They climb the stairs in Palmer Hall eager for the discussion, book in hand. Last year it was “Nickel and Dimed” by Barbara Ehrenreich. This year it will be “Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World” by Tracy Kidder.
These are students in the truest sense – lifelong learners. They are alumni, parents, and friends who return in droves to CC’s Freedom and Authority class at Homecoming and Parents Weekend. The session is a highlight for many, a nostalgic trip through the classrooms, hallways, and intellectual passageways of a CC education.
“This class embodies CC for many alumni. It is CC,” says Bill Hochman, professor emeritus of history, who has taught Freedom and Authority since he arrived on campus in 1955.
Initiated in 1951 during the McCarthy era, Freedom and Authority was the first interdisciplinary course at Colorado College. The title is derived from the course’s fundamental question: “What is the balance between individual freedom and religious, social, and political authority?”
“It’s a once-a-year book club,” says Pete Ruch ’60. “I love it; I like to read, think, and talk about ideas. It’s one of the best things about Homecoming.” Ruch, who estimates he has attended at least 36 Homecomings, says Freedom and Authority, and CC in general, “gets you started in learning. It helps you become a lifelong thinker, reader, and discusser.”
Taught in all divisions for 60 years, Freedom and Authority has become a vital tradition at CC. As a math major, Ruch took Freedom and Authority from a physics professor, and says the interdisciplinary nature of the class was what made it so intriguing.
The Homecoming session started as a Freedom and Authority reunion with 14 attendees in 1959. Last fall’s session featuring “Nickel and Dimed,” a firsthand account of life in low-wage America, attracted more than 200 participants. This year’s book, “Mountains Beyond Mountains,” profiles an infectious disease specialist’s efforts to redress the inequality of medical service to the very poor. (Homecoming information at: www.MyCCReunion.com.)
Hochman says the class, a seminar-style discussion, poses different questions to each student, as it asks the eternal, and internal, questions: “Who am I?” “What do I think and believe?” “Why do I think and believe these things?”
“My real education started when I began teaching Freedom and Authority,” says Hochman, who holds a Ph.D. from Columbia University. “It is the quintessential CC class. It’s in-depth, interdisciplinary, and heavy on class discussion and participation. This class defines CC for many alumni.”
Janet Halbert Brewer ’69, who attended the Freedom and Authority session last fall when she was on campus for her 40th reunion, says “It’s like I’m back in class. It’s stimulating to be with a group of people grappling with a hard problem.” And she loved being back in an academic setting with Hochman, who she, like so many others, had as a professor. “He still thinks through things the same way. He knows how to draw the issue to make you think a little deeper.”
Parents enjoy the Freedom and Authority sessions as well. “It helps immerse me in my daughter’s experience,” said Helmi Pucino P’08 ’13, who joined last fall’s discussion while visiting her daughter, Nicole Kaufman ’13. “It’s a highlight of the weekend,” she said.
Pucino also participated in the 2004 Freedom and Authority session when her son, Zak Kaufman ’08, was a first-year student. That session featured Jon Krakauer’s “Under the Banner of Heaven,” an exploration of Mormon fundamentalism. “I love the caliber of discussion and debate, and the give-and-take of the sessions,” Pucino said. “It’s like going back to school myself.”
Another CC parent, Janet Scabrini P’13, who attended last year’s session with her son, James Silvester ’13, also was impressed with the class. “We want to be here with all these thinking people,” she said. “I want to come to school here.”
One Book, One CC
This year, all alumni and parents are invited to read “Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World” by Tracy Kidder. The book also is the New Student Orientation selection for the incoming Class of 2014. A series of discussions about the book are planned for alumni across the country. Information about regional book group discussions will be sent as specific dates and locations are finalized.