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The Gadfly

02 The student newspaper of St. John’s College 60 College Avenue Annapolis, Maryland 21401

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Founded in 1980, the Gadfly is the student newsmagazine distributed to over 600 students, faculty, and staff of the Annapolis campus. Opinions expressed within are the sole responsibility of the author(s). The Gadfly reserves the right to accept, reject, and edit submissions in any way necessary to publish a professional, informative, and thought-provoking newsmagazine.

Articles should be submitted by Friday, Sept. 20, at 11:59 PM to sjca.gadfly@ Staff Nathan Goldman • Editor-in-Chief Ian Tuttle • Editor-in-Chief Hayden Pendergrass • Layout Editor Sasha Welm • Illustrator Will Brown • Staff Andrew Kriehn • Staff Robert Malka • Staff Sarah Meggison • Staff Contributors Sebastian Barajas Barbara McClay Sarah Meggison Samuel Weinberg


ign up for the Chesapeake Bay Picnic, sponsored by the Friends of St. John’s College! Each year, local skippers volunteer to host St. John’s students on their boats (sailboats and powerboats) for a fun day of sailing, cruising, and picnicking on the Chesapeake Bay. This year’s picnic will be Saturday, September 21, from 10 AM to 4 PM. To register, stop by the Community Programs Office or return the registration form that was in your mailbox. The deadline to register is Friday, September 13. For more information, contact !


The next Gadfly meeting will take place Sunday, Sept. 22, at 7 PM in Room 109 on the first lower level of the Barr-Buchanan Center.



elcome to St. John’s, Freshmen! And welcome back to all the upperclassmen out there. By now both groups have probably encountered the Greek words kalos and agathos—“beautiful” and “noble.” The most recent blog posting from the College’s food blog covers a beverage which can be aptly described by both of those words: coffee. Check out now and throughout the year for postings on dorm food, new dishes in the dining hall, and general culinary musings. —Formaggio Elettrico

!"#$%&'(%)*+&#",Welcome back to the pages of the Gadfly. We hope you enjoyed our first issue and that you enjoy this week’s contributions, most of which have a special focus— Johnnies are well aware that this College is, more than most other schools, difficult to describe to those who do not live its unusual academic and social life day in and day out. That difficulty becomes especially apparent when the school begins, as it does every so often, the process of refining the way it talks about itself to prospective students and their families. The school is in the midst of such a process presently with the assistance of

New York consulting firm Siegelvision. Over the summer, a survey sent to current students and recent alumni generated a strong response. We feel that this conversation is important and healthy for the College, so we have dedicated our second issue of the year to presenting, we hope fairly and accurately, a variety of perspectives on the “rebranding” effort. We use the term “rebranding” cautiously, aware from discussions with persons involved that that term is unofficial, but that it has become the byword for this effort. Alas, it comes, too, with certain connotations. It is our hope that the perspectives offered

here will help to open up and advance the conversation past buzzwords and assumptions. While there may be disagreement over the direction of this project, it is, we believe, disagreement of the best kind: the spirited dialogue of parties who all want what is best for the College. We hope that this issue enriches that dialogue. * As a reminder, the next issue of the Gadfly will be out September 24. All submissions are due by Friday, September 20, at 11:59pm to sjca. We look forward to hearing from you! !

The Gadfly


!"#$#%&"'"()*'+,"$-.+/(").'+(0+12#345)6")$7 1. Reframe the current emphasis on “the Books” Associate the College with value derived from the books—great ideas—not the archaic delivery channel of printed paper. 2. Reframe negativesounding “lack of choice” or “all-required” curriculum Accentuate the positive diversity of ideas, themes, courses of study, which include music, laboratory sciences, literature, philosophy, and drama, that everybody shares!

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3. Celebrate the value of two spectacular campuses Communicate as one college in principles and quality, and as two distinctive, dazzlingly different campuses—East and West—for students to choose from and to travel between.

Explain how the St. John’s College Program is different. And, if needed, use a suitable alternative label, e.g. Humanities, Arts and Sciences 6. Broaden criteria for potential students beyond “needle in the haystack” Create a narrative and supporting communications that are pitched to independent thinkers, good students—yes—who are also regular teenagers who share the cultural values and tastes of millions of other teenagers. Bookworms are welcome but not exclusively courted.

7. Articulate relevance for a career

One program, two inspiring settings.

Identify characteristics prized by employers, recruiters, and leaders across all professions, and forge the links with a St. John’s education—first via marketing and then in programs coordinated with career services.

4. Infuse communications with a contemporary voice

8. Clarify the benefit: Move from the what to the why

Infuse communications with a lively, colloquial personality and the passion to reach today’s kids.

As [Santa Fe’s] Dean Sterling eloquently wrote: “The program is a means to an end, not an end in itself.”

5. Differentiate from other liberal arts colleges

Identify the strongest answer to the question, “Why invest in a St. John’s education?” and use this as foundation and inspiration for all communications.

Why engage in the fight to save the embattled “liberal arts”?



he writing assistants will hold regular hours in the Coffee Shop at the following times:

Mon: 12:30-2 pm (Goldman) Tues: 8:30-11:30 am (Marx) Wed: 11:30 am-2:30 pm (Boraks); 4-7 pm (Goldman) Thurs: 11:30 am-1:30 pm (Boraks/Marx); 4-6 pm (Goldman) Fri: 8:30-11:30 am (Marx); 10:30 am-2 pm (Boraks) Sat: 12-3:30 pm (Goldman) Sun: 8 pm-12 am (Marx) We’re here to help with every part of the paper-writing process, from brainstorming to drafting to proofreading, and every step in between; though we’re more than happy to be that final set of eyes to catch comma errors, Writing Assistance is best used as a resource at every stage of the writing process.

We also work with students on writing skills in addition to specific assignments; please feel free to come to us with old work or just a notion of areas you’d like to work on strengthening. We’d also like to emphasize that Writing Assistance is not only for “remedial writers.” There is no writer too talented and experienced to become better. In addition to our scheduled hours, we’re available by private appointment and consultations over email. Feel free to send us papers, or email us to schedule an appointment: Alix Boraks (A’14): Nathan Goldman (A’14): Sarah Marx (A’14): We look forward to working with you! !

ED: What’s the specific problem to which the “rebranding” effort is a solution? Dean Kraus: The thought behind using this firm and thinking about rebranding was that the message we were delivering wasn’t as effective as it could be, especially in the current climate, and, with a decline in the number of applications, it was thought that the website would attract more people to the College if we could present ourselves in a way that was more hearable to prospective students and their parents and others. The website was meant to be a starting point, a kind of hook to get people interested in the College.

!"#$%&'()*+$ ,&-&..&/ An exclusive interview with President Chris Nelson and Dean Pamela Kraus about the ongoing “rebranding” project.

President Nelson: We were quite aware that we had to completely redesign the website. We had complaints from students, faculty, and alumni, mostly about navigation, but also about content, about not having an effective intranet, about the complexity of the site. It just wasn’t functional enough, and it wasn’t attractive enough. And we also discovered, when it was shown to us, that our language was a little stiff. What we want to do is to get people in. We want to have better navigation, and an appeal that would cause someone to want to dig into that website. And we can’t rely on print materials in the same way that we have in the past. D: People not close to but interested in the College also felt that you got a very different feel from the website than you did when you visited the campuses. There was much more energy, much more excitement—intellectual excitement, but student life, also, was more vibrant than came across on the website. That seems to me very reasonable. The question that, for those of who have been here a long time, is difficult but important to ask is: For someone interested in but generally unfamiliar with St. John’s, does this convey the real vitality and distinctiveness of the College? P: I think that if what we want to do is just get a website up that will attract people to any old college, this would be a terrible mistake. But I was encouraged, when we talked to consultants, by their sense that our students’ voices are by far the best at describing the school. They thought we didn’t need a lot of this other institutional voice. My experience is that the students do describe the College best, and I thought, “Well, that’s an interesting observation,” that we’re not those letting student voices, pictures, humor—all that—appear on the website.

[ 04 ]

The Gadfly

ED: Could you give us a sense of the project’s timeline? D: We’d known that we needed some overhaul of the website for quite a while, but we had not had the funding or staff time to allocate to it. Then in December we were asked to come to a meeting in New York with Siegelvision by members of the Board of Visitors and Governors familiar with them. Siegelvision really suggested rebranding altogether. They started working for us in late spring, so it’s on what you’d call a pretty fast timeline. P: Siegelvision originally wanted to complete this project by mid-September, in part because it feeds the cycle properly for admissions. But that can’t happen. We have other ways of handling the admissions cycle so that we don’t rush something as important as the website. ED: What are the criteria for a successful effort? D: That’s a very hard question to answer. We want mainly to make sure that the College that we know is recognizable in a positive way from what we see. That’s what I would say would be the general principle. It’s a matter of judgment with our Santa Fe colleagues. Now, whenever you have ten people on a College-wide committee, you’re going to have some differences of opinion and different areas you want to stress, but I think we all want the same thing: We want the College to be presented as effectively and as accurately as possible. P: One measure would be satisfaction of the many, many users of the website. Another [measure] would be increased attention from prospective students and families. ED: What is the role of Siegelvision— the school’s outside consultants—in this process? D: In some ways they’ve been directive. They identified what they thought were some major issues, and they have proposed text and proposed a look— what you might call the aesthetics—and [suggested ways to improve] the workability or the navigability of the website. Then we have been asked for our take on that. So it’s a kind of back and forth with them. They visited both campuses, and they’ll be returning soon. Some of the things that they’ve identified, we’ve been pushing back on. They were very concerned about too much emphasis on books, which they think of as only one

way to present material or thoughts. And while that’s true, it is the case that a book at least represents a whole of some kind, in which a thought, or many thoughts, are being pulled together in an intelligible way, that somehow they’re all interconnected within the book. So while I can see their point of view, if what you mean by a book is something that’s bound with paper, we’ve been pushing back on that, because we don’t think that’s a word that we want to drop. ED: The “rebranding” effort has generated a strong response among some students and alumni. How do you feel about this reaction? P: We’re proud of our students. D: We are. We absolutely are. P: There’s nothing like leaving it to the students to say the kinds of things that we might not be trusted to say. I think it’s been healthy for us to hear from students and alumni. D: A letter composed by members of the Classes of 2011-2016 has been circulating online [Ed: Read this letter on pages 6-7.] I think that’s a very intelligently done letter. It’s not finished, I think, they’re still gathering information, they’re going to send it to us, but I look forward to getting that, and I look forward to sending it to Siegelvision. ED: How would you describe the scope of the project?

from what they had read and what they saw and felt and heard when they were here. You can say “discussion-based classes,” but that doesn’t convey the sense of excitement, of engagement in the issues, of the continuing conversation, of the seriousness of that discussion, that it’s not just everybody offering an opinion; it’s trying to get to something deeper together. You can say that, but people don’t understand what that means. ED: Certain words—eg. “Great Books, “liberal arts,” etc.— have particular resonance at St. John’s. But do those words remain meaningful when trying to present the College to outsiders? P: There are people in the marketing business who think that “Great Books” and “liberal arts” are words that are overused and just fade into the background. In the case of “Great Books” it’s antique; in the case of “liberal arts” it’s a word that describes a thing that everybody does, it doesn’t mean anything. Both of those impressions seem to me to be right. It doesn’t mean we abandon books, or that we don’t go about explaining what we mean by the liberal arts and try to bring some content to those words. But when everybody uses the same words, how do you distinguish yourself from them, as we clearly distinguish ourselves from them by our Program? That’s the problem. We’ve got to find a way to use the words that mean a lot to us, to make them alive for a public for whom they’re dead. That’s not easy.

There are people in the marketing business who think that “Great Books” and “liberal arts” are words that are overused and just fade into the background.

D: I would say that the intention of the effort is broad, but that particular messages in the survey sent to students were just test messages. They are becoming more and more refined, more targeted and, we hope, more accurate. They dropped some. There is still a ways to go. The scope is to put in the forefront a way of talking about ourselves that would become pretty entrenched, so that, to me, means that it better be right, and it better be good.

P: But we’re certainly not upset that students don’t like what they’re seeing. It’s hard to capture the voice of this College. This is not like another college. When Siegelvision took us on, they said this is perhaps the hardest project they have ever encountered. Well, that’s an interesting thing to hear. Nevertheless, they wanted to do it. We’ve got to be honest, straight, who we are. Any other effort would just show us to be phony. That’s the last thing this College wants. ED: What is it about St. John’s that makes it so difficult to present? D: It’s very difficult to describe in words what the life of a college is like. We don’t fit into typical categories, so you can’t rely on those to give people some general sense of what’s going on. “Great Books” doesn’t convey the excitement of the classroom, the sense of responsibility that tutors and students take for their education, the community spirit that we see in various activities, that students are hard-working, very intelligent, and have ordinary lives. You can say it, but people don’t get it until they see it. Siegelvision had read a lot about the College, had looked at the website, had done their homework. But it wasn’t until they came on campus and went to classes and talked to students that they really saw what it was. They were shocked by the difference between what they had inferred

ED: Many people are worried that changing the language could end up changing the school. How do you respond to their concern? P: I think it’s a real concern. Change your language and you can very well change who you are. In this project, we are not trying to change who we are, so if we fail in that, we’ve made a bad mistake.

D: We take language very seriously. Sometimes people overlook the power of language. P: I’ve been at the College over 22 years. As near as I can remember—it’s certainly been my conscious effort—I’ve never used the phrase “Great Books” in a speech describing the College. Now, I love these books, and I use books all the time: I use images from books, I quote from books, I use the word “books” all the time. But every time I used “Great Books” when I was an alumnus everybody just assumed I was talking about the Encyclopedia Britannica, something that came out of Chicago, and something that was fixed, and something that was interesting but in a certain sense dead, and the last thing I ever wanted to do was to convey a message about St. John’s that this was an antiquarian institution, conservative in the sense that we protect the venerable and the old because they’re old and venerable, rather than because they help us ask the radical questions that allow us to explore the world that we live in and help us understand ourselves in that world. ED: What do members of the St. John’s community need to know going forward? P: To the extent that students are worried that we’re not being proper guardians or that we’re upset with their response, I want them to hear that we’re grateful for the responses, that the strong responses are helpful to us, and that we’re in a strong enough position that we don’t have to play a game we don’t like. We all want to get this right. !

The Gadfly

[ 05 ]

The Gadfly


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o St. John’s College Board of Visitors and Governors, confidence in marketing. In the following group responses to Presidents Nelson and Peters, Vice Presidents Goyette and Siegelvision’s proposals, we believe we are also speaking for Mora, Deans Kraus and Sterling, and other members of the these students. College-wide committee collaborating with Siegelvision: As members of St. John’s College Classes of 2011-2016, we The College should drop its emphasis on “books” and instead emmatriculated in a period of economic hardship and popular phasize “ideas.” criticism of American higher education. Many schools have begun to see declines in applications and enrollment, and we Books—not textbooks or professors—are the vehicle for the regret the impact this trend has had on St. John’s. It indicates ideas discussed in most St. John’s classes. This distinctive apthat the College must better promote its mission and the value proach appeals to young people who are intellectually indeof its education, and we appreciate your efforts to accomplish pendent and curious, and who enjoy reading. Many people this. share these qualities—the type of students who would thrive We understand that Siegelvision’s staff is working with you in a growing relationship to the Program over four years. St. to implement several changes to the ColJohn’s attracts them by confidently aclege’s marketing, which are intended to knowledging the role books play in its We believe new marketreach more students who would succeed in students’ learning and conversation. Dethe Program and find themselves at home ing can make a significant emphasizing books in favor of ideas would in the polity. As current students and recent obscure one of the most important features contribution, but only if graduates of St. John’s, we have a great deal of the curriculum and culture of St. John’s, it also allows members in common with these potential applicants, and would risk losing the attention of the of the existing St. John’s and we believe it is important that we make College’s audience. ourselves heard more clearly as you work to community to recognize address this group of our peers. Each of us The College must drop the term “liberal and admire the College has his or her own topmost concerns about arts” and differentiate itself from other “libas we have known it. what we understand Siegelvision has proeral arts” colleges. Public perception of what posed, but we recognize the importance of is meant by this phrase is far from what we one another’s thoughts. Together, we are writing you to give mean by it, and it has become a distraction. voice to the ideas and reservations that are shared by many among us. We will leave our personal thoughts to individual Schools that have strayed from the mission of liberal educaletters and conversation: tion might be wise to shed the term, but St. John’s has purThe College’s recent marketing has important strengths that sued this work consistently for more than 75 years. It is the should not be shed for its weaknesses. Many of us can clearly only undergraduate program the College offers. Despite cost, recall how it grabbed our attention and helped lead us to St. and because of value, the term “liberal arts” maintains many John’s. Our impressions began to develop through meaning- positive connotations among our generation—of small classes, ful elements of the College brand—for instance, a seal studded dedicated faculty, academic excellence, and attention to lasting with seven texts and a Latin phrase, an announcement about qualities and skills. The College’s pure approach to the liberal “The Following Teachers,” and an iconic stack of books. They arts provides these things, but it also goes further toward the clearly suggested the spirit of the Program and the interests original meaning of the term: the pursuit of a good life through of the College community as we know them. Today, these el- freedom of mind. St. John’s brings this endeavor into focus for ements must be balanced with content that better addresses four years and then sends its alumni into the world to continue, students’ and parents’ practical concerns. But to subtly over- for themselves and others, through whatever they choose to haul these essentials would obscure the real value of St. John’s do. St. John’s should embrace the liberal arts for these riches and the identity of its community. This approach risks alienat- and work harder to improve itself in the areas where the term ing our like-minded peers, who are moved by authenticity and rings hollow.

The Gadfly


The College should use a “more contemporary voice,” employing active verbs, and colloquial and “irreverent” language.

but many gladly remain and develop their interests extracurricularly. St. John’s would do well to highlight these cases, acknowledging in its marketing the question present in many prospective students’ minds: “But what will I do if I know, or come to realize, that I also want to specialize?” St. John’s students pursue study groups, school-year and summer internships and jobs, and additional coursework. We were pleased to learn that the College will increase its financial support for the last of these efforts through the new Pathways Fellowship. We encourage you to expand this and similar offerings and share proudly how they enrich, and are enriched, by the work of the Program.

St. John’s has been wise to employ a voice that reflects the nature of its curriculum. Adopting something more contemporary or colloquial might obscure the Program’s timeless character and risks presenting the College in a way that could sound trite, or even condescending, to our peers. The genius of the College’s best marketing is that it never comes off as slickly engineered to appeal to us. It should always address prospective students clearly and invitingly, but also offer them something to aspire to. Students are frequently impressed that St. John’s has the confidence to speak to them as adults, not children, and we hope that the Col...the College must lege’s marketing will continue to take this approach. better promote its The College should concentrate on the “why” rather than the “what,” the “benefits” rather than the “features,” of a St. John’s education.

The College must bring forward the role of science and mathematics in the Program.

St. John’s provides every student a sustained encounter with math and science. This fact sets it apart from nearly all other American liberal arts colleges, and it is worth clarifying if it is not widely understood. But in this moment when math and science education is often equated with vocational training or research experience, it is crucial to convey how St. John’s approaches these disciplines differently, as liberal arts. The College affords students four years to study and reflect on the development of math and science, and the foundational questions they raise. We hope to hear more accounts from St. John’s graduates about how this background has enriched their lives and careers.

mission and the value of its education, and we appreciate [the College’s] efforts to accomplish this.

At St. John’s, the ends and the means of education are closely related, and this is an important and attractive feature of the school. Most colleges and universities market themselves upon curricula and benefits that seem highly similar. It is frequently hard for students and parents to judge how these schools are effective and to compare them with one another. For this reason, today’s families have become more compelled by facts than rhetoric in college marketing. It is crucial that St. John’s address them with an authentic account of the Program and its effect upon students and graduates. The College already excels in the former, but it must do a better job of presenting its community—through videos, articles, and other media. It must especially offer more comprehensive, current data, and other practical information, about graduates’ careers. In the end, the most compelling and accurate voices on the question, “Why St. John’s?” are theirs and ours. The printed and digital materials for St. John’s should emphasize one College on two beautiful campuses. St. John’s offers its students an unusual opportunity to choose and transfer between two campuses dedicated to the same academic work. Both are indeed beautiful—a fact that many prospective students already recognize from the College’s marketing, and which has not been harmful to highlight. But we question whether this point warrants further emphasis. It may fail to adequately represent the differences between the campus cultures and, in the end, may not be as interesting or important to many prospective students as the Program itself. The College must reframe the way it talks about the “all-required” curriculum. It should stress the depth, richness, and variety of the Program, as well as the way knowledge is integrated across disciplines.

St. John’s offers a paradoxical curriculum—its limits create opportunity, and we are pleased that this might become better articulated in the College’s marketing. But while at St. John’s, many students realize particular academic or creative interests that they feel driven to explore more deeply. The Program typically does not address these in depth, and that can feel stifling. As a result, some students leave the College before graduating,

Do not seem disdainful of the desire that a St. John’s education be relevant to a career. The College’s marketing should never adopt a disdainful tone about students’ future careers; however, few of us came to St. John’s seeking only a career, and many of us have found this concern incidental to our academic experience. For this reason, we urge you not to overstate the relevance of the Program to graduates’ professional development. We instead recommend that you continue improving career services at St. John’s and better highlight them in the College’s marketing. We also hope to see more features on the College’s website that will allow St. John’s alumni to speak about their professional lives. These accounts are reassuring and inspiring to prospective students and parents. The College should solicit a wide variety of them, including the stories of young alumni who can attest to the value of a St. John’s education in hard times. In times like these, it is understandably challenging for the College to assess itself. We hope that this letter has helped clarify why St. John’s matters to us and how we think it can speak to a wider audience of our peers. We believe new marketing can make a significant contribution, but only if it also allows members of the existing St. John’s community to recognize and admire the College as we have known it. Achieving this requires collaboration. We are grateful for the ideas you have contributed, as well as those submitted by many others in the polity. This project has presented all of us an opportunity to articulate the College’s fundamentals and significance for today. In the process, we affirm our pride in its distinctive Program and accomplished community. We wish you the best in the next stages of this work. With our continuing gratitude and support—

The Gadfly


!"#$%&'%($)%*+",-'%.+//0102 Barbara McClay A’12


“brand,” as I think most of you know, used to be a mark a “rebranding controversy,” I am at least half responsible for one burned into the hide of cattle. That marked the cattle it, since I decided to make information about the rebranding as yours, end of story, in the same way that we now mark all available to the wider St. John’s audience. Thus, I am not a disour materials with the New Program seal. Since that time, the interested party in this discussion. However, I think every stuword “brand” has adapted into marking other things as yours. dent should read through that description and ask themselves Your projected identity, in short, is your brand. the same two questions. For this reason, branding and advertising carry a powerful Why these eight rebranding points, individually, are flawed weight. They are aspirational, because they show us something would take eight separate articles to write, and, indeed, they that we want, but at the same time, they show us something have generated fairly harsh responses already. For instance: that we are. In this sense, our brand becomes both the story Discussing a book is not the same thing as discussing an idea. that we tell about ourselves to others, and the story we tell Otherwise, we could dispense with the books and just talk about ourselves to ourselves. about summaries of them. The study of the books has more to Thus, the question “What is St. John’s College?” is the ques- do with recognizing that there are questions that every human tion that ought to lie at the heart of a conversation about re- being has to ask at some point over the course of a lifetime. branding, or how best to articulate ourselves to the world. And So we don’t study political theory, or ethics, or Marxism; we the truth is, if we turn to our materials as they exist now—at ask “What is justice?” and we strive to know every day. The least on the website—the answer to that is unclear. We do seem books, which also ask these questions, are equal partners in to lack courage in our own project. A stronger articulation of our conversations. We inquire together. the College is necessary. But you, current students of St. John’s College, probably Insofar as we share that observation, Siegelvision—the con- know this already, because you came. St. John’s showed you sulting firm responsible for the proposed resomething you wanted to be a part of. Even branding—and I agree. After that, however, we though the College is an imperfect instituEven though the Col- tion, one that often fails, it gave you an asgo our separate ways. lege is an imperfect Since, at the time of my writing, no true piration and you reached for it. Because, as draft of the proposed new website has been I said, these things carry a powerful weight. institution, one that produced, we will give Siegelvision the benWhat we project out into the world repreoften fails, it gave efit of the doubt and say that the new website you an aspiration and sents what we think is best and strongest will be exceptionally attractive and easy to use about ourselves. Since these eight rebranding you reached for it. (two things the current website is not). How points are not leading with anything unique, will this new website answer the question, the Program becomes a liability rather than a “What is St. John’s College?” Since Siegelvision has given us selling point. That road is not a good one to travel. eight focuses of their rebranding, we can use these eight points Alan Siegel, founder of Siegelvision, articulates the aspito answer this question. Let’s make a St. John’s in speech, as raional quality of advertising in a column in the Huffington it were, using their speech. Once we have their answer to this Post, “The American Brand: The Next National ‘Cliff.’” In it, he question, let’s see if their St. John’s is a place that we know. (We writes that Americans must be wary of “ideologues that conmay.) And if we do not know it, would we like to? fuse, muddle or simply dismiss the big ideas that captivated So here is the St. John’s College Siegelvision has built, using and motivated our nation at its founding—big ideas that no their words as much as possible: American can afford to ignore any longer.” “St. John’s College is a place that speaks with a contempoWhen Americans are asked, “What is America?” they must rary voice. It is not a college where students study the liberal go back to the origin of America, to what in a sense are our arts. Instead, it is an institution of higher education with an foundational myths. Those myths are both true and not true, interdisciplinary program of study: one that includes useful but we must understand them and hold them up for the world subjects like math and science, and where students talk about in order to answer our question. The Statue of Liberty does ideas, but not about books. They can choose between two dif- this when she proclaims that she lights the way for “huddled ferent campuses, but those campuses are essentially the same. masses yearning to breathe free.” What she says is both true “Through their interdisciplinary program and discussion of and not true. ideas, these students emerge possessed of certain qualities— Siegel doesn’t propose to rebrand America, just to “re-inthey are resolute, fun-loving, collaborative, and so forth—that vest” in the American brand. America, he thinks, has a perfectly prepare them to be flexible participants in the workforce.” good brand already. On the other hand, that is not the line that Do we recognize this place? I don’t, but I cannot speak for his firm recommends for St. John’s, implying that they either every reader. think we have no identity or that we have no important founDo we want to be a part of this place? dational myths. Since both of these statements are untrue of I don’t especially. us, it is hard to know what to make of their aims for St. John’s. * If they want to announce to the world, “This is St John’s ColMy answer was a foregone conclusion. Insofar as there is lege,” then they are choosing to do so in a way that remakes the

The Gadfly school. That should be acknowledged. What should also be acknowledged is that these changes are going through very quickly. If there is no draft of the website yet—well, this website is intended to go up in October. How much feedback can be taken into account in such a tight time frame is difficult to say. * When I, at least, read the proposals, what strikes me above all is how static they are. An idea is a static thing. By minimizing differences between Annapolis and Santa Fe, they are reduced to interchangeable parts, instead of unique communities with valuable differences—another static image. Students acquire fixed personality traits—more static images. What we do at St. John’s is not static. A book is not static, a question is not static, and our Program is not static. These things are living things. They are rich, capable of turning inward to understand themselves, capable of unfolding outward to us. This distinction, more than any other, is the truest and greatest difference between Siegelvision’s St. John’s and the St. John’s I know. That quality is attractive to many people. It’s true that enrollment is down, and that this is bad. So let me say that over the years I have met many people who loved St. John’s but didn’t go. These people went elsewhere—not because they were turned off by “books,” not because of the term “liberal arts,” and certainly not because they didn’t want to undergo an all-required program of study. They didn’t come because they couldn’t afford it. The motivation behind this rebranding seems to be that an expensive college with a nice new logo will somehow seem less expensive. The truth is that math is math is math. If people can’t afford it, they won’t go, even if they are solidly convinced they are getting a lesser education elsewhere. Making the case for why people should come despite the cost means making the case for what we really do. But it would be better if we could just make the case for ourselves, with no “despite,” and if people could enter into the College without taking on a massive debt burden. We have a very powerful thing to offer, even if right now we are not stating it the best way we could. And we have a very serious drawback, which is our cost. The proposed rebranding undermines one of these things, and doesn’t fix the other, and for that reason, I am skeptical of it. In a sense, I am not sure that the goal ought to be to turn to the world and announce: “This is St. John’s.” It should be to get the world to ask: “What is St. John’s College?” And then we can be ready with a strong answer. But I do not think this rebranding will provoke that question, either. !


!"#$"%&#'(()*#+"," Sam Weinberg



n the past few months, there has been, among those connected to the College, a flood of conversation about the proposed Siegelvision “rebranding.” All now know of the glossy, impersonal, and product-like proposal that was sent out to current students, with an explicit avoidance of faculty input. Most have reacted poorly, feeling—and rightly so—that there was something distinctly false and strange about how that mock website represented St. John’s and all of its peculiarities. Upon returning to Annapolis, the situation has begun to feel even more Kafkaesque: signs have popped up on campus demanding that we “Question the Rebranding,” and that motto has now been chalked onto the brick wall behind Campbell. I’m beginning to think that Siegelvision’s rebranding is a nightmare from which I am trying to wake. Siegelvision—whose the representatives I, along with a group of other students, met with last spring—came with an agenda: namely, to show that the education at St. John’s can apply to what the mock website copy calls the “dynamic global marketplace.” The practicality of a liberal education is obviously a concern that we should take seriously. Yet Siegelvision’s approach so far misses the mark of what the College is that it truly perturbs me. There has been an expressed aversion to the use of “books” and “liberal arts”; Siegelvision has deemed those terms outdated and unmarketable. How The practicality of a can the things that make St. John’s what liberal education is it is be anathema to the people who are trying to advertise the school? It’s abobviously a concern surd and nonsensical. Amidst the mass that we should outcry among alums on Facebook, one take seriously. Yet alumna, who is particularly active in Siegelvision’s apall things rebranding, posted a photoproach so far misses graph accompanied by the text, “You the mark of what could say that we read a lot of books (so why shouldn’t we say we read a lot of the College is that it books?)” If one had asked me even last truly perturbs me. spring whether avoiding books in our advertisements would ever be a concern, I would have immediately answered in the negative. If we lose our “The Following Teachers Will Return” expression, we lose everything. When I first received admissions mail from St. John’s College (circa 2008), I was immediately impressed by the brown paper viewbooks, checkered with black and white photographs. The materials were idiosyncratic—but so was the College to which I was applying. When we contract a firm whose other collegiate clients are NYU and Cornell—fine institutions, no doubt, but ones irrefutably different in kind—we run a serious, even unconscionable, risk of devoting ourselves to irrelevant interests and evaluating ourselves by the wrong standards. When describing the College, I have never once invoked the “dynamic global marketplace,” nor have I de-emphasized the central role that books play in our lives. To do so would be disingenuous and misleading. Why, then, is the College considering marketing itself in such a way? Before going forward with Siegelvision’s proposal, I would urge all of the powers that be—not without a bit of self-aware pretension—that they should consult one of the most difficult books that we read, Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. In the preface to that work, Kant immodestly an-

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The Gadfly

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nounces the arrival of his famed “Copernican Revolution” of metaphysics. Before him, Kant claims, all metaphysics had been a mere “groping about” at the objects of perception, because metaphysicians had tried only to conform themselves to the objects around them. What makes Kant’s approach revolutionary is that he turns these prior attempts on their head: he makes the objects around him conform to him, and to human understanding more generally. I would hate to see St. John’s succumb to that same type of folly and “grope about” in the “dynamic marketplace” of college admissions by misleading prospective students about what goes on at the College, or conveniently neglecting to mention certain things in the narrative we’re telling people about ourselves. If these measures raise our number of applications, that’s not an altogether good thing if those applicants have no idea what they are getting themselves into. Will applications for their own sake ultimately be worth it? Even if the Program remains the same, what will the unforeseen academic consequences be? It seems to me that how an institution represents itself is central to how it thinks of itself. We can’t possibly give ourselves over to people who have spent fewer than two days on both campuses and then consider themselves experts. It’s these types of things that we ought to consider. We cannot try to contrive phony ways to make ourselves seem relevant for job prospects, however important those may be. !

!"#$%&'()*" +%$&,%-./0%" 1*"234


Sebastian Barajas


or those of us who grew up on the wrong side of the MyersBriggs personality test, attending S&C was more challenging than reading Aristotle. Even getting lost in a nightmarish sentence like, “That which is potentially is acted on by that which is actually, so that the former and the latter are the same in kind,” can’t compare with the stress of finding oneself in a press of lusty young women dressed as dungeon mistresses, and not knowing what to do. Eye contact is inevitable, and sooner or later, the following mute conversation takes place: Mistress: So… Are you going to try to grind with me, or what? Introvert: Um, I don’t know. Mistress: You don’t know… Introvert: Yeah, I don’t know. Mistress: Well, if you don’t know, then I don’t want to grind with you. Introvert: Okay, that’s cool. I’m just having a good time dancing on my ownself. It may come as a surprise, but to me, and to the millions of other introverts out there, it’s a victory to have been dancing at all. Not so long ago, had someone dragged me to such a dance, I would’ve spent the entire time standing in the corner with all the other non-dancers, having a shouted conversation about which Bioshock game was the best. I took it for granted that dancing was for tosspots and churls, stopping just short of calling it “humbug.” The reason for my change of heart had less to do with the esteemed young men and women who did their utmost to seduce and corrupt me, and more to do with my newfound commitment to the betterment of the self. Indeed, if the goal of St. John’s is to challenge our notions about the world and our place in it, nothing has produced such swift and marked results as my experience at S&C. I found simply letting go and allowing the circumstances—however chaotic—to take me where they would extremely cathartic. I found it curious that many of the other freshmen did not seem, as I did, to view the dance as yet another challenge, just like Aristotle or Greek. Indeed, many of the very students who rise so boldly to the challenges of the classroom fled in panic when thrust under the glare of the black lights, and confronted with the reckless abandon of man—which is quite a beautiful thing, in a way. What’s more, one could almost argue that to properly make use of thought as a tool to lead a good and wholesome life, it is necessary to be able to abandon it when it stands in our way. To dance, to sing, to bounce on one’s feet to a bass rhythm and feel pure joy—these things operate outside the purview of logical thought. In the end, I believe I’ve learned that—as the blindfolded portraits on the wall can attest—the unexamined life may perhaps be worth living. !

The Gadfly



!"#$%&!$' !"#$%&%'(&)* Ms. Katie Heines

!"#$%#$&%'#()#%*+%#$&%'&,&'#&)-%.&%.&/0*,&%1*#%*1/2%(%1&.%0/(''%34#-%#$"'%2&()-%(%1&.%(''"'#(1#% 5&(16%7'6%8&"1&'-%(%9)(54(#&%*+%#$&%:*//&9&%;<=>?@A-%$('%3&&1%(%#4#*)%"1%B11(C*/"'%'"10&%DEEF6 How did you come to be a tutor at St. John’s?

What is your least favorite seminar book and why?

I took a class in ancient philosophy when I was 18, read the Meno, and never looked back. Who would not want to teach students like ours and read the books we read?

Calvin’s Institutes. Because there is too much hating of the human and because I feel that in this era of the excessive use of the exclamation mark, he would have been too much at home. All students should, of course, take all books seriously!

What was the biggest adventure you’ve ever had? Questions like this have always made me nervous. When asked what my hobbies are, I’ve always found it illegitimate to say ‘reading’ or ‘talking with people about important things.’ In response to the question about big adventures, I would like to be able to say that I’ve jumped out of a plane or at least a moving car, but alas, no such luck. I think probably the biggest adventure I’ve had is leaving home at 16 to live in a foreign country, knowing not a word of the language. That will get you thinking.

Back not too many years ago, when men and women were stronger and could heft multiple volumes of Liddell and Scott, students did their homework on Wednesday nights...

What is the single most important piece of advice you would like to give to freshmen (or upperclassmen)? Be courageous in examining what you hold dear and do not easily let go of the beliefs and loves and hates on which you stand. This is a two in one piece of advice. What is your favorite seminar book and why? I can’t choose one. • Aristotle’s De Anima, because I am interested in the way in which body and soul are integrated and our animal, vegetative, and human potencies are integrated; • Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, because I will always be in love with Elizabeth Bennett; • Plato’s Symposium, because it and I have spent so many hours and so many pages together; • Homer’s Odyssey, because no book better portrays the human attempt to test and touch the world to see what stuff it’s made of and because the way in which Odysseus and Penelope live this out both alone and with each other reveals what a marriage of true minds is.

What is your biggest pet peeve (that students do) in class?

Since my life in the classroom is a distant memory and since I had few pet peeves, I can speak instead of a new assistant dean pet peeve. When students talk as if New Years (yes, the Wednesday night one), were a long and sacred tradition of the College, I want to tell them that it is not, in fact, longstanding and not sacred. Back not too many years ago, when men and women were stronger and could heft multiple volumes of Liddell and Scott, students did their homework on Wednesday nights and then went to sleep, dreaming of Greek paradigms, Newton propositions, and the structure of the atom. Dare to return to those times! What is your favorite St. John’s tradition and why? I love the way each of us prepares for seminar seriously and intently in a lighted and private room, walks through the semidarkness, and comes together with others to talk. What is your favorite class to be a tutor for and why? Sophomore Language. We get to peel back slowly the multiple layers of the best and most beautiful of books, engaging both thought and feeling. Again, what’s not to love? What are you most looking forward to (and/or most interested in accomplishing) as Assistant Dean? I have always wanted there to be more of a bridge between our conversations in the classroom and our lives outside of the classroom. I will do whatever I can do to help strengthen this connection. !

The Gadfly


!"#$%&'() *+*',Tuesday 9/10 Kunai Soccer 4 PM Wednesday 9/11 Ultimate Frisbee W v G, 2:45 PM D v S, 4 PM Writing Workshop Conversation Room, 6 PM St. John’s Chorus, Great Hall 7 PM Friday 9/13 Kunai Soccer 4 PM Lecture: “The Declaration of Independence: Is That Philosophy, or Did You Make It Up Yourself?” by Mr. David Townsend FSK Auditorium 8 PM Saturday 9/14 Ultimate Frisbee S v G, 1 PM D v H, 2:30 PM Sunday 9/15 Writing Workshop Conversation Room 12:30 PM Soccer G v S, 1 PM D v W, 2:45 PM If you would like to see your event on the weekly schedule, please email sjca.gadfly@


The Poetry of A.R. Welm (A’14) Sarah Meggison



lived on the third floor of Pinkney last year, next door to current senior Sasha Welm. There was this one time last spring when I was in my room preparing for my 2:20 class, when all of a sudden I hear joyous exclamations of “Oh my goodness! That’s so wonderful! Thank you so much!” and the like resonating through the thin Pinkney walls. Later as I wandered across the quad, I see Ms. Welm waltz up to me, hands in the air, declaring unto the campus “I’M BEING PUBLISHED!” Welm has described her illustrated book of poetry, My Eden Home, as her baby; the poems were written between 2003 and 2010, with most of the illustrations drawn during her freshman year at St. John’s. Her poetry addresses different themes, referencing literature and history as well as events from Welm’s childhood. In the introduction, Natasha Lasko describes My Eden Home as a “book about growth.” This sentiment becomes evident as the reader sees the progression Welm makes in her poems over the seven years in which they were written. Additionally, you’ve probably figured out by now that Ms. Welm is our illustrator of the Gadfly; you can also see her progression as an artist when comparing the illustrations of the book to her more recent Gadfly contributions. Ms. Welm is one of my dear friends, so I find My Eden Home particulary delightful because reading it feels like getting to know my friend from a completely different angle; it’s like I’m meeting the person who became the Sasha I know today. There’s no doubt that St. John’s changes people in certain ways (hopefully for the better, of course), and things like Welm’s book exemplify the growth and desire for it that St. John’s brings about. But the Program only instigates this growth if you help it along and dive into what you love. In her forward, Welm writes of the title, “While about a personal grief, My Eden Home is also about the happiness of the childhood from which we are all expelled at one time or another.” It’s lovely to me to think of who we were before St. John’s, what brought us here, and who we’ve become in the process. The story of My Eden Home serves as an example of that. We have all had our fair share of childlike blissful ignorance, as well as the stark and sad realities of life. It’s what we do with these experiences that make us who we are, that give us our stories. Welm’s story is a fascinating and heartfelt one. Besides serving as illustrator for the Gadfly and publishing this book, Welm works for the United States Naval Institute Press and has had internships with various publishing houses, including Princeton University Press. My Eden Home will be in our very own St. John’s bookstore by September 13 under the author name A.R. Welm, and is also available for online purchase through Alondra Press.!


The Gadfly, Vol. XXXV, Issue 2  

Issue 2 of Volume XXXV of the Gadfly

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