Home News and Features Features Interview with Goddard Interim President Robert Kenny and School Overview

Interview with Goddard Interim President Robert Kenny and School Overview

Interim President Robert Kenny. Photo by Carla Occaso
Interim President Robert Kenny. Photo by Carla Occaso

by Nat Frothingham


The Bridge: We thought we would open by asking you if you would be so kind as to distinguish Goddard College from the other five colleges and learning centers (in Washington County). Where does Goddard fit?

Interim President Kenny: The first defining thing is that all of our programs use a low-residency model, which means that the students come in at the start of every semester. They write a plan of study for the semester that they carry out with the guidance of faculty—the communication system (that is really not an online communication system, although, they do use an electronic system to communicate some) and packets which allow for the passing of physical results of the work. They call these packets. So much work is done at the end of so many weeks from the student to the faculty who evaluates it, writes comments, sends it back to the student and then carries on. (The student) continues their work study into the next packet and then they complete course of study over the course of a semester. So they use low residency, the students come in for eight days at the start of the month, then they virtually all go back to their homes; their home towns that is uniquely different. We do seven of those residencies in Vermont each semester.

The Bridge: How long are the residencies?

Interim President Kenny: The residency length is a nine-day period.

The Bridge: So some of the programs are … I know it has been essentially the humanities I think in many ways? This is not exactly a technical college.

Interim President Kenny: We are a little more focused on the graduate end of the cycle. And then on the graduate end of things we have an MFA in writing, an MFA in interdisciplinary arts; art. We run two residencies in one in Vermont and one in the state of Washington for those programs. We also have a fairly good-sized psychology program an education program—the education program is smaller, but we do run a residency here and one in Seattle, Washington, so we have two different residencies for that.  We also have at the undergraduate level a BFA in writing, which is one of the few in the country and we have been doing that now for a number of years and it has been very successful

The Bridge: What is the current moment like at the college?  What is flourishing. What is dynamic? What needs attention? What is vexing?

Interim President Kenny: At our commencements, one of the things that we do is we interview every student. The faculty advisor introduces every student, describes their work and then the student has a moment to say something to the group that is gathered at the commencement. I can tell you, I think without anyone disagreeing, that the work that they do is just outstanding. It is a significant change and they almost all cite that, and they cite the support of their faculty. They develop very close relationships with their faculty advisors—more on the line of the Oxford/Cambridge model. They are very enthused about what they have accomplished here under the model that we have allowed them access to. So that is exciting and it continues to be exciting.

The Bridge: Before we leave that, could you give me, could you crystallize, make concrete for me the transformations that are going on, or some of the ways that the encounter with learning is making a dramatic difference in the lives of graduates.

Interim president Kenny: The basis for the model of the educational system that we use comes from John Dewey. John Dewey believed that one of the important components of encouraging somebody to learn is that they use their experiences and their passions in order to develop what they want to learn and that if you take those experiences and passions and you apply it on to some learning criteria, you get a lot better outcomes. The transformation is greater than if you go the more traditional way of saying, “you should learn this and you should that.” When a student in our program wants to learn math or writing, they are doing it based on experience that they have had. So the example that I was going to use was one of the students had gone through a very traumatic event in her life and was significantly affected by that and used creative writing as a way of healing, as a way of understanding her trauma and understanding how she would be in the world understanding healing. She had done that independently and then she came to Goddard and decided to understand that role of how did it fit in and did a very comprehensive study of that and I think it, rewarded  her in coming to an understanding  about herself but also an understanding about herself that could be extrapolated to others.

The Bridge: So, was her project creative writing?

Interim president Kenny: Her project was actually understanding how trauma can be affected by creative writing and she explored the project both from a research direction, but also by using creative writing in the project. She wrote poems as a part of her final project, she wrote a memoir a short memoir as part of her final project, but also at the same time understanding how these things affected her ability to heal.

The Bridge: You were about to talk about some of the issues you are contending with.

Interim president Kenny: Well, the primary issue we are contending with is that our enrollment has declined from its peak and as a result of that we’ve had to resize ourselves, and resizing to a declining enrollment is a much a more difficult thing than resizing to an increasing enrollment. So we have done that in the last few years and that has created a bit of unrest, angst, among our staff and faculty, and to some extent it extrapolates to others.

The Bridge: Is enrollment decline a more general issue?

Interim President Kenny: The demographics in Vermont and in New England and the Northeast in particular are all showing a decline in the traditional-aged student coming out of high school. This is not something you can play around with. There are not as many. And so, the only way you can attract more students is by increasing a percentage of high school students who go on to colleges or universities, but we’ve already pretty well done that. When I was in school it was less than half. It has gotten up to 70 percent going on to colleges, and there is not a lot of room there, it is hard to push beyond 70 percent. Because you are starting to get into the range of students who are ready for other lives, and not intellectual lives. Our undergraduate students are, first of all, only 30 percent of our population or thereabouts, and, secondly they are almost all nontraditional aged. So, there are students who have tested out of other institutions, and, I would say, the average student has been to one [or] maybe three other of the institutions and they are coming here to complete a degree that they started elsewhere.


Location: Plainfield, Vermont, and Port Townsend, Washington

Format: Low-residency

Tuition: $8,565 per semester for MFA in Creative Writing. $8,647 per semester for MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts

Financial aid: Yes

Accreditation: Accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges

Enrollment: Roughly 750 students

Faculty: 115 faculty members

Student to faculty ratio: 8:1

Diversity: Two-thirds female, 15 percent identify as members of ethnic or racial minorities

Mission statement: “To advance cultures of rigorous inquiry, collaboration, and lifelong learning, where individuals take imaginative and responsible action in the world.” (from the website www.goddard.edu)

Housing: On-site dormitories

History: “Initially chartered as a Universalist seminary in 1863, Green Mountain Central Institute, later renamed Goddard Seminary. Goddard College was chartered in 1938 at its Plainfield campus by founding president Royce ‘Tim’ Pitkin. In 1963, Goddard became the first American college to offer adult-degree programs, and now specializes in MA, MFA, BA and BFA low-residency education.” (from the website www.goddard.edu)

Admissions contact: 800-906-8312

Little-known fact: “Goddard College’s founder, Royce ‘Tim’ Pitkin, was a graduate of Goddard Seminary and a student of John Dewey. Alarmed by the rise of fascism in Europe, Pitkin founded Goddard College … to unite the liberal values of the seminary with Dewey’s belief that interactive, self-directed education could help build civil, democratic societies.” (from the website www.goddard.edu)

Royce "Tim" Pitkin, founder
Royce “Tim” Pitkin, founder