From “Mama Grizzlies in American Politics” to “Raising the Curtain on China's Modernities:” The Faculty Salon Series

More than anything else, when Bard College at Simon’s Rock Alumni remember their college experience, they think of a unique feeling of intellectual engagement. They recall being in the presence of an accomplished academic who asked questions and facilitated conversation, responding to each other to build a framework for understanding the work in front of them, and sharing a sense of purpose.

The Simon’s Rock academic experience is one alumni continually reflect on as they move through their lives, and for good reason. It equips them with an invaluable set of skills: critical thinking, persuasive writing, the ability to listen and respond to others, and the desire to continually learn and challenge oneself.

"As I speak with alumni, they repeatedly tell me how much they miss the level of intellectual vibrancy and engagement they found at Simon's Rock and how hard that is to replicate elsewhere,” said Leslie Davidson, dean of the College. “Providing avenues for participation in the intellectual life of the campus is foremost on our minds as we seek to increase alumni engagement with the College."

The College is taking that intellectual life on the road with a series of Faculty Salons that evoke the most salient aspects of the Simon’s Rock education. The Salons are gatherings of alumni, parents, and community members, and, like Simon’s Rock classes, they’re intimate and approachable. A featured faculty member presents his or her current research, and leads attendees through a seminar-style conversation about the ideas they’ve presented.

"These salons demonstrate to alumni—whoseFaculty Salon Series experiences at Simon's Rock were so powerfully shaped by the expert teaching and mentoring of their faculty members—that while individuals may change, the spirit of teaching and learning at Simon's Rock remains the same," said Davidson.

The series began in April, when Brendan Matthews, faculty in Literary Studies, read his short story, "My Last Attempt to Explain to You What Happened with the Lion Tamer," which was published in The Best American Short Stories 2010.

At the September event, Maryann Tebben, faculty in French Language and Literature, presented her research on French food and identity. Hosted by Provost Mary Marcy at the White House on the Simon’s Rock campus, it brought together a wonderful mix of alumni, parents, and people who care about Simon’s Rock because it’s such a distinctive institution, “all enthusiastic about being part of Simon's Rock's extended intellectual community,” Davidson said.

Provost Marcy introduced Tebben, taking the opportunity to report that the Simon’s Rock tradition is alive and well. “Our faculty members are committed to the spirit of educational innovation, intellectual engagement, and serious research that will always be the heart of the College.”

Economics faculty Gül Ünal led a salon in New York City. Ünal, currently on sabbatical serving as a consultant at the United Nations Development Program, presented her research on how government policy in an array of Eastern European and Central Asian states affects quality of life for the most vulnerable people in the midst of the global economic crisis. After the event, an alumnus from the late 1990s remarked that "Simon's Rock is alive for me now in a way it wasn't a few hours ago."

The most recent event was in San Francisco, where John Weinstein, faculty in Chinese, used the work of playwright Ding Xilin to explore the various waves of Chinese modernization. The next salon will be in Washington, DC, where Provost Marcy will discuss her research on political women of the Western U.S in talk entitled “Mama Grizzlies in American Politics.” There will be additional salons in 2011. View a clip from Tebben’s Salon, and watch portions of Ünal’s engagement.