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Bennington College Opens Center for the Advancement of Public Action

Oct 03, 2011

Reprinted from the Rutland Herald

By Patrick McArdle, Staff Writer

BENNINGTON—Bennington College opened its $20 million Center for the Advancement of Public Action this weekend with symposiums on health and government and the promise of a new kind of education for college students.

Elizabeth Coleman, the college’s president, said the center was opened because of the “vital importance of engaging substantive values” and the “need for a willingness and capacity to engage the unfamiliar and an ability to see the familiar freshly.”

“First, we in education bear a great responsibility for the devastating decline in the quality of our public life, despite the pass that the public insists on giving us and notwithstanding a complacency within the academy matched only by that of the 18th century French aristocrat. … The second presumption (is) the belief in the formidable potential capacities of human beings and in the power of education to actualize them,” she said.

The center, known as CAPA, is intended to teach students how to be active citizens in a democratic society who will become engaged in difficult issues like health care, climate change and social justice.

Coleman said in the past that the center grew out of her involvement with and the recognition of Bennington College by the Clinton Global Initiative, which describes its mission as being to “inspire, connect and empower a community of global leaders to forge solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges.

On Friday, a letter from Clinton was read praising Coleman and the center, which Clinton said would “usher in an exciting new approach to learning.”

“President Coleman has done more than envision the future. She’s laid the groundwork needed to get there,” Clinton said.

Gov. Peter Shumlin, who attended the center’s opening ceremony along with his predecessor, James Douglas, and several state legislators from Bennington County, said the stakes were high for college students and the world in which they lived.

“If we don’t take our citizenship more seriously, if we’re not willing to have courage, if we’re not willing to speak out, if we’re not willing to make change, we won’t leave a planet behind that our kids and our grandkids can live in safely,” he said.

Before the opening remarks, which were attended by about 200 people, the college offered tours of the center, which has three buildings. The main building will host symposiums and classes and a smaller building beside it will provide living space for guest lecturers and educators.

The third building, called the “Lens,” is designed for mediation efforts and contemplation by students and guests.

The buildings, covered by reclaimed Vermont marble, were made possible by a 2007 gift of $20 million made by Robert and Susan Paris Borden of Calgary, Alberta.

Robert Borden said recently, “It truly is the beginning, I think of a new trend in American education. … It’s a little, tiny place like this where these ideas can be generated and spread.”

Coleman called the day’s events “wonderful.”

“It’s a great moment for the college and I hope beyond,” she said.

The weekend’s opening events also included musical performances from faculty and students and a presentation by the buildings’ architects, Tod Williams Billie Tsien.