Liz Coleman radically remade Bennington College in the mid-1990s, in pursuit of a new vision: higher education as a performing art.
If you followed higher education news in the 1990s, you have an opinion on Liz Coleman. The president of what was once the most expensive college in America, Coleman made a radical, controversial plan to snap the college out of a budget and mission slump -- by ending the tenure system, abolishing academic divisions and yes, firing a lot of professors. It was not a period without drama. But fifteen years on, it appears that the move has paid off. Bennington's emphasis on cross-disciplinary, hands-on learning has attracted capacity classes to the small college, and has built a vibrant environment for a new kind of learning.
Coleman's idea is that higher education is an active pursuit -- a performing art. Her vision calls for lots of one-on-one interactions between professor and student, deep engagement with primary sources, highly individual majors, and the destruction of the traditional academic department. It's a lofty goal that takes plenty of hard work to keep on course.
"There’s a reason Liz Coleman likens science to a 'performing art' at Bennington. We need a context for what goes on in the classroom; otherwise there's no understanding of history, of how scientific fact emerges in the first place."Elizabeth Sherman, Bennington College faculty
“History provides a laboratory in which we see played out the actual, as well as the intended consequences, of ideas.”
“The problem is there is no such thing as a viable democracy made up of experts, zealots, politicians and spectators.”
“The values and voices of democracy are silent. Either we have lost touch with those values or, no better, believe they need not or cannot be taught.”
“You are at the beginning, not the end, of this adventure. Being overwhelmed is the first step.”
“You have a mind. And you have other people. Start with those, and change the world.”