Bennington College

Bennington College

name =Bennington College
native_name =
latin_name =

motto =
established =1932
type =Private Liberal Arts
endowment =$12,000,000
staff =
faculty =
president =Elizabeth Coleman
provost =Elissa Tenny
principal =
rector =
chancellor =
vice_chancellor =
dean =Wendy Hirsch
head_label =
head =
students =
undergrad =571
postgrad =154
doctoral =
profess =
city =Bennington
state =VT
country =USA
campus =Rural, convert|550|acre|km2
free_label =
free =
colors =
colours =
mascot =
nickname =
affiliations =
footnotes =
website = []
address =One College Drive
Bennington, Vermont 05201-6003
telephone =802-442-5401
coor =
logo =

Bennington College is a nationally recognized liberal arts college located in Bennington, Vermont. The College was founded in 1932 as a women's college focusing on arts, sciences, and humanities. It became co-educational in 1969. The campus was once a working dairy farm, and still affords a beautiful view of the Green Mountains. The college has long been known as a leader in progressive, student-centered education, with particular strengths in the creative and performing arts. The college's educational philosophy encourages students to discover and develop individual academic passions and lines of inquiry, to work closely with faculty members in tutorials and seminars, and to take responsibility for their own educations and lives.

Educational style

At Bennington, students plan their own courses of study through a series of meetings with faculty members, and by writing reflective essays where they set out specific questions and areas of interest to pursue over their four years. Students clarify and refine their lines of inquiry throughout the Plan Process. Some students focus in one discipline, while many chose to combine their interests in more than one subject; others create Plans around central concepts that may draw from several disciplines.

Though there is no "core curriculum" of required classes at Bennington, students choosing to focus in particular fields are encouraged to take certain classes, or a certain amount of credits in the field. Plan Meetings are attended by the student's Faculty Advisor and a small selection (normally two or three, but sometimes four or even five) of faculty members who may or may not be a part of the student's chosen discipline. Students can request changes to be made to their Plan Meeting rosters.

Main subjects taught at Bennington include: Social Sciences and Humanities, Dance, Drama, Theater Arts, Music Performance and Composition, Life and Physical Sciences, Literature, Teacher Education (Center for Creative Teaching), Foreign Language Arts (Isabelle Kaplan Center for Languages and Culture), Visual Arts (ceramics, painting, sculpture, drawing, photography, printmaking, architecture), Video.

Students are held accountable for their work by close critique and review by faculty and peers rather than traditional letter grades. Bennington offers narrative evaluations rather than a graded scale as the default option for undergraduate performance review, believing them to be a more detailed and useful account of student work. According to the official college website, "all students are encouraged to consider requesting grades for at least two years (or 64 credits) of their study at Bennington so that a GPA might be produced upon graduation." There are no fraternities or sororities, ROTC, or school mascots. There is, however, a soccer team that regularly plays several area schools during the late Spring and early Fall, and students have recently started a dodgeball team (in direct response to being labeled "Dodgeball Targets" by the Princeton Review).

Bennington is run on a three-term system in which students work on campus for the Fall and Spring terms and complete a 7-week, 210 hour "Field Work Term" during the winter. During this time the campus is mostly closed, and students must seek internships and housing off campus (paid jobs are allowed). From mid-December until late February, on-campus housing is used mainly for graduate students. The Field Work Term office offers many different venues of help for finding and securing jobs. For one full Field Work Term or two half-Field Work Terms, students are allowed to participate in an "Independent Study," which can range from starting an entrepreneurial business to working on one's Senior Project.

Bennington has been part of the SAT optional movement for undergraduate admission since 2006.


The Early Years

The idea for Bennington College was conceived in the midst of the Roaring Twenties. The process began in 1923 and lasted nine years. The movement aimed at creating a new model for education that would usher in a new direction for higher learning. The most pivotal figures in the College's earliest history are Vincent Ravi Booth, Mr. and Mrs. Hall Park McCullough, and William Heard Kilpatrick, an educational philosopher who worked with John Dewey. In 1924 a charter was secured for the College and a Board of Trustees was set up, setting the stage for a new liberal arts college for women. The task of funding the physical construction of the college as well as defining its philosophy were undertaken. In 1928 Robert Devore Leigh was recruited as Bennington College's first president. He wrote the Bennington College Prospectus, which outlined these philosophies.

In August 16, 1931, the groundbreaking for the college took place. The college was founded on a farmland donated by Mrs. Frederick B. Jennings. The project employed many local craftsmen, many of whom had been out of work since the stock market crash of 1929. The main educational building was a renovated barn, and despite an early attempt to give it a more official name, The Barn has persisted.

The first class of eighty-seven women arrived on campus in 1932. Since its inception the College has placed the student in charge of her education. Bennington College was the first to include visual and performing arts as important curricular elements of a liberal arts education. One of the defining aspects of a Bennington education has been in place since the beginning, the Winter Field and Reading Period (the name was changed to Non-Resident Term and later to the current name, Field Work Term). During this winter recess all students seek internships around the world, gaining meaningful real-world experience in their field(s) of study, and in life. Many alumni established connections during this recess that were pivotal in their careers.

In 1935 the administration agreed to let young men attend Bennington College under the Bennington Theater Studio program, since males were needed for theatrical performances. Actor Alan Arkin attended the college in this fashion. During the 1930s a summer program, the Bennington School of Dance, also attracted many people to Bennington, among them Martha Graham, Martha Hill, Jose Limon, and Betty Ford.

In 1969 the College became fully co-educational.

The Symposium

In 1993, the Bennington College Board of Trustees initiated a process known as "The Symposium". Arguing that the college suffered from "a growing attachment to the status quo that, if unattended, is lethal to Bennington’s purpose and pedagogy" [Citation | title=Symposium Report of the Bennington College Board of Trustees | coauthors=Bennington College Board of Trustees | pages=7 | year=1994 | url= | accessdate=2007-07-07] , the Board of Trustees "solicit [ed] ...concerns and proposals on a wide and open-ended range of issues from every member of the faculty, every student, every staff member, every alumna and alumnus, and dozens of friends of the College". ["Symposium Report", p. 8.] According to the Trustees, the process was intended to reinvent the college, and the Board allegedly received over 600 contributions to this end. ["Symposium Report", p. 8.]

The results of this process were published in June 1994 in a 36-page document titled "Symposium Report of the Bennington College Board of Trustees". Among the changes recommended in the document were the adoption of a "teacher-practitioner" ideal ["Symposium Report", p. 11.] ; the abandonment of academic divisions in favor of "polymorphous, dynamically changing Faculty Program Groups" ["Symposium Report", p. 14.] ; the replacement of the college's system of presumptive tenure with "an experimental contract system" ["Symposium Report", p. 17.] ; and a ten-percent tuition reduction over the following five years. ["Symposium Report", p. 22.]

Shortly thereafter, near the end of June 1994, 27 faculty members -- approximately one-third of the total faculty body -- were notified by certified mail that their contracts would not be renewed. [Citation | last=Edmundson | first=Mark | journal=New York Times | title=Bennington means business | pages=p. 1 [Section 6, Col. 1] | date=October 23, 1994] (The exact number of fired faculty members is listed as 25 or 26 in some reports, a discrepancy partly due to the fact that at least one faculty member, photographer Neil Rappaport, was reinstated on appeal shortly after his firing.) [Citation | last=Dembner | first=Alice | journal=Boston Globe | title=National professors' group calls Bennington overhaul a 'purge' | pages=p. 22 [Metro-Region section] | date=April 15, 1995] As indicated in the Symposium, the Trustees also abolished the presumptive tenure system, leaving the institution with no form of tenure whatsoever.

The firings attracted considerable media attention, and sparked student and alumni protests, as well as censure by the American Association of University Professors [] , who alleged that "...academic freedom is insecure, and academic tenure is nonexistent today at Bennington College." [Citation | last=Howie | first=Stephen S. | journal=Boston Globe | title=Bennington makes recovery its own way: President is credited with setting the course | pages=p. B11 [Education section] | date=May 5, 2002] Critics of the Symposium, and the 1994 firings, have alleged that the Symposium was essentially a sham, designed to provide a pretext for the removal of faculty members to whom the college's president, Elizabeth Coleman, was hostile. [Edmundson, "Bennington means business".] Some have questioned the timing of the firings, arguing that by waiting until the end of June, the college made it impossible for students affected by the firings to transfer to other institutions. [Citation | last=Dembner | first=Alice | journal=Boston Globe | title=Striking a discord: Record low enrollment follows radical changes at Bennington College | pages=p. 1 [Metro-Region section] | date=September 14, 1994]

In response, President Coleman said that the decision was fundamentally "about ideas", stating that "Bennington became mediocre over time" and that the college was in need of radical change. [Edmundson, "Bennington means business".] In addition, Coleman argued that the college was in dire financial straits, saying that "had Bennington done nothing...the future of this institution was seriously in doubt." [Citation | journal=St. Louis Post-Dispatch | title=Change begins at Bennington | pages=p. 12C | date=June 28, 1994] In a letter to the New York Times, John Barr, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, asserted that Coleman was "not responsible for the redesign of the college...It was the board of trustees" [Citation | journal=New York Times | title=Bennington means business (letter response) | pages=p. 22 [Section 6, Col. 4] | date=November 27, 1994] .

For the 1994-1995 academic year, in the immediate wake of the controversy, the college's enrollment dropped to a record low of 370 undergraduates [Dembner, "Striking a discord".] , while in the following year (1995-1996), undergraduate enrollment declined further, to 285. [Howie, "Bennington makes recovery its own way".] [Citation | last=June | first=Audrey Williams | journal=Chronicle of Higher Education | title=Bond-Rating Update | pages=p. 40 | date=October 22, 2004] According to President Coleman, a student body of 600 undergraduates was required for the college to break even. [Dembner, "Striking a discord".] Over the following years, however, enrollment slowly increased, reaching 500 students in 2002 [Howie, "Bennington makes recovery its own way".] , and 600 in 2004. [June, "Bond-rating update".]

In May 1996, seventeen of the faculty members terminated in the 1994 firings filed a lawsuit against Bennington College, seeking $3.7 million in damages and reinstatement to their former positions. [Citation | last=Yemma | first=John | journal=Boston Globe | title=Laid-off Bennington faculty members sue | pages=p. 32 | date=May 8, 1996] In December 2000, the case was settled out of court; as part of the settlement, the fired faculty members received $1.89 million and an apology from the college. [Citation | journal=New York Times | title=17 Dismissed Professors Win Suit at Bennington | pages=p. 16 [Section A, Column 1] | date=Dec. 29, 2000; corrected Jan. 1, 2001]

Since the Symposium years, the college's situation has improved considerably due to multi-million dollar gifts from Bennington's earliest classes [] [] [] , increased enrollment, and accelerated campus renewal efforts [] .

Bennington in the media

"The New York Times" recently recognized Bennington as "one of the country's top private colleges" [] , while observed that it was "high on prestige and low on student-teacher ratios" [] . Forbes also included Bennington as one of the top-10 most expensive colleges in America [] . The Princeton Review lists Bennington as one of the "Best Colleges in the Northeast," and notes the high frequency of class discussions, the acceptance of gay students on campus, and the beauty of the student houses [] .

Bennington ranks 106th on US News Magazine's most recent list of top liberal arts schools [cite web | url= | title=Bennington, SVC left raw by rankings | date=2007-08-18 | last=Waller | first=John] , though like other members of the Annapolis Group, Bennington may refuse to participate in future US News ranking reports [cite web | url= | title=Press release: President Coleman Discusses US News and World Report Rankings with Vermont Public Radio] . Bennington's endowment is less than $12,000,000, fifth among private colleges in Vermont. Founded in the Great Depression, Bennington has historically been underfunded, though the college has worked to address this issue in recent years. During the late 1980s, Bennington was the most expensive college or university in the United States [cite web | title=MIT is most expensive | url=] ; as of 2006, it was the seventh most expensive. [cite web | title=Top 10 Most Expensive College | url=] As with many of its peer institutions, Bennington's high tuition is largely the result of its small endowment.

In the fall of 2004 Bennington students made headlines when they protested the college's crackdown on campus nudity. [Citation | last=McKenna | first=Holly | journal=Seattle Times | title=Vermont college students fight to bare all | pages=p. A2 | date=December 9, 2004] Bennington also made national news in 2005 when dance students Kelly Muzzi and Laura Jawitz were rehearsing in a third-story studio and fell through a plate-glass window, falling onto a brick patio. Muzzi died and Jawitz was seriously hurt. The college later reached a settlement with Jawitz and the Muzzi family, and established a Safety Fund and Memorial Garden in honor of Muzzi.

More recently, the college has attracted positive notice for its plans to convert to more ecologically friendly and efficient forms of heating [] and for the publication of critically-acclaimed new books by faculty members Steven Bach and Allen Shawn.

Alumna Kiran Desai '93 recently won the famed Man Booker Prize for her novel "The Inheritance of Loss" [,,1920237,00.html] , while Alan Arkin '55 won an Academy Award in 2007 for his role in "Little Miss Sunshine" [] .

The disappearance of 18-year-old college sophomore Paula Jean Welden, of Stamford, Connecticut, on 1st December 1946 while on a day-hike on the Long Trail of nearby Glastenbury Mountain caused a nationwide sensation in the media at the time. Despite repeated and extensive searches of the area no trace whatsoever of Paula was ever found. Fact|date:August 2008|date=August 2008

Graduate Program in Writing

Bennington College is home to a low residency MFA program in writing; "The Atlantic" recently named it one of the nation's best [] . Core faculty include fiction writers David Gates, Amy Hempel, Jill McCorkle, Sheila Kohler, Martha Cooley, Askold Melnyczuk, Lynne Sharon Schwartz, and Alice Mattison; nonfiction writers Sven Birkerts, Susan Cheever, Phillip Lopate, Tom Bissell, and George Scialabba; and poets April Bernard, Major Jackson, Timothy Liu, Amy Gerstler, and Ed Ochester. The Writing Seminars were founded by poet Liam Rector. Following Rector's death in August 2007, Sven Birkerts took over as acting director of the Writing Seminars and was subsequently named director in January 2008, following a nationwide search for Rector's successor.

Notable alumni and faculty

Among the more notable of Bennington's alumni are: Alan Arkin, Anne Ramsey, Carol Channing, Donna Tartt, Andrea Dworkin, Kathleen Norris, Susan Crile, Kiran Desai, Bret Easton Ellis, Justin Theroux, Michael Pollan, Helen Frankenthaler, Cora Cohen, Liz Phillips, Tim Daly, Roger Kimball, Holland Taylor and Jonathan Lethem.

Notable current and former faculty include Wharton and James biographer R.W.B. Lewis,essayist Edward Hoagland, literary critic Camille Paglia, novelists Bernard Malamud and John Gardner, composers Allen Shawn, Henry Brant, and Vivian Fine, painter Jules Olitski, politician Mac Maharaj, sculptor Anthony Caro, dancer/choreographer Martha Graham, jazz musicians Milford Graves and Bill Dixon, and a number of Pulitzer Prize-winning poets including W. H. Auden, Stanley Kunitz, Mary Oliver, Theodore Roethke and Anne Waldman.



See also

* List of colleges and universities in the United States

External links

* [ Official website]
* [ Bennington College Master Plan 2004]
* [ Bennington College Symposium Report]
* [ Bennington College official alumni site]

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