Self-Governance - deep springs college (Re: [Discuss-sudbury-model] democratically run universities?)

From: David Rovner <>
Date: Sat Nov 22 12:51:00 2003

      deep springs college


            Self-governance teaches us the benefits and limitations of a
democratic process. There are times when an issue can be properly discussed
and thought out with 25 other people, and there are other times when the
process and bureaucracy, despite their minimalism and simplicity, can
frustrate everybody.

            The powers we have as a self-governing body are diverse and
far-reaching. Governing our own members means instituting pet policies,
taking care of Student Body vehicles, arranging rooming, and enforcing our
interpretations of the isolation policy and drug-and-alcohol policy. But
there are other matters we decide but that are not by default in our
authority to govern. Faculty hiring and student admissions are technically
powers of the trustees, who have in turn assigned them to the president. He,
in turn, has entrusted us with these powers.

            In the Gray Book, a collection of his letters and writings on
Deep Springs, L.L. Nunn addresses the problem of lost tools in the
mechanic's shop. He says that though we don't have any explicit authority
over how tools should be managed, we can earn an implicit authority over the
tools by proving ourselves responsible and mature concerning their
management. We lose authority by making rash and immature decisions. This
philosophy is implicit in all the business the SB conducts.

            Self-governance teaches us responsibility and maturity in our
decisions and actions. Without these qualities, the student body could not
be entrusted with the powers it has. But on the flipside, by being entrusted
with applications and curriculum decisions, we are given good reason to try
as hard as we can for these qualities. One characteristic concept is that of
"beneficial ownership" of the college. Though we may not have legal rights,
our careful consideration of all college issues and decisions to act upon
them demonstrate a willingness to run the college and all of its workings as
best we can. Successfully being an education of, by, and for the students
means it's critically important that we earnestly engage in self-governance,
of both the SB and the college, to the best of our capabilities.

            Student Body Meetings

            Friday nights at Deep Springs are perhaps the most striking
example of the fact that we do things differently around here. The entire
student body meets for from 3 to 10 hours depending on our business, and we
talk about everything from the funny stuff that staff members said during
breakfast to how we should interpret the isolation policy.

            A few minutes after the BHers are done with the dishes, the SB
president will tell us where the meeting will happen. In the dead of winter,
most happen in the boardinghouse (where coffee is readily available), main
room, or dormitory rumpus room. But on most warm summer nights we try to
convene at various spots around the desert and ranch, such as mountain
peaks, sand dunes, horse barn, or dairy silo.

            Our discussions vary widely in gravity and reach. The Student
Body can and does censure, suspend, or expel students for serious reasons.
We also decide on faculty hiring, course offerings, and student admissions.
Each of these issues recieves careful, and sometimes agonized, consideration
and attention.

            Much of the work for governance happens outside of SB meetings.
Committees convene weekly to discuss the curriculum, compose the next
newsletter to alumni, or work out applicant recruiting. Each of the
committees reports to the student body for its approval.

            The meetings end with "edutainment", though we focus mostly on
the entertainment and not so much on the education. This can consist of
boxing and wrestling matches, a game of pictionary, or even an obstacle
course contest. Needless to say, some pretty odd things can happen during
edutainment. Afterwards, we sit in silence together for a few minutes and
end the meeting with spontaneous evaluations.

~ David

----- Original Message -----
From: "Dana Matthew Bennis" <>
To: <>
Sent: Saturday, November 22, 2003 6:02 PM
Subject: Re: [Discuss-sudbury-model] democratically run universities?

> Hi Martin,
> One democratically-run college/university that I know of in the U.S. is
> Deep Springs. Though as far as models go, it has only 26 students (all
> male). There are certainly a good number of colleges that give students
> control over their learning, and/or are more discussion-based rather than
> lecture and test, and some that might have students more involved in
> decision-making. But Deep Springs is the only one I've heard of that is
> democratic in the sense of one person one vote. Read their governance
> for more info.
> If anyone knows of others, please post. Good luck Martin, and keep us up
> to date on what is happening.
> Dana Bennis
> At 11:12 PM 11/21/2003 +0100, you wrote:
> >Hi everybody,
> >
> >Does anybody know of any universities or colleges that are run
> >democratically (one person - one vote)?
> >(I suppose this question has been asked here before, but I didn't find an
> >answer quickly.)
> >
> >In Germany the students of many universities have gone on a strike to
> >protest against cuts of university budgets, tuition fees and - lack of
> >democracy. On monday, a General Assembly of students of the Freie
> >Universitšt Berlin (at which I'm enrolled) is going to pass a resolution
> >concerning the above mentioned points. I'd like to do something about the
> >democracy part.
> >
> >At present, in all of the governinng bodies, the professors constitute an
> >absolute majority of the voting members. The other seats are reserved for
> >the three other groups: scientific assistants, other employees and
> >students, which thus each have about 1/6 of the seats. The draft of the
> >resolution that will be put to the vote on monday calls for a socalled
> >"quarter parity" (that means, professors, assistants, other employees and
> >students each elect their own representatives for 25% of the seats.).
> >However, this would still be undemocratic since professors make up only
> >of the university polulation while students make up 84%.
> >So I'd like to propose truely democratic structures. And it would be very
> >helpful to have successful models to point at.
> >
> >greetings from Berlin
> >
> >Martin Wilke

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Received on Sat Nov 22 2003 - 12:50:21 EST

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