The Arete Project follows in the footsteps of two other radical experiments in education: the Telluride Association and Deep Springs College. Both were founded in the early twentieth century by L.L. Nunn, the electrical tycoon who founded the world’s first alternating current power plant. Though Nunn’s initial interest in education was limited to one very particular end – training staff to work his plants – his aims and educational philosophy soon broadened. Ultimately, Nunn sought to help students of great intellectual promise prepare for lives of service to humanity.
The Telluride Association is a member-run body that originally managed the social, intellectual, and financial affairs of a house in Ithaca, New York, where most of its members lived while attending Cornell University. From its inception, Telluride has encouraged intellectual curiosity and self-governance among its membership. Today the Telluride Association has grown significantly and manages scholarships, summer programs for high school students, foreign exchanges, and a residential branch at the University of Michigan, in addition to its original house in Ithaca.
Nunn’s other enduring legacy is Deep Springs College, an all-male two-year liberal arts school located in an isolated desert valley in Eastern California. The 27 students that make up the Deep Springs Student Body balance a rigorous academic curriculum with manual labor on the college’s cattle ranch and with an intense culture of self-governance. Student-run committees make admissions and hiring decisions for the college and the Body as a whole deliberates on myriad other aspects of community life, including the nature of the school’s isolation policy. Students at Deep Springs choose not to leave the college or host guests during academic term.
Together, Deep Springs and Telluride define two different approaches to what has become known as “Nunnian education.” It is in this tradition that the Arete Project was formed.
Arete and Telluride/Deep Springs
Though Arete shares in the Nunnian vision and mission of both Deep Springs and the Telluride Association, it is officially affiliated with neither.
Arete was founded in part to provide qualified women an opportunity to attend a program like Deep Springs, but equally because the educational goals of Deep Springs and the Telluride Association are highly worth propagating. Because there is currently no program like Deep Springs for young women, the Blue Ridge Session is currently limited to female students. Per the excellent tradition of self-governance in Nunnian institutions, however, the women of Arete are responsible for charting the future course of the organization, including its admissions policy with regard to gender.
In most important aspects, Arete’s programs are modeled off of Deep Springs, but it is worth articulating some of the ways in which it is distinct.
- Deep Springs students, faculty, and staff can turn to nearly 100 years of institutional history for guidance in addressing the issues that arise in such a polity. Arete participants will have less precedent, and must rely on their own critical thinking and problem-solving skills, keeping in mind that their actions and decisions may serve as precedent in years to come.
- Deep Springs’ infrastructure has been honed over the years to best accommodate the needs of the school. Arete participants are hosted at AMS, thus their task is adaptation to and creation within pre-existing structures.
- Deep Springs has plentiful faculty and staff to serve as resources. Arete program staff generally includes only a program director, a labor coordinator, and a professor, giving participants an extraordinary amount of responsibility.
- Deep Springers have two years to work out the task of self-governance. Arete participants will have only eight weeks. It is up to them to negotiate a commitment to communal engagement that will keep them involved in the project’s governance throughout the subsequent year.