deep springs admits women

The Telluride Association newsletter* recently announced that Deep Springs College will admit women for the class of 2013. Founded in the early 1900s by a wealthy industrialist, Deep Springs College is a hyper elite two year college that admits about 12 young men a year and takes them to a ranch in the middle of the California desert. At the ranch, they determine their curriculum, which is mostly the Great Books, and earn their pay by working the farm

Admission to Deep Springs was, until recently, ** a very coveted position. After two years, the Deep Springs students transfer mainly to Ivy League schools (usually Harvard and Yale) and the most elite public schools like Michigan, Berkeley, and Virginia. Among the alumni are Congressman James Olin and multiple MacArthur grant winners.

Not surprisingly, there were pushed to admit women to Deep Springs, which were strongly resisted by the alumni. The co-ed faction won out through bureaucratic maneuver. The Telluride Association, which manages Deep Springs, loaned the college some money. If they couldn’t pay it back by the 2000s, they had to admit women.

The orgtheory lessons? A few. First, the organizational form of single ed colleges had been dying a slow, slow death. The Deep Spring announcement is just another chapter. Second, the final blow came from external institutional pressures. Non-DS alumni in the Telluride Association wanted to know why they should tolerate a single ed institutions and then resource dependence kicked in. DiMaggio and Powell would be proud. Welcome to the 20th century, Deep Springs!

Adverts: From Black Power/Grad Skool Rulz

* My wife’s a member.

** Even though a DS education is a sweet deal, it’s been harder to recruit. Some of it may be due to young men not wanting to hang out with other young men, and maybe it’s the declining appeal of a hard core classics education. Why go the middle of the desert when you can study in Silicon Valley or New York City?

Written by fabiorojas

June 20, 2012 at 12:01 am

Posted in academia, education, fabio

12 Responses

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  1. This is great news, and long overdue. I have an alumnus in the family (I myself was not admitted which was actually the best thing for me in terms of what I was able to do instead and led me to academia), and long have I dreamed of a semester there as a visiting professor. But going to a men’s only institution was one straw of patriarchy too many for me. I can start dreaming again.



    June 20, 2012 at 4:05 am

  2. Ironic that an article about an elite college where most students study “great books” skipped on grammer checking. (Hint: “Not surprisingly, there were pushed to admit”)



    June 20, 2012 at 2:42 pm

  3. You also just demonstrated one of the all-time great internet laws; in your criticism, you spelled “grammar” as “grammer.”



    June 20, 2012 at 3:18 pm

  4. We at Deep Springs regret that the author never fact-checked this posting with us. Some factual corrections:

    Paragraph One:
    –Admissions vary from 13 to 15 per year, not 12.
    –The notion that the curriculum is Great Books based is a canard. The curriculum often emphasizes primary texts instead of secondary interpretations.
    –Students do not “earn pay” by working. Work in common is part of the educational program, and is unrelated to the full scholarship each student receives.

    Paragraph Two:
    –The competitiveness of admissions and the quality of entering classes at Deep Springs has held steady for over a decade, and are unrelated to the shift to coeducation.

    Paragraph Three:
    –No one “pushed” the college to admit women. Alumni have discussed coeducation for over fifty years, with strongly-held views on both sides. The recent policy change came after a six-month formal consideration process that included input from over one-fourth of living alumni, along with present and former teaching staff.
    –Far from a “bureaucratic maneuver,” the question was settled by a 10-2 vote of the college trustees. This super-majority represents a decisive embrace of the argument that the college’s founding intentions will be better served in the present day by educating students in a coed environment.
    –The Telluride Association had no role in the decision, and does not “manage” Deep Springs (which is quite independent). The college’s financial partnership with the Telluride Association is in joint ownership of a small limited liability corporation; the Telluride Association may compel Deep Springs to purchase its share in 2026. Deep Springs has already set aside the requisite funds to do so, and is in the meantime earning interest on them. The idea that this arrangement gives the Telluride Association any leverage over policies at Deep Springs is fantastical.

    Paragraph Four:
    –Again, no external pressures played a role in this decision. Neither did “resource dependency”—in fact, the opposite is true. Only because of its educational and financial stability is the college able to undertake this change.


    Deep Springs Office

    June 20, 2012 at 10:24 pm

  5. You got served, Fabio.



    June 21, 2012 at 3:16 am

  6. Thanks for the comments, Deep Springs. Good to know that the target of admissions is 13 students, not 12. And if reading original texts by canonical authors is not a “Great Book” approach to education, I’d be happy to use another term.

    Anyway, I’ll stand by the gist of my post because it accurately reflects the great deal of conflict around the decision to go co-ed. For example, relying on the final board vote is looking only at the final stage of the conflict. In the early 1990s, there was an earlier vote to go co-ed, which failed. Even now, there is an unresolved lawsuit by a few of the Trustees that attempts to block the recent vote. Here’s the LA Times:

    Also, I would describe the overall process to make DS co-ed as bureaucratic fighting. Read the clip from the NY Times. A few years back, DS required funds. The Telluride Association loaned them money on the following conditions: if you can’t pay it back, then you have to go co-ed. Well, for whatever reason – maybe they had the money and simply chose to do it anyway – DS allowed the vote to go co-ed. In management studies, we call that a “poison pill” – the charter or contract has a provision which is very destructive unless the party complies. When organizational behavior changes in response to external forces (like loans from umbrella organizations), we call it resource dependence.

    Finally, let me focus on why I still think the DS decision is a sign of isomorphism, environmental pressures, and the instability of the single-ed form. As far as I can tell, the pressure to make DS co-ed in earlier days was primarily from non-DS Telluride members. I’m talking averages here. I’m sure that some DS alumni wanted co-ed. Furthermore, as time passes, the perceived need for single sex education has declined overall. The younger DS trustees and alumni come from a cohort where co-ed is now the norm, and they are likely to put up less resistance for this reason. The DS co-ed decision didn’t happen in a vacuum, it happened in an educational environment that has radically changed in the last 20 years.



    June 21, 2012 at 3:14 pm

  7. We aren’t competent to discuss matters of sociological theory, but we hate to see the facts so mangled, and in so condescending and breezy a fashion.

    Without seeking clarification we would gladly supply, the author claims that “The Telluride Association loaned them [Deep Springs] money on the following conditions: if you can’t pay it back, then you have to go co-ed.”

    This claim is false, and it amounts to an accusation of fiscal mismanagement; no minimally competent board would ever agree to such a condition. In fact, Deep Springs has a long-standing policy not to accept any fiscal support that is tied either to changing or to sustaining our admissions policies.

    Let’s try it again: perhaps what the author calls a “loan” is the Telluride Association’s purchase of a minority share of a limited liability corporation, of which Deep Springs is majority owner. According to the terms of the purchase, Telluride may invoke Deep Springs’ obligation to repurchase the minority share at any time staring in 2019, with payment due no earlier than 2026. Deep Springs has long-standing arrangements for this repurchase; anticipation of it is irrelevant to college planning.

    Roughly a year after this agreement was finalized, the Telluride Association decided, as a purely internal matter, to go on record as committed to initiate buyout of their share on the 2019 date if Deep Springs was still single-sex. Perhaps in this way they hoped to express their disapproval of Deep Springs’s admissions policy, or to appease some of their own members who were angry about the joint venture. We doubt they were naive enough to think such a gesture gave them any practical leverage over Deep Springs; even inexperienced sociologists can easily see that if posed as an effort to influence another organization, such a gesture would merely empower anti-coeducation forces at Deep Springs. In any case, the Telluride
    Association played no role whatsoever in the decision to change policy at Deep Springs.

    Normally we wouldn’t bother about such tedious details, but as the author notes, Deep Springs’ decision to become coeducational is under legal challenge. In this climate, the lazy repetition of falsehoods requires correction. It’s true that in the linked article Dana Goodyear is quoted making the same mistake six years ago in the New Yorker. But to see the error mulishly repeated in the face of a polite and friendly correction is frankly mystifying. There seems to be something pleasing about the fantasy of such influence; perhaps sociologists have a name for this.

    We may also run afoul here of the pleasing fantasy that no matter what the facts, when they talk theory, college professors never have to own up to silly mistakes in their blogs. That would explain why the phrase “as far as I can tell” is sufficient to validate a sweeping albeit ignorant conclusion.

    We respectfully request that the author do the minimally responsible thing; please fact-check future claims about Deep Springs with the college before publishing them to the web.


    Deep Springs Office

    June 21, 2012 at 11:21 pm

  8. This is an interesting conflict. A sociologist “explains” a community’s decision to change its social structure (in a rather fundamental way) as being forced upon it by external pressures. The community then corrects a number of (it claims) factual errors. The sociologist brushes off the question of factual accuracy (citing some journalism as evidence) and doubles down on the theory, making sure to couch the explanation in technical language about “isomorphism” and politely explaining “what we call” things in management studies.

    I’m not saying Fabio can’t possibly be right here. But it does seem to me that this is an example of explanatory overreach by a social theorist. Working on essentially anecdotal evidence, but bolstered by a well-entrenched theory, the complicated identity work that is going on in a very small, very fragile (and internally conflicted) community, whose core values are, as Fabio points out, “dying a slow death” in the surrounding society, is summarily dismissed. Though the members of the community think they deliberated seriously about this issue for 50 years, sociology tells them they really had no choice in the matter because, hey, that’s how social organizations work.

    Also, do I detect normative undertones? Does the theoretical explanation not, in a sense, legitimize the manipulative (on Fabio’s account of the facts) wrangling of the Telluride Association?

    Maybe we should send some ethnographers to study self-governing and single-sex colleges? Then we can aggregate all their fieldnotes and discover that the meaning of what students and teachers do and say is not actually determined by their own values or their own deliberative processes but by isomorphism and conformity to external pressures. But why bother when a six-year-old (contested) article in the New Yorker gives us everything we need?



    June 22, 2012 at 7:06 am

  9. If Deep Springs Office is filling in the gaps of the story, might as well give us more information.

    As a matter of curiosity:

    What percentage was Telluride’s minority share?
    Are there minutes from the meetings where Telluride and Deep Springs were negotiating the purchase of the minority share?

    Seems to me like Telluride Association would have pointed out where it stood on single-sex versus co-ed. during those meetings. Just a hypothesis Thomas, I don’t want to overreach. And I certainly do not have evidence to (dis)prove it.


    Scott Dolan

    June 22, 2012 at 2:15 pm

  10. Isn’t this the classic problem of trying to study the underlying dynamics of social life when the participants themselves can dispute the interpretation? I believe that this is one of the reasons ethnographers anonymize their studies: so that the studied don’t show up on their doorstep.

    Fabio does have some of the “facts” wrong, but his interpretation of isomorphism and the difficulty in sustaining single sex education is spot on. But from what I know of the institution, I would say that this is less a story of two bureaucracies in conflict and more a cohort effect. My understanding is that for years a majority the student body has wanted to go co-ed, while the alums have been more resistant. Over time, this trend would build acceptance or support for admitting women across the various stakeholders.

    If we were so inclined we could probably model this diffusion using network analysis. (To answer two posts in one.)



    June 22, 2012 at 6:34 pm

  11. Sure, the incredibly powerful theory of isomorphism is so spot on: that’s why Deep Springs has expanded it’s student body to thousands, has stopped providing all students full scholarships, has dropped their required labor program, has watered down its academic program, has stopped insisting on isolation from the surrounding world during term, and has limited the extensive responsibilities of students for running the institution. You know, because they just can’t help but be like other colleges, no matter what they say. (Never mind that the clear norm when Deep Springs was founded was for colleges to be coeducational! Never mind that Deep Springs now stands to lose millions from other restricted funding sources by going coeducational! Don’t let the facts get in the way!) No doubt they’ll soon field sports teams and finally get around to adopting school colors, at least if some external organization bullies them into adopting practices that happen to be the prevailing ones. For that matter, they’re sure to hire a department full of organization theorists to help redress their unfashionable dearth of simplistic theories that are putatively bolstered by one fact that can be made to look vaguely consistent despite having to ignore many more that aren’t tractable. Welcome to the 19th century, orgtheory!


    Frances Q.

    July 1, 2012 at 4:49 pm

  12. […] (i.e., single ed was a much less legitimate organizational form in the 2000s). Essentially, Quarel argued that Deep Springs reflected *no* response to the institutional environment. Quarel correctly notes that the Deep Springs displays very little resemblance to other colleges. So […]


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