Over the last 40 years, many students have enjoyed a wonderful semester at the Oregon Extension. We hear frequently from alumni that living and studying here was a life-changing experience. For decades every cabin was filled with students eager to get their crack at life on the western edge of the continent, in the woods, with lots of books and new ideas.
Seismic shifts are going on in liberal arts education, and liberal arts colleges wonder where the students have gone. We ask the same question. Tremendous pressures exist to view college as primarily about training for a rapidly evolving job market. The OE has long held that college is more than this. The liberal arts are a rite of passage. College is a safe space to expose young people to the struggles of those who came before, a space where they can mull over those struggles and begin to frame an understanding of what kind of struggles are worthy of their own lives and energies. Thinking about college along these lines has come, in some quarters, to seem quaint—not for us—but it is a view we are up against.
The OE may be a small player in this wider moment of liberal arts introspection. Even so, we need to undertake it ourselves. For this reason we have made the difficult decision to suspend the 2016 fall semester, to rethink how we can continue to provide the life-changing experience for college students that the OE has provided for so many years. We will maintain our liberal arts commitment, and our orientation to a faith that seeks understanding. But we will add something to it. What will that be?
Students who have studied here over the past few years tell us they yearn for guidance in how to shape their lives in ways that sustain the planet and their communities. We help in this quest, but we can do more. We intend to use the coming year to become a place and faculty better outfitted to provide for this aspiration. While the curriculum is still to be determined, it will be a combination of longstanding OE academic heavy lifting with hands-on engagement in a variety of environmental practices and technologies.
Over the year we will consult with former students, academics, neighbors, and craftspeople to create a college semester that balances the liberal arts with sustainable living. Many colleges attempt this, but we know that we can get our hands dirty in ways that aren’t possible on other campuses given our southern Oregon forest location, already living off of many grids. The OE is a place that lends itself to imagining things over from scratch.
Alongside the OE leadership team, the OE’s largest funders support this move toward environmental sustainability in the OE culture. They are solidly behind the OE as a semester for college students that will increase their knowledge and skills in this direction. As they told us, “We’re all in. We’re in this for the long haul.” We will have a new kind of semester up and running in fall 2017.
We cherish your patience and support during this year of reinvention. We’ll keep you in the loop.