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Bennington College
Established 1932
Type Private
Endowment US $12 million
President Elizabeth Coleman
Provost Elissa Tenny
Dean Wendy Hirsch
Undergraduates 680
Postgraduates 154
Location Bennington, Vermont, United States
Campus Rural, 550 acres (2.2 km2)

Bennington College is a liberal arts college located in Bennington, Vermont, USA. The college was founded in 1932 as a women's college and became co-educational in 1969.



The Commons Building stands before Commons Lawn and looks out over what students call "The End of the World".

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. Booth, McCullough, Kilpatrick, Dewey, and Leigh (as well as others) are immortalized on campus as the names of the houses.

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. For instance, Carol Channing was 'discovered' during her Field Work Term.

In 1935 the administration agreed to admit young men into 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,"[1] 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."[2] According to the Trustees, the process was intended to reinvent the college, and the Board allegedly received over 600 contributions to this end.[2]

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[3]; the abandonment of academic divisions in favor of "polymorphous, dynamically changing Faculty Program Groups"[4]; the replacement of the college's system of presumptive tenure with "an experimental contract system"[5]; and a ten-percent tuition reduction over the following five years.[6]

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.[7] (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.)[8] 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 [3], who alleged that "...academic freedom is insecure, and academic tenure is nonexistent today at Bennington College."[9] 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.[10] 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.[11]

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.[10] 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."[12] 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"[13].

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[14 ], while in the following year (1995-1996), undergraduate enrollment declined further, to 285.[15][16] According to President Coleman, a student body of 600 undergraduates was required for the college to break even.[14 ] Over the following years, however, enrollment slowly increased, reaching 500 students in 2002[15], and 600 in 2004.[17]

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.[18] 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.[19]

Since the Symposium years, the college's situation has improved considerably due to multi-million dollar gifts from Bennington's earliest classes [4] [5][6], increased enrollment, and accelerated campus renewal efforts[7].

Bennington in the media observed that Bennington is "high on prestige and low on student-teacher ratios" [8]. Forbes also included Bennington as one of the top-10 most expensive colleges in America[20]. The Princeton Review lists Bennington as one of the "Best 368 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.[21]

Bennington ranks 106th on US News Magazine's most recent list of top liberal arts schools[22], though like other members of the Annapolis Group, Bennington may refuse to participate in future US News ranking reports [23]. Bennington's endowment is less than $12 million, 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[24]; as of 2006, it was the seventh most expensive.[25] 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.[26]

Bennington unfortunately 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 [9] 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[10], while Alan Arkin '55 won an Academy Award in 2007 for his role in Little Miss Sunshine [27].

The disappearance of 18-year-old college sophomore Paula Jean Welden, of Stamford, Connecticut, on 1 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.

In June 2009, the college announced the closure of the Early Childhood Center, which had been in operation for 75 years.[28] According to college officials, the Center had been running a substantial deficit for some time, losing up to $100,000 annually, and the decision to close it came as part of $1 million in budget cuts, including a salary freeze.[29] Both the content and late timing of the announcement reportedly angered many parents in the community, who were "enraged that [the college] waited this long to tell us" because of the difficulty of making alternative arrangements late in the year.[30]

Jennings, the college's music building
Dewey and Canfield, two of the college's older student housing facilities.

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 [11]. Core faculty include fiction writers David Gates (author), 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.

Postbaccalaureate Premedical Program


For students who have excelled in an undergraduate program in an area other than science and now wish to acquire the prerequisites necessary to apply to medical and other health-related professional schools, Bennington offers a one-year intensive science curriculum. Now in its thirtieth year, the program offers advising and support through and beyond the postbac year during the medical school admissions process. Postbac students are both recent college graduates and experienced professionals from many backgrounds advancing on to Dartmouth Medical School, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, UVM, Yale and other medical and health profession schools.

Notable alumni and faculty

Martha Graham

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, Jill Eisenstadt, Justin Theroux, Michael Pollan, Helen Frankenthaler, Cora Cohen, Liz Phillips, Tim Daly, Roger Kimball, Holland Taylor, Melissa Rosenberg, Peter Dinklage and Jonathan Lethem.

Notable current and former faculty include Wharton and James biographer R.W.B. Lewis, essayist Edward Hoagland, literary critic Camille Paglia, rhetorician Kenneth Burke, fomer United Artists' senior vice-president Steven Bach, novelists Bernard Malamud and John Gardner, trumpeter/composer Bill Dixon, composers Allen Shawn, Henry Brant, and Vivian Fine, painters Kenneth Noland and Jules Olitski, politicians Mansour Farhang and Mac Maharaj, poet Howard Nemerov, sculptor Anthony Caro, dancer/choreographer Martha Graham, drummer Milford Graves,Karl Polanyi and a number of Pulitzer Prize-winning poets including W. H. Auden, Stanley Kunitz, Mary Oliver, Theodore Roethke and Anne Waldman.

See also


  1. ^ (PDF) Symposium Report of the Bennington College Board of Trustees, 1994, pp. 7,, retrieved 2007-07-07  
  2. ^ a b Symposium Report, p. 8.
  3. ^ Symposium Report, p. 11.
  4. ^ Symposium Report, p. 14.
  5. ^ Symposium Report, p. 17.
  6. ^ Symposium Report, p. 22.
  7. ^ Edmundson, Mark (October 23, 1994), "Bennington means business", New York Times: 1 [Section 6, Col. 1]  
  8. ^ Dembner, Alice (April 15, 1995), "National professors' group calls Bennington overhaul a 'purge'", Boston Globe: 22 [Metro-Region section]  
  9. ^ Howie, Stephen S. (May 5, 2002), "Bennington makes recovery its own way: President is credited with setting the course", Boston Globe: B11 [Education section]  
  10. ^ a b Edmundson, "Bennington means business".
  11. ^ Dembner, Alice (September 14, 1994), "Striking a discord: Record low enrollment follows radical changes at Bennington College", Boston Globe: 1 [Metro-Region section]  
  12. ^ "Change begins at Bennington", St. Louis Post-Dispatch: 12C, June 28, 1994  
  13. ^ "Bennington means business (letter response)", New York Times: 22 [Section 6, Col. 4], November 27, 1994  
  14. ^ a b Dembner, "Striking a discord".
  15. ^ a b Howie, "Bennington makes recovery its own way".
  16. ^ June, Audrey Williams (October 22, 2004), "Bond-Rating Update", Chronicle of Higher Education: 40  
  17. ^ June, "Bond-rating update".
  18. ^ Yemma, John (May 8, 1996), "Laid-off Bennington faculty members sue", Boston Globe: 32  
  19. ^ "17 Dismissed Professors Win Suit at Bennington", New York Times: 16 [Section A, Column 1], December 29, 2000; corrected January 1, 2001  
  20. ^ Forbes listing of most expensive colleges
  21. ^ [1]
  22. ^ Waller, John (2007-08-18). "Bennington, SVC left raw by rankings".  
  23. ^ "Press release: President Coleman Discusses US News and World Report Rankings with Vermont Public Radio".  
  24. ^ "MIT is most expensive".  
  25. ^ "Top 10 Most Expensive College".  
  26. ^ McKenna, Holly (December 9, 2004), "Vermont college students fight to bare all", Seattle Times: A2  
  27. ^ [2]
  28. ^ "Bennington College cuts program, freezes pay", Boston Herald: 32, 2009-06-25  
  29. ^ "Big Cuts at Bennington College". 2009-06-25.  
  30. ^ Goswami, Neal P. (2009-07-06), "College to close early childhood center, make other cuts", Bennington Banner,  

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