both genders found measures — including a secret tunnel — to circumvent the many obstacles, such as locked doors and security guards, so that such policies were “effectively thwarted … those were the days and ways.”

A bigger challenge was staying in school. A New Mexican article at the time said that it was not easy to be accepted into St. John’s and “harder to remain enrolled because the curriculum spells out a course of hard work.”

In its first four years, the college lost at least a quarter of its freshman class, a fifth of its sophomore class and a third of its juniors. Shore recalled the graduating class of 1968 — about 35 students — being bolstered by four transfer students from the Annapolis campus.

By 1970, the Santa Fe campus had a total enrollment of 260 students. Today, it has about 450 students, and the average attrition rate today, according to the college, is about 12 percent. Tuition now, at about $47,000, is more than double the cost then, when adjusted for inflation.

Shore still remembers how he felt on graduation day: “It was like a world collapsing. I did not look forward to it.” He felt, he said, as if he was “being driven out of the Garden of Eden.”

Friday’s festivities, which are by invite only, start at 5 p.m. on campus and include speeches by dignitaries, including Mayor Javier Gonzales, and dinner.

Contact Robert Nott at 986-3021 or rnott(at)sfnewmexican.com.



Our View: Celebrating St. John’s 50th

June 12th, 2014

Today marks the beginning of a yearlong celebration for an institution that has enriched the intellectual and cultural life of Santa Fe for the past 50 years. St. John’s College, justly famous for its Great Books curriculum and deep roots in the United States, opened in September 1964 in Santa Fe.

Its Annapolis campus, of course, is descended from the King William’s School, founded in 1696, and was chartered by the state of Maryland in 1784. The decision to go west was somewhat unorthodox back in the 1960s, with Santa Fe not exactly the natural choice for a second campus. But city leaders such as John Gaw Meem, who donated the land for the college, and former owner Robert McKinney and insurance man Bud Kelly, pushed to bring the school to Santa Fe. Three cities in California were in the running until McKinney invited St. John’s officials to consider Santa Fe.

Since the school opened with 88 members of the first freshman class on that September day in 1964, the school has continued to make waves. At the Santa Fe campus, we have seen the introduction of the founding of the Graduate Institute and the creation of the Eastern Classics Program. There’s also the Summer Classics program, the Greek Institute, the Summer Academy for High School Students, the teacher-training program Tecolote and the just-established St. John’s College Film Institute.

Over the years, the school has continued to serve its students while expanding to embrace Santa Fe. Whether with the beloved Music on the Hill program or its long contributions to search and rescue teams, St. John’s is an integral part of Santa Fe.

Its impact on Santa Fe and New Mexico is broader than its existence as a school, with a budget, employees and students (although the college’s economic impact on Santa Fe is figured at $21 million a year, with 178 faculty and staff employed and 450 undergraduate and graduate students enrolled). Those students have become alumni, with approximately 800 living in Santa Fe and Northern New Mexico and an additional alumni living throughout the state. These men and women use what they learned at St. John’s every day, and we are richer for their contributions.

The celebration begins with the 50th Anniversary Opening Reception on Friday, and continues all year. Noteworthy in October is a national academic conference, “What is Liberal Education For?” and a closing event in June 2015 featuring columnist and author David Brooks. Other things to watch for include the 50th anniversary Oral History Project, to be unveiled in 2015, and the publication of Rational Animal, a digital magazine that will start publishing this summer.

Happy anniversary, St. John’s College. Here’s to a wonderful celebration.


Oct 16
St. John’s College 50th Anniversary Academic Conference

A Conference at St. John’s College on the 50th Anniversary of the Santa Fe Campus October 16-18, 2014

Featured speakers include:

Eva Brann, St. John's College, "Immediacy"
Matthew Crawford, University of Virginia, "Attention as a Cultural Problem"
Andrew Delbanco, Columbia University, "Does Liberal Education Have a Future?"
Wendy Lesser, Critic and Author, "Good Books and Bad Books: Developing One's Reading Taste"
Lorraine Pangle, University of Texas, Austin, "A Well-formed Mind: Aristotle and the Intellectual Virtues"
Peter Pesic, St. John's College, " A Seminar with a Scalpel: Studying Science through Conversation"
Christopher Ricks, Boston University, "T.S. Eliot's Humanism"
Roger Scruton, Oxford University, "Architecture and Aesthetic Education"
Gan Yang, Sun Yat-sen University, "The Emergence of Liberal Education and Classical Studies in China"

We raise this question, recognizing that liberal education and the great tradition of the American liberal arts college have been put on the defensive of late. Small colleges across the nation have to make their case to students, to their parents, and to the public more urgently than ever. The causes of this crisis have been analyzed extensively: there is an emerging consensus that the rapid growth of consumerism amidst new economic challenges, and the fragmentation of general studies driven by professional training and specialization in the universities, have led us to undervalue drastically the humane goals of liberal studies. These causes are themselves symptomatic of a deeper crisis in our time, a crisis of uncertainty and disorientation affecting every field of human endeavor—scientific, social, intellectual, artistic, and spiritual. Precisely in response to this crisis, liberal education can reaffirm its relevance and purposes.

We believe that the unprecedented opportunities for freedom in the modern world only heighten the need for life-long engagement with the essential questions. Individualism, the accelerating progress of science and technology, the liberation engendered by complex economies—the very achievements of the modern age—present philosophical and ethical difficulties, both novel and perennial. No one can address these effectively, in their own lives or as future leaders, unless they come to understand them in a more than superficial way.

At St. John’s College, it has continued to be our conviction that the root questions of life can be taken up by any serious person. We have made the Socratic approach—of open, courageous, and philosophically minded inquiry—central to the work of every class. We welcome friends (and critics) and educators from near and far to join us for this conference, which we envision as a broad platform to speak about the challenges and opportunities for liberal education today, and to engage in exemplary studies in the liberal arts (interpretive and substantive work on texts and within disciplines). In addition to an array of featured speakers, there are over seventy-five individual presenters scheduled to deliver papers and participate in panels.

Please click below to view St. John’s College 50th Anniversary Academic Conference Travel & Visitor Information and to download a current conference schedule.

Jun 26
2015 - David Brooks to Speak at St. John’s College

Time TBA on Wednesday 26th June @ St John's College

New York Times Op-Ed columnist and author, David Brooks, will be speaking at St. John’s College for its 50th anniversary closing event on June 26, 2015. Mr. Brooks has been a senior editor at The Weekly Standard, a contributing editor at Newsweek and the Atlantic Monthly, and he is currently a commentator on "The Newshour with Jim Lehrer." He is the author of "Bobos In Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There" and “On Paradise Drive: How We Live Now (And Always Have) in the Future Tense,” both published by Simon & Schuster. His most recent book is “The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement.” Further details for the event will be announced.