Consistently ranked as one of the nation’s toughest colleges to get into, Deep Springs has recently doubled its number of possible applicants.
The college, founded in 1917, will no longer have an all-male student body. After brief pilot and summer programs with coeducation, the trustees of the remote college/working ranch voted 10-2 in September to begin accepting female applicants.
Current President David Neidorf explained that while there may be some immediate concerns about the distractions (i.e., romance) of a coeducation system, there is more to gain from the idea than had been previously discussed. He said that when the college was first started, the ultimate result of many relationships was pregnancy. He said that is no longer the case in these modern times. He added the trustees’ decision is actually in line with the ideals of the founder Lucien Lucius, or simply L.L. Nunn.
Dave Hitz, trustee chair, explains some of the reasoning behind the vote in a letter posted on the college website. He said hundreds of alumni and others gave their input on the matter. According to Hitz, there was wide consensus among those in favor of the coeducation that Nunn’s “key mission was preparing leaders for a life of service.”
Hitz notes that Nunn did not necessarily mean “leaders” as in employers or politicians or just males, but, as quoted from the “Gray Book” – Nunn’s collection of quotes and maxims published before he died – “forerunners and pacemakers who anticipate progress perhaps by decades” and who “break the trails and point the way.”
Hitz adds, “In today’s world, this group includes women.”
Neidorf dispelled any rumors that the decision was financially motivated because a single-sex college can have difficulty is gaining federal or other financial assistance. Neidorf said for starters, Title IX Education Amendments allows for federal funding of single-sex colleges, and that frankly, the college is financially sound. He said, if anything, the single-sex plan may actually have had “negative financial” concerns.
The college, located in far eastern Inyo County, has a student body of about 25, with equal numbers of firstyear and second-year students. The rigorous application process for admission includes the necessary paperwork and, if they’re lucky, a visit to the college where potential applicants live and work alongside students. It is then up to the students to decide who they will be living and working beside for the next year. This is part of Nunn’s self-governance ideals.
Deep Springs is a two-year agricultural college with an equally tough-as-nails academic program. Students work on campus, from filing in the office to milking cows, doing dishes, gardening or carrying out slaughter and butchering duties. Academically, the students like to up the ante of already difficult courses by, for example, challenging fellow students to read Friedrich Nietzsche in the original German, along with having to understand the philosopher and the regular assignments.
First-year students are also required to stay on campus, with the exception of emergencies, for entire six-week terms which are followed by a short vacation and another term.
Nunn’s vision of the college is well explained on the school’s website. At the turn on the 20th century, Nunn had moved west from Ohio and worked as a mine manager in Colorado. The Gold King mine, south of Telluride, Colo., was in need of a mill on-site, so Nunn devised and largely bank-rolled the first long-range hydro-electrical power system. The mine was not profitable, but Nunn realized he had created a 24-hour-a-day power source for mining and quickly netted a fortune selling and designing systems and operations as Telluride Power.
With 24-hour-a-day power came 24-hour-a-day maintenance and labor needs to operate the mines.
“Nunn devised a unique in-house education system to meet these demands,” states the website. “He recruited young men with the curiosity, acuity of mind, and physical stamina required to work at the plants, and in return provided them with nominal wages and an education. These men became known as Nunn’s pinheads, so-called because of the pins he used to mark their locations on a map.”
Nunn would go on to create the Telluride Institute and began to put into place his idea of an academic program, followed largely today at Deep Springs – academics, labor and self-governance.
Nunn created the Telluride House at Cornell University, intended for pinheads who wanted to continue their education. Stockholders of Telluride Power thought the educational program was a distraction from business and drove Nunn out.
Nunn took his money and influence and founded the Swinging T Ranch in Deep Springs Valley. It started accepting students in 1917.
There are T-shirts on campus with the joke that in 1917 two radical political ideas were born, Deep Springs College and the Soviet Union, and now, only one remains.
Neidorf explained the launch of the coeducation and female applicant acceptance process is expected to be the summer of 2013.