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

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.”


To read this article in its original context click here.

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.


To read this article in its original context click here or view in Issuu below.

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

September 11th, 2014



Featured speakers include:

Eva BrannSt. John's College, "Immediacy"
Matthew CrawfordUniversity of Virginia, "Attention as a Cultural Problem"
Andrew DelbancoColumbia University, "Does Liberal Education Have a Future?"
Wendy Lesser, Critic and Author, "Good Books and Bad Books: Developing One's Reading Taste" 
Lorraine PangleUniversity of Texas, Austin, "A Well-formed Mind: Aristotle and the Intellectual Virtues" 
Peter PesicSt. John's College, " A Seminar with a Scalpel: Studying Science through Conversation"
Christopher RicksBoston University, "T.S. Eliot's Humanism" 
Roger ScrutonOxford 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 here to download a current conference schedule.

Please click here to view St. John’s College 50th Anniversary Academic Conference Travel & Visitor Information.


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@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.