Campus Vacations

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Like the TV hosts of "Fantasy Island," they enable you to briefly re-experience the "shortest, gladdest years of life"

Remember them? Those wondrous years? You lived in a dorm, next door to a dining hall. Your days stretched on without limit, it seemed, and there was time for everything: discussions lasting hour after hour, a movie at night, the stillness of library and lab, your mind pulsing with new ideas and challenging thoughts.

"Bright college years"--through a wise use of vacation time, you can touch them again, feel the glow, recharge the spirit. At scattered colleges and universities, a number of short-term summer programs enable adults of all ages to briefly re-experience "the shortest, gladdest years of life."

For a weekend or longer in summer, when the campus blooms, colleges open their residences, dining halls, and classrooms to every sort of student from around the nation, without conducting tests or issuing grades, and at wonderfully low costs. Few other short vacations offer so much pleasure, and yet such mental growth.

And how do these programs differ from the "learning vacations"--an exotic cruise, an archeological dig--that we, as alumni, are so often offered in the mails? First, because they are offered to alumni and non-alumni alike. Second, because they are operated by the university itself, often on a nonprofit basis, and not by a commercial tour operator or professor-turned-entrepreneur. Third, because many of them take place on campus. Fourth, because, unlike other classier, costlier seminars conducted on campus, these place you not in nearby hotels but in simple college dorms, from which you take your meals in adjacent student cafeterias, exactly as you did at the ages of 18, 19, 20, and 21. And last, because, unlike the somewhat similar Elderhostel programs, they are available to youngsters in their 30s, 40s, and 50s as well.

Great books vacations, one week or longer

Perched on a mountainside overlooking a stunning view of Santa Fe, New Mexico--all adobe and earth colors--St. John's College is, together with its sister school in Annapolis, Maryland, a proud and defiant guardian of the Western cultural tradition. Its undergraduate curriculum is largely based on the required study of 100-some-odd acknowledged classics over a four-year span, chronologically, beginning with Homer's "Iliad" at the dawn of written history, and continuing just barely to the 20th century through readings of Heidegger, Einstein and Freud in the senior year. On the way, students learn Greek and Euclidean geometry, attend solemn lectures in philosophy and aesthetics, and argue their conclusions in small, weekly "seminars," each led by two of the college's famed "tutors"--who perform a role similar to that of the dons of Oxford and Cambridge.

It is these awesome seminars, two hours apiece, six days a week, and each attended by no more than 17 persons assisted by two "tutors," that St. John's has now been re-creating for adult vacationers over the past several summers. Each one-week summer seminar has dealt with a single, acknowledged masterpiece of thought--a "Great Book" carefully read and exhaustively discussed. And visitors attend (and live at St. John's), as they choose, for either one, two or three weeks, thus reading one, two or three "great books."

Although the books chosen for summer change each year, a recent selection ran as follows: In Week One (July 11 to 16), a six-day seminar either in Freud's "Introductory Lectures," Joseph Conrad and Henry James' "The Soul of Terror," Gregorian chant, or Fyodor Dostoevsky's stories and short novels.  In Week Two (July 18 to 23), Mozart's opera "Don Giovanni," Jane Austen's "Persuasion," Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," or Thomas Mann's short stories.  In Week Three (July 25 to 30), Benedict Spinoza's "Ethics," Faulkner's "Absalom, Absalom," Gustav Mahler's first, fourth, and fifth symphonies, or Maurice Merleau-Ponty's "Phenomenology of Perception."

The price? During the summer of 2005, one-week tuition is $950, and includes registration and books. Attendees may also register for one morning seminar and one afternoon one ($1,800). Two weeks cost $1,800, and the entire three weeks a reasonable $2,600. Festive arrival and farewell receptions are also included in the charge. Room and all board at dorms on campus are $485 per week, or students could splurge and stay at a hotel in town. By the way, the tuition price is cut in half for teachers.

Seminars meet daily for two hours apiece. All other times, participants either read, sun-bathe, hike or relax, or go touring in the environs of Santa Fe and beyond, which are surely among the great attractions of America: Chimayo and Taos, Los Alamos, Bandalier National Monument, Indian reservations, and the in-city art galleries, museum, shops, and historic structures of Santa Fe itself. The weeks of one's stay need not be consecutive or in order; and participants may choose any week or weeks of the three-week schedule.

Several summers ago in Santa Fe, I attended a one-week "test run" of these vacation seminars, reading and discussing Thucydides' "The Peloponnesian War" in the course of a seven-day stay. Grouped with 14 other "students" of all ages (most in their 40s and 50s) around a long table, at one end of which sat the president of St. John's, his fellow "tutor"--an impressive Greek scholar--at the other end, we pondered and discussed, argued and agonized over, issues relating to the very basis of civil society, as prompted by the tumultuous conflict between Athens and Sparta. It was a remarkable intellectual experience, that continues to resound in memory, and yet the week was exhilarating and happy, as we each day emerged from Greece of the fifth century B.C., into the southwestern sunlight, and roamed the mountain scenery of New Mexico by car. Surely we were the first auto-load in history to argue "the Melian dialogue," of Thucydides' classic history, on the highway outside Albuquerque!

Write for literature to: Summer Classics, St. John's College, 1160 Camino Cruz Blanca, Santa Fe, NM 87505-4599 (phone 505/984-6117, fax 505/984-6003, email Web:

Ann Kirkland attended three summer sessions of the St. John's College program, and was so impressed that in 1998 she launched a similar "Classical Pursuits" program at St. Michael's College, University of Toronto, where she is a resident professor. The 2005 session comprises 12 great works, including Gustave Flaubert's "Madame Bovary", Virgil's "Aeneid", and John Milton's "Paradise Lost".  Seminars are kept small (limited to 15 members) to allow participants to voice their thoughts and get to know classmates. The program price is affordable: CAD$1,100 and a low US$925. That rate includes enrollment in one seminar for the week, lunches, receptions, and some excursions, but does not include lodging. For singles, the most affordable place to stay is on campus in air-conditioned private rooms for CAD$425 week (about US$344 for the week), a price that includes a hot breakfast every morning. Couples who prefer housing with private bath will find the best price at the Bay Bloor Executive Suites near campus (800/263-2811;, with rates of around US$400 for the week. By the by, the campus is within walking distance of downtown Toronto, so there is ample opportunity to visit that city's many mind-stimulating museums, concert halls, galleries, and attractions. For more information about St. Michael's Classical Pursuits program, write to Classical Pursuits Inc., 349 Palmerston Blvd., Toronto, ON M6G 2N5, Canada, call 877/633-2555, or e-mail Look up program information on the Web at

Colby College of Waterville, Maine, plays host each August to the Great Books Summer Institute, an intensive discussion and analysis of six outstanding books that participants (up to 250 of them) have already read and pondered prior to arriving for their one-week stay. Colby is a typical, New England college, on a "green," with steeple and spire atop its traditional, red-brick, main building, which makes a great setting for studying great literature. The program is a serious week of hard but rewarding work, in a convivial, high-spirited atmosphere. Participants continue their debates over the lunchtime table in the school's dining hall. This year's session was August 7 to 13, 2005; the fee $480 per person, either single or double occupancy, including all lodging in college residence halls, all meals (including a Maine clambake), and all tuition, as well as the six books sent to you via U.P.S. about four months in advance.

Students are split into groups of 15, each with an experienced, great books "leader" (not necessarily an academic), whose role is to elicit student comments and not to hand down scholarly judgments from above. During the session attended several years back by a friend of mine, books for discussion included Thomas Mann's "The Magic Mountain," Frijthof Capra's "The Tao of Physics," and William Barrett's "Irrational Man"; participants discussed the interrelationship of the books and their themes, in a week that was described to me as quite remarkably stimulating and satisfying. The 2005 theme is "The Fool," and books will include "Don Quixote" by Cervantes, "The Praise of Folly" by Erasmus, and Joseph Heller's "Catch 22".

For information, contact Colby Summer Institute, 824 Thomas Road, Lafayette Hill, PA 19444-1107. For information over the phone, call Tom or Carol Beam at 215/836-2380, fax: 215/836-7158, or e-mail Look up the program on the Web at

Shorter great book discussions

The Great Books Foundation (; 800/222-5870) helps to organize shorter discussion groups and seminars around the United States. In 2005 programs are offered in Mystic, CT, Chicago, IL, Bellingham, WA, and Toronto, ON. In recent years, groups have read and discussed works such as "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T. S. Elliot, "Pere Goriot" by Balzac, "The Crucible" by Arthur Miller, and "Pacem in Terris" by Pope John XXIII. For the 2003 weekends, there were discussions on "The Tragic Sense of Life," by Miguel De Unamuno, "The Great Gatsby," by F. Scott Fitzgerald, "Divine Comedy," by Dante, and poetry by Sylvia Plath, Philip Larkin, and Billy Collins, among others. All-inclusive price (room, meals, books, and tuition) starts at about $280. For detailed information, applications, and brochures on any of the Great Books programs, call 800/222-5870 or go to

Especially for aspiring writers

Every summer, The University of Iowa opens its renowned doors to non-degree, noncredit students--namely, adults (ages 18 and over) interested in creative writing. The Iowa Summer Writing Festival is held over 10 one-week and weekend sessions throughout June and July, offering 130 workshops in a wide variety of genres--novel, short fiction, poetry, memoir, playwriting, journalism, children's writing, mystery and romance. Seminars are small and intimate with each class strictly limited to 12 participants. Weeklong seminars in 2005 include: "Beginning the Novel," "The Traveler's Story: Literary Nonfiction and Fiction," "Writing Short Fiction," "Writing Short Fiction for Literary Magazines," "The Art of the Anecdote," "Short Story Workshop," and "Character and Action." Weekend seminars include "Fiction Workout: Tighter Prose in Two Days" and "Writing for Moms, Soccer and Otherwise." No previous writing experience is required, in fact some seminars are specially tailored to the novice. "I came with apprehension; I'm going home with inspiration," commented one beginning writer, the Festival was a "trusting, safe and fertile atmosphere." "Workshop leaders" range from Iowa's professors to published authors.

Seminar fees are $225 per weekend, $475 per one-week course if you pay in full at the time of registration, $500 if you pay in two installments (non-inclusive of meals or housing). The most popular classes tend to be in fiction and novel-writing and fill up quickly. Participants have a varied choice of accommodations: the Festival will make reservations for a stay in a residence hall ($35 per night per person) or for those who wish to stay in an on- or near-campus hotel or B&B (rates vary, from $70 up per night), reservations can be made individually. For further information, contact: Iowa Summer Writing Festival, 100 Oakdale Campus W310, The University of Iowa , Iowa City, IA 52242-5000 (Phone: 319-335-4160, web:, email:

Aspiring adult creative writers of all levels are welcome at Wesleyan University's Writer's Conference. Held each year for five days at the end of June, which in 2005 will be from June 19 to 24, the Conference offers a particularly extensive program of daily seminars (consisting of short lectures, discussion and optional writing exercises), workshops, readings and individual manuscript consultations. All seminars are taught by award-winning faculty, including poets Elizabeth Willis and Honor Moore, fiction writers Robert Stone and Roxana Robinson, and non-fiction writers Philip Gourevitch and Jonathan Schell on subjects such as "Novel and Autobiography," "Short Story," "Literary Journalism and Memoir," and "Poetry". To supplement the seminars, there is an extensive series of guest speakers. Daily seminars run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. with evenings dedicated to speakers and student readings.

Accommodations are available either on campus (in dormitory rooms) or at a nearby hotel and an on-campus meal plan provides all three meals daily. Tuition is $570, with the meal plan an extra $210 and dorm room accommodations an extra $140 -- the day student rate works out to $775 for five days, while the "boarding student" pays $910. Scholarships or Fellowships are also available, but are highly competitive -- a potential candidate must submit "representative samples of work in one genre" as well as a letter of application detailing experience and interests by April 8, 2005. Contact Anne Greene, Wesleyan Writers Conference, Wesleyan University, Middletown CT 06459 (phone 860/685-3604, fax 860/685-2441, email Or view the Web site at

Various disciplines

Cornell's Adult University is the most ambitious of the multi-disciplinary programs offering a choice of four one-week sessions. About 150 to 200 adults attend each week, enjoying comfortable student lodgings and highly regarded food, eminent professors, bright fellow "students," the verdant surroundings of Cornell's famous hillside campus ("far above Cayuga's waters"), and sensible prices: $1,240 to $1,390 per week per adult with double occupancy accommodations, including tuition and full room and board (or $710 with no room or board). Those requesting single rooms pay a supplement of $80 to $390 depending on lodging.

Most adults opt for a single one-week topic, taught in daily sessions (9 a.m. to noon resuming at 1 p.m. until 3 p.m.) throughout the week: "Joseph Conrad's Master Works," "Field Orinthology," "Introduction to Fly Fishing," "A Sailing Clinic," and "The Wine Class" are highly illustrative samples on the 2004 curricula. The quality of instruction, and convivial afternoon and evening recreation, create a setting so compelling that some guests almost need to be evicted after their week in "Brigadoon". Though the literature doesn't say so, guests are encouraged to stay for only a single week (but may add another), and early applications are advisable.

CAU also provides an extensive Youth Program. For 3 to 5 year olds, CAU offers a nursery school. For "tykes" (from 5 to 6 years of age), CAU offers such courses as "Birds and bugs," with crafts, field trips and games focused on ecology. For "explorers" (from 7 to 8 years of age), the program offers "It comes from planet earth," a fun geology course and other educational activities. Big Reds, Junior Cornellians, and teens (9-16 years of age) must pick one course- either a sports-related activity (horse-back riding, wall-climbing and sailing are always favorites) or a more academic focus--photography, world religions, or journalism, for example. The rates: $490 to $685 per child, depending on age (often the cost of the second child is reduced by a significant percentage).

Contact Cornell's Adult University, 626 Thurston Ave., Ithaca, NY 14850 (phone 607/255-6260, fax 607/254-4482, e-mail Or view the Web site at

"The Mini University" of Indiana University takes place during a week in mid-June (2005 dates are June 19-24) and consists of about 100 non-credit classes delivered by faculty members of the great Hoosier center of learning; participants are encouraged to attend up to 15 different courses in the five-day session. In the evenings there are picnics, films, and theater on campus. Registration fees for the Mini University are $195 for adults. Housing, meals and lodging are additional (lodging is available at either at an on-campus hotel or other off-campus locations). Costs are kept low by the fact that all profs donate their services free, as they speak on topics clustered under such headings as "Humanities," "Science," "International Issues," "The Arts," "Business and Technology," "Domestic Issues," "Health, Fitness, and Leisure," and "Human Growth and Development." Classes for 2005 include: "Is Wal-Mart good for America?," "Creating a Simple Web Page," "Black Spiritual as seen through the eyes of contemporary and traditional composers" "The influence of social class on schooling," "The stem cell debate once again," and "Jews and Muslims: from coexistence to crisis." Contact IU Alumni Association, Virgil T. DeVault Alumni Center, 1000 E. 17th Street, Bloomington, IN 47408-1521 (phone: 800/ 824-3044 or 812/ 855-6120, fax 812/ 855-8266 or email Or view the Web site at

Spring and summer "Adventure in Ideas" humanity seminars at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (formerly known as "Vacation College") draws its faculty from the several noted universities in the area (including Duke). In the past the program consisted of a full five weeks of classes, but the school now offers seven summer (and 10 per semester) two- or three-day courses ($105-$120 for two-day programs and $180-$195 for three-day programs). There's an early booking discount of roughly 10% for those who sign up more than a month in advance, and teachers and some other groups may qualify for discounts of 50%. Program topics are a mix of serious academia, pop culture, and current world events. Recent topics have included "The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire," "Art and Social History in 19th Century America," and "British and American Adventure Writing." The seminars are comprised mainly of commuters; however, the program does reserve blocks of rooms in well-priced hotels in town. The most reasonable of these is the Holiday Inn Express (6119 Farrington Road, 919-489-7555 or 800-HOLIDAY), which charges $72 for two queen-size beds or one king bed if you say you are in a program at the university. Contact Humanities Program, CB #3425, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3425 (phone 919/962-1544, fax 919/962-4318, e-mail Or view the Web site at

The Dartmouth Alumni College, in Hanover, New Hampshire, operating for 40 consecutive years opens its doors in late July to host several three and five-day programs.  Starting July 26 in 2005, five-day programs include "The Guilded Age in Northern New England," and writing workshops in fiction, travel writing, memoir writing, and poetry. Three-day programs are on topics such as pop medicine, bread making, and wine tasting. It is among the oldest and most serious of summer campus sessions for adults, Dartmouth graduates, parents and their relatives and friends. Each morning two lectures are followed by small-group discussions with faculty; afternoons are left mostly free for tennis or golf on campus, boating, or hiking in the White Mountains. Evenings are devoted to films, special lectures, concerts, or plays. At the time of writing, prices were not set for 2004.  Tuition rates in 2003 started at $630 for the five-day program. A bed and breakfast package at dorms on campus ran $289/single, $476/double for six nights, and the Alumni College reserves rooms at the Hanover Inn at a pricey $185/night. (We found that you can stay at the nearby Ramada Inn for only $69/night.) Children (14 to 18 years old) can also attend the program. Contact Dartmouth Alumni College, Dartmouth Continuing Education, 6068 Blunt Alumni Center, Room 112, Hanover, NH 03755 (phone 603/646-2454, fax 603/646-1600, e-mail Program Director Roberta M. Moore at Or view the Alumni College Web site at

Yet another "Alumni College" open to all comers is hosted annually by Washington and Lee College in Lexington, VA (a beautifully restored town used as a backdrop in Civil War movies). Weeklong programs with almost everything you need (five nights' double or quad occupancy accommodations, 14 meals, books, tuition, and admission to films, museums, and performances) cost just $795; $820 for a single. There are five different programs to choose from each summer; 2004 choices include "America's Guilded Age: 1870-1920," "The Historical Jesus: Early Christianity and the New Testament," "East Meets West: Europe Since the Fall of the Soviet Empire," "Understadning the Middle East," and "Brain and Mind: Who Are We and How Do We Know?" To find out more, contact Washington and Lee Alumni College, Washington and Lee University, Lexington, VA 24450, phone 540/463-8723, e-mail, Web:

Skidmore College's Summer Special Programs, in Saratoga Springs, New York, invites several different groups to use its campus in summer for residential adult study programs, and all are open to the public at large. We're particularly impressed by the four-week creative-writing course of the New York State Writers Institute. Hosted jointly by Skidmore College and the New York State Writers Institute at the University at Albany, the program consists of courses in fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. Participants may enroll for two weeks or for the entire four week session; the courses can be taken for undergraduate and graduate credit or on a non-credit basis; academics are supplemented weeknights with evening readings by visiting and staff writers and on the weekends with publishing symposia and student readings. Among the distinguished visiting faculty are such luminaries as Lee K. Abbot, Julia Slavin, Rick Moody, Mary Gaitskill, Carol Phillips, Frank Bidart, and Philip Lopate.

Another exciting option is the Summer Seminars in Judaic Studies, a renowned program since 1980. Summer Seminars bring together scholars and eager students to study in a "culturally and intellectually rich atmosphere." The seminars seek to "to broaden and deepen (participants') experience, knowledge and understanding of Jews and Judaism." Each of the three week-long summer seminars offer one course focusing on a single subject matter. In week three of 2004, for example, the course is "The Zionist Movement and Modern Israel."

Beware: both programs are rigorous. A written form, (along with specific writing samples for the Writers Institute) as well as a $30 application fee, are necessary for admission to the programs. The application fee is deducted from the $700 cost of the program, which includes one week of tuition, housing, meals, and off-campus trips.  Contact Office of the Dean of Special Programs, Skidmore College, 815 North Broadway, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866-1632, (phone 518/ 580-5595) or view the website at

Three to nine-week summer classes at the University of Chicago Graham School of General Studies can cost more than $2,075 for those seeking college credit. But visiting adults can sit in on the classes and pay $1,300. There are language classes in Japanese, Korean, Greek, and Hebrew, as well as courses in computers, business, literature, history, and sociology. The prices only cover tuition, but rooms are available in a newly constructed dormitory for $195 per person per week (double room) or $235 per person per week (single room). You can also stay at single rooms with shared baths at the International House (1414 East 59th Street Chicago, Illinois 60637, 773/753-2270) can be booked for about $50/night or $900/month, not bad for this prime city location. For more information, contact Graham School, University of Chicago, 1427 East 60th Street, Chicago, IL 60637, phone 800/997-9689, e-mail, Web:

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