Located in Annandale-on-Hudson, NY
, Bard College is a thoroughly progressive liberal arts
institution, focusing primarily on undergraduate
education. It is not terribly structured, although there are academic
requirments (most notably the Oxford
-inspired process of sophmore moderation
and the Senior Project
, which seems to precipitate an unfortunate number of suicides
Its president, Leon Botstein, is a sort of intellectual celebrity, well-known in academia, and he occasionally appears in the mainstream media (writing editorials on education in the New York Times, and once appearing on Oprah). He has written several books and is currently the conductor of the American Symphony Orchestra.
The College has a very low student-to-faculty ratio, and does not allow teachers to use assistants. As a result, classes are extremely small (10 students, on average), and one becomes quite involved on a very personal level with astounding thinkers, writers, and musicians (Chinua Achebe, Fred Hammond, Norman Manea, Mona Simpson, Jacob Neusner, etc.)
A list of its more notable graduates might be a difficult undertaking, since many of them are famous within academia and art circles but unknown elsewhere, and some of its most famous alumni never graduated (for example, the Beastie Boys). Still, as Glowing Fish informed me, Larry Hagman was a student there, as were Donald Fagen and Walter Becker of Steely Dan (whose song "My Old School" is not exactly an appreciation of the school).
It is difficult to assess the demographic character of the school, but it is probably fair to describe it as "white as a polar bear in a blizzard listening to Perry Como while snorting coke." The presence of a substantial number of minorities, as well as a very large component of international students, does little to alter the basic composition of the student body: white liberals from New York.
The social identity of the school is harder to discern. There is a great deal of cultural fragmentation, and little intermingling of disparate groups, although parties such as the infamous "Menage" and the "Drag Race" tend to unite a large portion of the students in collaborative substance abuse and sexual, uh, exploration.
More regularly, however, Bard students arrange themselves in small, independent groups, distinguishable by their preferred drugs, politics, and music. There is a tremendous amount of peevish anitpathy, and an appalling quantity of criticism, given the ostensibly liberal opinions of the students.
On weekends, the many schisms in the student body become especially apparent: some travel to nearby Tivoli, NY to pass the evenings in one of the bars there (Cafe Pongo, Stoney Creek, or Santa Fe), while many others stay on campus to attend small shows or get sloppy in the comfort of their dorms (or, in the case of Tewksbury Hall, the wrenching discomfort of their ghetto).
Whatever its failings (and there are many), Bard does tend to attract intelligent and independent students (myself not included), often in possession of superlative artistic talent (visual, musical, literary, etc.), and the general atmosphere of the school is quite appropriate for critical thought, free expression, and horribly depraved benders. The fact that one is allowed to drink and do drugs openly, without even the possibility of reprimand, while conversing with some of the smartest people anywhere, has done much to create an odd, often idiotic, occasionally amazing environment. It has also helped me decimate my liver.
"1860 Bard College is founded as St. Stephen's College by John Bard and the New York City leadership of the Episcopal church. Twelve men begin their classical education to prepare for entering the seminaries of the Episcopal church.
1919 St. Stephen's College begins a transition to a broader, more secular curriculum and adds courses in the natural and social sciences.
1928 The College becomes an undergraduate school of Columbia University.
1933-44 Distinguished European emigres, in flight from fascist Europe, join the faculty. Among them are painter Stefan Hirsch, political editor Felix Hirsch, violinist Emil Hauser, philosopher Heinrich Bluecher, economist Adolf Sturmthal, and philosopher Werner Wolff.
1934 The name of the College is changed to Bard to honor its founder. Dean Donald Tewksbury adopts a progressive program for undergraduate education, based on the Oxford tutorial system. Moderation and the Senior Project are established as components of Bard's curriculum.
1944 Bard becomes coeducational and severs ties with Columbia.
1950-60 Several prominent writers and intellectuals join the faculty, including Mary McCarthy, A. J. Ayer, F. W. Dupee, Ralph Ellison, Franco Modigliani, Anthony Hecht '44, Saul Bellow, and Dwight Macdonald.
1960 Reamer Kline begins fourteen-year presidency, during which the College undergoes tremendous expansion.
1975 Leon Botstein becomes Bard's fourteenth president.
1978 The Bard Center is established to organize programs that complement the undergraduate program.
1979 Bard assumes control and ownership of Simon's Rock Early College in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.
1981 The Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts is founded, offering a master of fine arts degree program. The Institute for Writing and Thinking is founded.
1986 The Jerome Levy Economics Institute of Bard College is founded.
1987 The Franklin W. Olin Humanities Building opens.
1988 The International Academy for Scholarship and the Arts is founded; fellows of the academy include Romanian writer Norman Manea and Hungarian writer Miklos Haraszti. The Graduate School of Environmental Studies is founded. The Stevenson Gymnasium opens.
1990 The Bard Music Festival has its first season. The literary journal Conjunctions makes its home at Bard. The Program in International Education (PIE) is introduced, bringing students from Eastern and Central Europe.
1992 The Center for Curatorial Studies and Art in Contemporary Culture opens.
1993 The Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts opens in New York City. The Stevenson Library, designed by Robert Venturi, opens.
1994 The Center for Curatorial Studies inaugurates a master's degree program.
1995 The Richard B. Fisher and Emily H. Fisher Studio Arts Building opens. College faculty revise the curriculum. The F. W. Olin Language Center opens.
1997 The College announces plans for a new performing arts center scheduled to open in 2001, designed by Frank Gehry. PIE's first group of students from southern Africa arrives.
1998 Bertelsmann Campus Center opens.
2000 New Cruger Village residence hall to open spring 2000. Additional residence hall renovation and additions to continue through 2001. "
Note (1): Since this timeline was updated, several new dorms have been completed and a great deal of progress has been made on the Gehry building.
Note (2): Many people love Bard, and many people despise it. Others are just bored to death of the whole 'artist/thinker/wanker' thing...