Bennington College is a private liberal arts college in Bennington, Vermont, founded in 1932. Originally a women's college, it became co-educational in 1969. It was the first college to include visual and performing arts as an equal partner in the liberal arts curriculum. It is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.
|Endowment||US $ 40.8 million|
|Campus||Rural, 440 acres (1.8 km2)|
The planning for the establishment of Bennington College began in 1924 and took nine years to be realized. While many people were involved, the four central figures in the founding of Bennington were Vincent Ravi Booth, Mr. and Mrs. Hall Park McCullough, and William Heard Kilpatrick.
A Women's Committee, headed by Mrs. Hall Park McCullough, organized the Colony Club Meeting in 1924, which brought together some 500 civic leaders and educators from across the country. As a result of the Colony Club Meeting, a charter was secured and a board of trustees formed for Bennington College. One of the trustees, John Dewey, helped shape many of the College's signature programs such as The Plan Process and Field Work Term through his educational principles.
In 1928, six years before the College would begin, Robert Devore Leigh was recruited by the Bennington College executive committee to serve as the first president of Bennington. Leigh presided over the forging of Bennington's structure and its early operation. In 1929 Leigh authored the Bennington College Prospectus which outlined the "Bennington idea."
The first class of eighty-seven women arrived on campus in 1932. The College was the first to include the visual and performing arts as full-fledged elements of the liberal arts curriculum. Every year since the College began in 1932, every Bennington College student has engaged in internships and volunteer opportunities each winter term. Originally called the Winter Field & Reading Period, the two-month term was described by President Robert Devore Leigh in his 1928 Bennington College Prospectus as "a long winter recess giving students and faculty opportunity for travel, field work, and educational advantages of metropolitan life." This internship was renamed twice, as Non-Resident term and, as it is called today, Field Work Term.
In 1934 the Bennington School of Dance summer program was founded by Martha Hill. Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, Hanya Holm, and Charles Weidman all taught at this laboratory. The program gained attendance by José Limón, Bessie Schonberg, Merce Cunningham, and Betty Ford. In 1935 the administration agreed to admit young men into the Bennington Theater Studio program, since men were needed for theatrical performances. Among the men who attended was the actor Alan Arkin.
Built in 1959, the Edward Clark Crossett Library was designed by the modernist architect Pietro Belluchi. After opening, Crossett Library was featured in Architectural Forum and became a focus of study for many architecture students in the 1960s. Crossett Library went on to win the 1963 Honor Award for library design. In 1968, three new student houses were completed to help house the growing student population and were named in honor of William C. Fels, Jessie Smith Noyes, and Margaret Smith Sawtell. These houses were designed by the distinguished modernist architect, Edward Larrabee Barnes, who posthumously earned the 2007 American Institute of Architects Gold Medal. In 1969, Bennington became fully coeducational, a move that attracted major national attention, including a major feature story in the New York Times Magazine.
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," 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." According to the Trustees, the process was intended to reinvent the college, and the Board said it received over 600 contributions to this end.
The results of the process were published in June 1994 in a 36-page document titled Symposium Report of the Bennington College Board of Trustees. Recommended changes included the following:
- Adoption of a "teacher-practitioner" ideal;
- Abandonment of academic divisions in favor of "polymorphous, dynamically changing Faculty Program Groups";
- Replacement of the college's system of presumptive tenure with "an experimental contract system"; and
- A 10% tuition reduction over the following five years. In 1988, according to the New York Times, Bennington was the most expensive college in the country.
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. (The exact number of fired faculty members is listed as 25 or 26 in some reports, a discrepancy partly because at least one faculty member, photographer Neil Rappaport, was reinstated on appeal shortly after his firing.) As recommended in the Symposium, the Trustees abolished the presumptive tenure system, leaving the institution with no form of tenure. The firings attracted considerable media attention.
Some students and alumni protested, and the college was censured for its actions by the American Association of University Professors, who said, "...academic freedom is insecure, and academic tenure is nonexistent today at Bennington College." 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. 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.
President Coleman responded that the decision was fundamentally "about ideas", stating that "Bennington became mediocre over time" and that the college was in need of radical change. 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." 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".
In May 1996, 17 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. 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. In the immediate wake of the controversy, for the 1994–1995 academic year, the college's enrollment dropped to a record low of 370 undergraduates, and the following year (1995–1996), undergraduate enrollment declined to 285. According to Coleman, a student body of 600 undergraduates was required for the college to break even.
As of 2015, the college reports a total enrollment of 755 students with steady increases in quality student applications. Bennington was also selected by The Princeton Review as one of the top colleges in America. Bennington College appeared in Princeton's 2018 Best Northeastern Colleges List, which includes the schools that it considers "...academically outstanding and well worth consideration in your college search." Bennington also appeared on Princeton's "Green Schools" list. Notably, Bennington was also featured in an article by Forbes as one of "Tomorrow's Hot Colleges" highlighting the institution's recent flourishing "...under bold, entrepreneurial leadership."
Bennington continues to be spotlighted amongst the top 10 Colleges and Universities in the country earning recognition for:
- Number 2 for "Best Classroom Experience" —Princeton Review;
- Number 2 for "Most Beautiful Campus" —Princeton Review;
- Number 3 for "Professors Get High Marks" —Princeton Review;
- Number 5 for "Best College Theater" —Princeton Review;
- Number 6 for "Best College Dorms" —Princeton Review;
- Number 8 for "Most Politically Active Students" —Princeton Review;
- Number 4 for "America's Most Entrepreneurial Colleges" —Forbes;
- "Top Ten Brainiest Colleges" —Unigo; and
- Colleges Where Students Get Internships —US News & World Report
In 2015 Bennington College announced a $5 million gift from the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation. The largest single gift ever awarded by the foundation has helped establish the Helen Frankenthaler Fund for the Visual Arts and provides support for all aspects of the school's visual arts program including curricula, facilities, programs, and faculty. In recognition of the gift, the visual arts wing of the college's 120,000-square-foot arts facility was renamed the Helen Frankenthaler Visual Arts Center.
At Bennington, students receive graduate-style advising from a faculty member who assists with course selection, internship and job applications, graduate school preparation, and more. Bennington does not have traditional academic majors for undergraduate students. Instead, the Plan Process is an alternative to majors, which encourages students to lead their own education, rather than choosing from pre-existing paths.
Within the Plan Process, there are no required courses, so from the moment students arrive, they are free to begin crafting their plan of study to meet their interests and explore new fields. In their second year, students must submit an essay-style Plan proposal, which details their desired primary and secondary areas of study, a summary of their interests and previous coursework, and a framework for how their studies should progress to culminate in senior work in one of the existing disciplines such as Society, Culture and Thought, Advancement of Public Action, Dance, Environmental Studies, Visual Arts, and others. Students then meet with a committee of faculty members and their academic adviser to review the proposed Plan and make any necessary changes. After their Plan is improved, students regularly meet with their adviser to choose relevant courses and meet again with the Plan committee each fall to discuss their progress towards completion. Because of the Plan Process, no two students at Bennington will graduate with the same exact mix of learning.
Field Work Term
Field Work Term is a required annual internship program that gives students the opportunity to gain professional experience beyond the classroom before graduating. Field Work Term experiences often inform students' decisions about career planning and can even lead to job opportunities post graduation. Bennington is the only college that has required an annual internship for students since its founding.
- 2015–2016 charges is $65,590(including indirect costs). The total is broken down into $47,590 for tuition, $14,200 for room & board,& $3,800 for books,supplies, personal expenses etc.
- 90% of undergraduates receive financial aid
- Financial aid is awarded for 99.8% of those undergraduates found to have financial need
- 80% of undergraduate need is met
Master's degrees offered: MFA in Writing, MFA in Dance, MFA in Music, and Postbaccalaureate Premedical Program. Previously an MAT or BA/MAT was offered in Education through the Center for Creative Teaching, until discontinued around 2012.
Bennington College has a low-residency Master of Fine Arts program in writing. In 2007, The Atlantic named it one of the nation's best, and Poets & Writers Magazine named it one of the top three low-residency programs in the world in 2011. Core faculty has included fiction writers David Gates, Amy Hempel, Jill McCorkle, and Lynne Sharon Schwartz; nonfiction writers Sven Birkerts, Susan Cheever, Phillip Lopate, Tom Bissell, and George Scialabba; and poets April Bernard, Major Jackson, Timothy Liu, Amy Gerstler, Mark Wunderlich, and Ed Ochester. Poet Liam Rector founded the college's Writing Seminars. After Rector's death in August 2007, Sven Birkerts became acting director of the Writing Seminars and director the following January.
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.
The program offers advising and support through and beyond the postbaccalaureate year during the medical school admissions process. Postbaccalaureate students are both recent college graduates and experienced professionals from many backgrounds advancing on to Dartmouth's Geisel School of Medicine, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, the University of Vermont, Yale and other prestigious medical and health profession schools.
The two year, four semester for MFA in Dance curriculum is designed for students who already have significant professional achievement and experience. Students work closely with faculty to advance their work and research, contributing to ongoing performances and workshops, as well as creating original work.
The groundbreaking ceremony for Bennington College took place on August 16, 1931, and construction of the original Bennington College campus was completed by 1936. The Boston architectural firm, J.W. Ames and E.S. Dodge designed Commons, the 12 original student houses, as well as the reconfiguration of the Barn from a working farm building into classrooms and administrative offices. The original student houses were named for the people integral to the founding of the College. The campus was built by more than 100 local craftsmen, many of whom had been out of work since the stock market crash of 1929. The campus stretches 440 acres with main campus centered on 10 acres. There are 300 wooded acres, 15 acres of wetland, and 5 acres of tilled farmland.
- The Barn
- Center for the Advancement of Public Action
- Crossett Library
- Dickinson Science Building
- Jennings Music Building
- Deane Carriage Barn
- Stickney Observatory
- Tishman Lecture Hall
- East Academic Center Buildings
- Visual and Performing Arts Center
94% of students live on campus. There are 21 student houses and all dorms are co-educational. Each dorm hosts a weekly "Coffee Hour" on Sunday evenings where students discuss campus and house issues together. There are also 15 staff/faculty houses.
- Welling Town House
- Shingle Cottage
Dining, fitness, and recreation
- Historic Commons Building
- Meyer Recreation Barn & Climbing Gym
- The Student Center & Snack Bar
- The Upstairs/Downstairs Cafe
- Soccer Field
- Tennis Courts
- Basketball Court
- Running and Hiking Trails
Bennington College has a total undergraduate enrollment of 668, with a gender distribution of 32.9 percent male students and 67.1 percent female students. 94.0 percent of the students live in college-owned, -operated, or -affiliated housing and 6.0 percent of students live off campus.
- 24-Hour Play
- Plays are written and performed in the span of one day.
- Springtime party featuring live music and a pig roast.
- Roller skating in Greenwall Auditorium.
- A day-long music festival in May.
"Footnotes" is an academic journal created by the Student Educational Policies Committee, beginning in Spring 2016.
Notable alumni and faculty
- Alan Arkin ('55)
- Carol Channing ('48)
- Suzanne Shepherd ('56)
- Brooks Ashmanskas
- Betty Aberlin ('63)
- Holland Taylor ('64)
- Alley Mills ('73)
- Tim Daly ('79)
- Anne Ramsey ('51)
- Molly Tarlov ('08)
- Shira Piven ('83)
- Richard Deacon ('52)
- Justin Theroux ('93)
- Peter Dinklage ('91)
- Debra Eisenstadt ('91)
- Melissa Rosenberg ('86)
- Elizabeth Swados ('73)
- Mitch Markowitz ('75)
- Carolyn Cassady ('44)
- Kiran Desai ('93)
- Bret Easton Ellis ('86)
- Jill Eisenstadt ('85)
- Gretel Ehrlich ('67)
- Gail Hirschorn Evans ('63)
- Elizabeth Frank ('67)
- James Geary ('85)
- Ann Goldstein ('71)
- Jonathan Lethem ('86)
- Megan Marshall ('75)
- Kathleen Norris (poet) ('69)
- Michael Pollan ('76)
- Mary Ruefle ('74)
- Reginald Shepherd ('88)
- Donna Tartt ('86)
- Joan Hinton ('42)
- Spencer Cox ('90)
- Judith Butler ('78)
- Betty Ford ('37)
- Judith Jones ('45)
- Sally Liberman Smith ('50)
- Harvey Lichtenstein ('53)
- Gay Johnson McDougall ('69)
- Deborah Borda ('71)
- Kathy Halbreich ('71)
- Princess Yasmin Aga Khan ('73)
- Bruce Berman ('74)
- Brad Jacobs ('77)
- Andrea Dworkin ('68)
- Dan Cameron ('79)
- Holly Block ('80)
- Jordan A. Thomas ('92)
- Ujwal Thapa ('00)
Faculty has included Wharton and James biographer R. W. B. Lewis, essayist Edward Hoagland, literary critics Camille Paglia and Stanley Hyman (whose wife Shirley Jackson referenced Bennington College in her writing, particularly Hangsaman), rhetorician Kenneth Burke, former United Artists' senior vice-president Steven Bach, novelists Arturo Vivante, Bernard Malamud and John Gardner, trumpeter/composer Bill Dixon, composers Allen Shawn, Henry Brant, and Vivian Fine, painters Kenneth Noland, Mary Lum and Jules Olitski, politicians Mansour Farhang and Mac Maharaj, poets Léonie Adams and Howard Nemerov, sculptor Anthony Caro, dancer/choreographer Martha Graham, drummer Milford Graves, author William Butler (author of The Butterfly Revolution), economist Karl Polanyi and a number of Pulitzer Prize-winning and acclaimed poets including W. H. Auden, Stanley Kunitz, Mary Oliver, Theodore Roethke, Donald Hall, and Anne Waldman, and educator Joseph S. Murphy, the future Chancellor of the City University of New York.
Robert Frost Stone House Museum
In 2017, Bennington College acquired the Robert Frost Stone House Museum through a gift from the Friends of Robert Frost. Robert Frost lived in the colonial era home in Shaftsbury, VT from 1920 to 1929, during which time he wrote many of his well known works including the poem "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening."
After acquiring the museum, the college intends to create educational opportunities for students with relevant areas of study to engage with the museum's resources.
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