Graduation Speeches

2004 Graduation - Speech by the Academic Dean: Kepler College: Where We've Been

Kepler College: Where We’ve Been

A Commencement Address by Academic Dean J. Lee Lehman, Ph.D.

The last four years have been an adventure: and it would not have been the same without the Lobsters.

Just over thirteen years ago, a meeting was held that launched the effort that became Kepler College. On March 10 th , 2000, the Higher Education Coordinating Board of the State of Washington authorized Kepler’s BA program. The first term began July 20, 2000, and the first symposium began August 18, 2000.

Every student has her or his first day of class at a new school. Every professor has the first day of teaching class. But normally, when a new institution opens, a portion of the faculty will be teaching the same-ol’ - same -ol’; just at a new institution. But not Kepler. Here, we had to invent the curriculum from the bottom up.

The initiating Board of Trustees through their curriculum committee had established that the first year would be history. This was in line with Kepler’s position as a liberal arts college. What none of us appreciated at the time is how that history year would become such a defining moment for the students, the faculty - and the college.

I suspect everybody agreed that the history year would have an important impact by grounding the students in the importance of astrology in different cultures and times. What came as a bit more of a surprise was how history would impact the subsequent classes. Of course, we expected that the study of the history of astrology might ignite questions about the astrology of various historical periods, but we underestimated the extent of the impact of the study of astrological lineages would have on subsequent study of technique. In Year Two, our students began to ask qualitatively different questions based on this understanding.

Then there was the infamous 203, the experiment that we never inflicted on the later classes. In this term, we attempted to present Vedic, Hellenistic and Modern all in one class - something the instructors and students dubbed cross-training, but which was really more like the Triathlon. More than anything else, the Lobsters’ experience taught us as a faculty that it would take four terms to teach the core curriculum, not three.

Up to this point, everyone had assumed that our first track or major that would be taught in the Junior year, would be psychology. In order to make this so, our then President, Enid Newberg, had assigned Dr. Stephanie Clement to study how best to implement this, who in turn enlisted Vivian Carol to help her. What they discovered was that the American Psychological Association has been very active over the past twenty years or so in defining exactly what a psychology curriculum should be. For APA, this is an extremely important consideration for the vocation of psychology. It means that people who have received psychology degrees from different institutions can nonetheless blend together into a profession whose two major employers are business and government. Adhering to this protocol could be an important consideration in our continued authorization, and certainly in receiving accreditation. However, from Kepler’s standpoint, this became a major stumbling block, because this “one size fits all” psychology major did not fit our mission and our structure. It did not fit our mission, because too many courses would be needed that had no astrological focal point. It did not fit our structure, because the generic psychology major would require more credit hours than the original Board of Trustees Curriculum Committee had allocated to the Track or major.

What to do? Our President at the time, Cathy Coleman, turned to both the faculty and students for ideas. It was then that it became apparent that however brutal the Triathlon of the sophomore year had been, it served a greater purpose than simply clarifying the core curriculum. One component of what had happened in 203 was that the students got something that had never been taught in astrology before: a comparative introduction to Hellenistic and Vedic astrology (not to mention modern astrology), taught side-by-side. The degree of overlap is phenomenal, and instructors Demetra George, Georgia Stathis and Dennis Harness approached their material with clarity, incisiveness and complete respect for the three traditions. The result was both inspiring and revolutionary, because the divide between tropical and sidereal zodiacs has long been the fault line in astrology. We had gone into this year determined to honor all traditions. But it was this course that taught us exactly how far that process could and should go. When the question of track was raised after 203, the answer that Cathy received was that an East-West track was the way to go.

This process also allowed us to reach a clarification in terms of exactly what our students have been asking for when they express an interest in psychology. What the Lobsters told us they wanted was better skills for working with clients. In other words, what emerged was the distinction between psychology and counseling, two very different studies, but similar enough to have been mixed up in people’s minds. If psychology presented challenges because of turf, counseling presented challenges because it is not a usual topic for undergraduate education, and also because we are a liberal arts college, not a vocational school. This conundrum was solved when Dennis and Demetra joined together again in the fourth year to create an experiential course based on the examining mythology as a methodology for empowerment.

Throughout this adventure, the faculty has been presented with a continual challenge. We are all people who have academic training, but in most cases, astrology has been our passion, not the focus of that academic training. As the ground-breakers to re-establish astrology within academia, what does academic astrological education look like, and how is it different from astrological vocational education, which has flourished for decades outside the academy? And how would we modify our own approaches, as all but two of the faculty have also taught astrology in those non-academic settings? Is academic astrology nothing more than vocational astrology with citations?

The answer, of course, is no, although citations are not a bad start! The primary difference is that we cannot teach astrology within a vacuum: we must teach it as it relates to other fields and disciplines, and we must teach it within a mode which goes beyond the old platitude of “it works for me,” and through critical, cultural and historical examination, encourage the students to ask questions that go beyond cookbook to logic and philosophy. And we must get beyond our personal choices of technique to present a comprehensive and thought-provoking survey which has academic rigor as well as technical knowledge. This is how we are learning to fulfill our mission: to provide a liberal arts education as seen through the lens of astrology.