Collegiate Seminar Celebrates 75 Years

Two students chat with a professor during Seminar.Please join us for a symposium on Saturday, Sept. 23 to mark Collegiate Seminar's 75th anniversary! 

The event will feature round table Seminar discussions, and plenary and panel addresses. Speakers include President James Donahue, Professors Ted Tsukahara, Raina León, Felicia Martinez, Ellen Rigsby, many more members of the faculty, and alumni. And, as befits a symposium, it will end with wine and conversation. 

Unlike Homer’s Odyssey (8th century BC) or St. Augustine’s Confessions (397-400 AD), Collegiate Seminar—which celebrates its 75th anniversary this year—isn’t exactly ancient. But the seminal works and ideas explored in the program’s Great Books–style discussion courses are etched in the memories of generations of Saint Mary’s grads.

“Alums have a really warm feeling about their Seminar experiences, typically,” said psychology professor Jose Feito, director of the program since 2012. Since 1983, all undergrads have been required to complete four semesters of the sequenced Collegiate Seminar classes (from the program’s inception in 1942, the requirement has ranged from two to eight semesters in all). That shared experience of grappling with heady texts in literature, philosophy, history, political theory, art, and science embodies the principle, Feito said, that “there’s more to education than just being trained for a job.”

Conceived amid a wave of enthusiasm for liberal education that swept the nation in the early 1940s, Collegiate Seminar is modeled on similar programs at St. John’s College, the University of Chicago, and Columbia University. Currently, 65 to 75 sections are offered each semester, with more than 155 faculty members serving as facilitators and co-investigators rather than what Feito called “the voice of authority.”

Like any 75-year-old, Collegiate Seminar has gone through some changes over the years. Winner in 2015 of the Exemplary Program Award for Improving General Education from the Association for General and Liberal Studies, the program now includes “more multicultural and crosscultural voices in dialogue with the Western tradition,” and offers a developmental approach to the material, Feito said. And with the recent adoption of Taleb Abd al-Aziz’s 2007 poem “My Brother’s War,” the syllabus spans an impressive 2,800 years. Another modern twist since 2015: SMC’s lighthearted “Seminar Madness” competition each spring between works of world-class literature, a spoof on the NCAA’s “March Madness” basketball tournaments.

But some things never change. “The shared experience” of Collegiate Seminar, said Feito, who will cede the rotating directorship to Communication Professor Ellen Rigsby in 2017, “creates a globe that holds all of us.”