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Maverick Colleges: Ten Noble Experiments in American Undergraduate Education (1993)
[Second edition (1996) of the book with some additional schools here in PDF: ]

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"This book is a product of a University of Utah graduate seminar conducted in the spring of 1991: "Notable Experiments in American Higher Education" (Educational Administration 728). The contributing authors are professor of educational administration L. Jackson Newell and seminar students, each of whom selected an innovative, or "experimental," college for research and reporting."

"Common Themes:

As seminar participants exchanged findings about the ten selected colleges, several prominent themes emerged that had not been predetermined by selection criteria but appeared to indicate common postures among experimental colleges. These include:

• Ideals spawning ideas. In most cases, the ten colleges appeared to start with the ideals of visionary founders. For some, the ideal concerned the citizens who would emerge from the learning experience …

• Emphasis on teaching; retreat from research. The vast majority of experimental colleges are liberal education colleges where the art of teaching and the development of students are values of high esteem. …

• Organization without specialization. Not unexpectedly, these experimental colleges also tended to turn away from the disciplinary organization of scholarship that had sprung from the German research university model. …

• Administrative innovations. Freedom from traditional higher education bureaucracy and hierarchy have been common pursuits of the colleges studied. …

Divergent Approaches:

Just as common themes instruct us about the aims and aspirations of various experimental colleges, so too do their divergent approaches. Two notable areas of difference among the colleges focus on who should attend and how their learning might best be organized during the college years."

[Bits from the section on Black Mountain College:]

"Its educational commitment--to democratic underpinnings for learning that comes from "human contact, through a fusion of mind and emotion" (Du Plessix-Gray 1952:10)-- was reflective of a larger liberal environment that managed a brief appearance before the 1950s ushered in fear of Communism and love of television."

"Rice and his colleagues had stronger convictions about how a college should operate than about how and what students might learn. Democracy would be paramount in the administration of the college, and structure would be loose. Students and faculty joined in marathon, long-winded decision-making meetings with decisions ranging from a faculty termination to a library acquisition.

Particularly prominent, and vital to the democratic underpinnings envisioned by Rice, was the absence of any outside governing body. Rice had determined that control exerted by boards of trustees and college presidents rendered faculty participation meaningless, limiting faculty to debate, "with pitiable passion, the questions of hours, credits, cuts. . . . They bring the full force of their manhood to bear on trivialities. They know within themselves that they can roam at will only among minutiae of no importance" (Adamic, 1938:624).

The faculty did establish a three-member "Board of Fellows," elected from among them and charged with running the business affairs of the College. Within a year, a student member was added to the Board."

"The 23-year history of Black Mountain College was one of few constants and much conflict. Three forceful leaders marked three distinct periods during the 23 years: the John Rice years, the Josef Albers decade, and the Charles Olson era.

During the first 5 years of the College, a solidarity of philosophy and community gradually took shape. It revolved largely around John Rice's outgoing personality (much intelligence and much laughter mark most reports from colleagues and students) and forceful opinions about education. He was determined, for example, that every student should have some experience in the arts.

This translated as at least an elementary course in music, dramatics and/or drawing, because:
There is something of the artist in everyone, and the development of this talent, however small, carrying with it a severe discipline of its own, results in the student's becoming more and more sensitive to order in the world and within himself than he can ever possibly become through intellectual effort alone. (Adamic 1938:626)

Although he cautioned against the possible tyranny of the community, Rice eventually decided that some group activity would,
…help the individual be complete, aware of his relation to others. Wood chopping, road-mending, rolling the tennis courts, serving tea in the afternoon, and other tasks around the place help rub off individualistic corners and give people training in assuming responsibility. (Ibid, 1938:627)

"Rice soon discovered what he would later call the "three Alberses"--the teacher, the social being and the Prussian. The Prussian Albers decried the seeming lack of real leadership at the College and the free-wheeling, agenda-less, community-wide meetings. Rice noted later, "You can't talk to a German about liberty. You just waste your breath. They don't know what the hell you mean" (Duberman 1972:69)."

"The war years ushered in a different kind of Black Mountain; one where students, and at least some faculty members, started lobbying for more structure in learning, but yet more freedom outside the classroom. Lectures and recitations were starting to occur within the classroom, while cut-off blue jeans and nude sun bathing appeared outside. Influential faculty member Eric Bentley insisted to his colleagues: "I can't teach history if they're not prepared to do some grinding, memorizing, getting to know facts and dates and so on…" (Duberman 1972:198). Needless to say, with Albers and many of the original faculty still on board, faculty meetings were decisive and volatile.

Overshadowing this dissent, however, was a new program that was to highlight at least the public notion of a historical "saga" for the College, the summer institutes. Like much at Black Mountain, the summer institutes started more by chance than choice."

"The summer institutes grew throughout the 1940s to include notable talents in art, architecture, music and literature. And it is probably these institutes and the renown of the individuals in attendance that contributed most to Black Mountain's reputation as an art school."

The excitement and publicity generated by the summer sessions, in addition to a general higher education population explosion spurred by the G.I. Bill, put the Black Mountain College of the late 1940s on its healthiest economic footing yet.

Still, Black Mountain managed to avoid financial stability. Student turnover negated some of the volume gains. Faculty salaries rose substantially, but grants and endowments did not. Stephen Forbes, for example, who had always been counted on to supply money to the College in tough times, refused a request in 1949 because he was disenchanted with the new emphasis on arts education at the expense of general education. The ability to manage what money it had also did not increase at Black Mountain, although Josef Albers proposed a reorganization that would include administrators and an outside board of overseers. In the wake of arguments and recriminations about the financial situation and how to solve it, a majority (by one vote) of the faculty called for the resignation of Ted Dreier, the last remaining faculty member from the founding group. In protest, four other faculty members resigned--including Josef and Anni Albers. By selling off some of the campus acreage, the remaining faculty managed to save the College and retain its original mindset of freedom from outside boards and administrators, while setting the stage for yet another era in its history [Charles Olson].

"What Albers lacked in administrative ability, he compensated for in tenacity and focus. What Rice lacked in administrative ability, he balanced with action and ideas. However, when Olson couldn't manage the administrative function, he simply retreated. His idea about turning the successful summer institutes into a similar series of year-long institutes fell on deaf faculty ears. So he gave up trying to strengthen the regular program."

"The vast majority of former Black Mountain students can point to clear instances of lasting influence on the rest of their lives. Mostly, this seems to have occurred through association: with one or two faculty members who made a difference, with a "community" of fellow individuals who were essential resources to one another, or with a new area of endeavor such as painting or writing or farming. Black Mountain, apparently, was a place where association was encouraged. Perhaps this occurred through the relatively small number of people shouldered into an isolated valley, perhaps by a common dedication to the unconventional, or perhaps to the existence of ideals about learning and teaching. At any rate, the encouragement of association with people and with ideas was not the norm in higher education then, nor is it now. Clearly, it is possible to graduate from most colleges and universities today with little, if any, significant association with faculty, students or ideas.

But at Black Mountain, as at other experimental colleges, association could hardly be avoided. Engagement with people and ideas was paramount; activity was rampant. It was social, and it was educational. As Eric Bentley would remark:

Where, as at Black Mountain, there is a teacher to every three students the advantage is evident. . .a means to … [more]
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may 2013 by robertogreco

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