Academic Life

Mission Statement of Vassar College

The primary mission of Vassar College, to furnish “the means of a thorough, well-proportioned, and liberal education,”1 was articulated in The First Annual Catalogue and has remained constant throughout its history. Founded in 1861 to provide young women an education equal to that once available only to young men, the College has since 1969 opened its doors to both women and men on terms of equality. Encouragement of excellence and respect for diversity are hallmarks of Vassar’s character as an institution. The independence of mind and the diverse intellectual interests of students are fostered by providing them a range of ways to meet our curricular expectations. The structure of the residential experience, in which students in all four classes live in the residence halls, obliges students to master the art of living cooperatively in a diverse community. Diversity of perspective is honored as well in the college’s system of shared governance among all the constituencies of the institution.

Vassar’s statement of academic purpose, adopted by faculty and trustees, is a definition of the qualities it seeks to develop in its students:

To achieve these purposes, Vassar offers a curriculum that honors the values of liberal learning as it challenges us to lead energetic and purposeful lives. We aim, therefore, to support a faculty dedicated to teaching, scholarship, and artistic endeavor; to educate—in the humanities, the natural sciences, and the social sciences—distinguished, diverse students motivated toward intellectual risk; to promote clear thinking and articulate expression; to stimulate integrative learning through multidisciplinary studies that communicate across cultural and curricular perspectives; and to commit both students and teachers to coherent and cohesive approaches to learning.

In the largest sense, Vassar seeks to educate the individual imagination to see into the lives of others. As such, its academic mission cannot be separated from its definition as a residential community composed of diverse interests and perspectives. The differences among us are real and challenging. Contemporary life requires more than ever the skills and wisdom that liberal education has always promoted: the exercise of informed opinion and sound critical judgment; a willingness to engage in ethical debate in a spirit of reasonable compromise; the achievement of balance between emotional engagement and intellectual detachment; the actions of personal integrity and respect for others; independent thought and an attendant resistance to irresponsible authority. It is our mission to meet the challenges of a complex world responsibly, actively, and imaginatively.

1 Taken from remarks by Matthew Vassar to the first meeting of the Board of Trustees, 1861.

Goals

  1. To develop a well-qualified, diverse student body which, in the aggregate, reflects cultural pluralism, and to foster in those students a respect for difference and a commitment to common purposes.
  2. To educate our students, both broadly and deeply, in the liberal disciplines; to stimulate integrative thinking both within and across the disciplines; to strengthen and refine the powers of reason, imagination, and expression; through curricular offerings to promote gender and racial equality and a global perspective; and to nurture not only pleasure in learning but also an informed and active concern for the well-being of society.
  3. To extend these curricular values into the life of a residential community in which students may develop their skills by means of organized and informal activities, athletics, student government, contact with the surrounding community, and engagement with a concerned faculty.
  4. To maintain and support a distinguished and diverse faculty in their commitment to teaching, to scholarship, and artistic endeavor, and to other forms of professional development.
  5. To renew, improve, and adapt the college’s educational programs and technologies in ways that are commensurate with the most provident use of its resources.
  6. To continue to be a significant source of national and international leadership, producing graduates who will be distinguished both in their professional careers and in service to their communities and the world.
  7. To inform, involve, and engage the alumnae/i of the college in order to promote lifelong learning and to enlist their energies in the continuing development of the college.
Vassar College is committed to working toward a more just, diverse, egalitarian, and inclusive college community where all members feel valued and are fully empowered to claim a place in—and responsibility for—our shared working, living, and learning. The College affirms the inherent value of a diverse campus and curriculum reflective of our lives as members of multiple local and global communities. [From the 2003 report to the President from the Committee on Diversity and Difference, affirmed by the president and the senior officers, 2004]

Faculty

Assisting students to realize these goals is a faculty of more than 250 individuals, all of whom hold advanced degrees from major universities in this country and abroad. In their devotion to the teaching of undergraduates and in their concern with the needs and capabilities of the individual student, they carry on Vassar’s strongest and most productive traditions. At the same time, they encourage students to assume responsibility for the direction of their education and to engage in independent study and in field work.

Accreditation

Vassar is accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools.

Curriculum

The Vassar curriculum has always been characterized by boldness, breadth, and flexibility, and curricular innovation has been a regular part of the history of the college. Vassar was among the first colleges to offer courses in drama, psychology, and Russian, and it has experimented with interdepartmental courses since the early part of the twentieth century.

Today, the curriculum is broader, richer, and more varied than ever, including concentrations ranging from Latin to cognitive science, from biochemistry to religion, from astronomy to Africana studies. Students at Vassar may choose courses from such diverse fields as Asian art and women’s studies, corporate finance and Chinese, film history and constitutional law, or paleoclimatology and Old English. Field work, integral in the curricula of many departments for decades, is an expected part of students’ work in such fields as anthropology, geography, geology, and education, and study away programs are available for many students, especially those concentrating in foreign language study.

Curricular requirements are flexible, and both students and faculty have various options in ways of teaching and learning. Students have a choice of four paths to the bachelor’s degree: concentration in a department; interdepartmental programs such as neuroscience and behavior or mathematics/computer science; multidisciplinary programs such as Asian studies; American culture; environmental studies; media studies; science, technology, and society; or urban studies; or concentration in an individually tailored course of study in the Independent Program.

Informal Education

The formal curriculum is supported and enriched by remarkably abundant resources for informal education outside the classroom. The college provides lectures, in any year, by more than 150 outside scholars and public figures. Vassar’s schedule of concerts, lectures, films, dramatic productions, art exhibitions, and conferences generates a campus atmosphere that would do credit to a much larger institution.

Artists from outside the college give concerts and recitals in addition to those given by the college musical organizations and by faculty members and students of the Department of Music. Exhibitions of fine printing, binding, manuscripts, rare editions, and Vassar memorabilia are shown in the main library.

Every year, the drama department stages six to eight majors plays directed by faculty and students and presented in one of three venues. The Streep studio is equipped to seat 50 and houses experimental workshop productions. The Hallie Flanagan Powerhouse Theater — a versatile space which can be used in a number of different configurations — is generally earmarked for studio productions and seats up to 135 spectators. The Martel theatre is a continental proscenium stage used for large-scale productions and seats up to 325 spectators. In addition, the department produces a host of other, smaller student directed events open to the public. Recent productions on the season have included Spring Awakening; Cabaret; The Invention of Love; Suppliant Women; Las Meninas; The Seagull; We Bombed in New Haven; and As You Like It.

The Third World Festival is an annual event sponsored by the Program in Africana Studies which focuses on the Afro-American, African, and Afro-Caribbean heritage and tradition, and on the social and political thought of the non-Western world, particularly the African Diaspora.