Reading thousands of pages of classical literature may come across as a hefty reading assignment, but for students at a small, nonprofit university in Cedar City, it's pretty normal.
George Wythe University focuses on graduating statesmen and citizens ready for action in future classrooms, communities and homes. The only thing missing is a nod from an accreditation agency, which the school is earnestly working to obtain.
Hundreds have already reserved a table for Saturday night's fundraising gala at the Capitol featuring rising star radio host Glenn Beck and aimed at helping George Wythe University earn a spot on academia's map.
Not only is a sizeable endowment required for accreditation, but according to George Wythe President Andrew Groft, it could give students even more of an incentive to forgo traditional classroom-style learning for an education based on the five pillars of statesmanship, which the fledgling school delivers in the form of reading, discussing and writing about classic literature.
"The founders of our country felt, and we feel, that we cannot maintain a democratic society without an educated populace," Groft said, adding that a degree in statesmanship allows students an opportunity to "learn how to think instead of what to think."
George Wythe is one of Utah's smallest schools, with enrollment hovering around 150 this year. Students spend countless hours in the campus library, and even more time at home reading Aristotle, Galileo, John Locke, Montesquieu, Tocqueville and W. Cleon Skousen.
"I fell in love with the idea that there were people out there who talk about the books I like to read," said Jessica Pinkston, a senior studying statesmanship. "Not only are they good books, they're good ideas."
Pinkston, of California, plans to apply to law school and knows that her degree may not be recognized by some of the schools she approaches, but she feels she has the education to be "more than mediocre."
"You read about people who had done all these great things, and who are we not to do great things in our time?" she said. "It's not about learning the facts. It's about becoming something."
Brigham Young University literature professor and dean of undergraduate education Madison Sowell said he was impressed after visiting the campus last year as part of a peer review for the American Academy for Liberal Education, an accrediting association recognized by the U.S. Department of Education for schools teaching liberal arts. He said that students at George Wythe exhibited a dedication and zeal for learning and an enthusiasm for the ideals they were reading about.
"They genuinely engage in dialogue and employing the Socratic method and those are good things that are often lost in large lecture-hall situations," Sowell said, adding that the school has the potential to grow if it can accomplish a sometimes difficult accreditation process.
Money is a big hurdle for the small school, which opened in 1992 as a branch of the Coral Ridge Baptist University in Florida. A lot of things have changed over the years, including splitting from Coral Ridge. George Wythe has recently moved to a fixed-credit model and developed an 80-page written format whereby new faculty can be trained, changes made based on suggestions gained from the peer-review process. The school is also looking at more refined financial standards as recommended by the liberal education academy.
Construction on a new 200-acre campus in Monticello has been halted due in part to current economic conditions, but also because university officials are "earnestly focusing on accreditation," Groft said.
"Our students are told they have a mission in life, that they are born to do something, to help society in some way," he said. "Getting an education is not just about putting food on the table. We tell our students to find the thing they were meant to do."
Students pay just more than $3,000 per semester at George Wythe, with some courses now being offered online. Instruction involves reading from a list of classics believed to have been studied by founders of American government, and classroom discussions are lead by mentors instead of traditional professors.56 comments on this story
The nontraditional education isn't for everyone, but Ben Brown transferred from his community college in Wyoming because he didn't feel like he was getting what he wanted from higher education. He too plans to go to law school and says the school has prepared him well, having taken the LSAT, at least practice versions, every semester. He said students have to work hard to succeed.
"My education is my responsibility," Brown said. "If I want something I have to go and get it. If you don't feel like that, you don't last here."
The school offers a bachelor's degree in liberal arts and statesmanship, a master's of arts in education and political economy and a doctorate in constitutional law.
"If there was ever a time for more statesmen and fewer politicians, it's now," said Beck, the fundraising headliner.