March 11, 2011

The European Graduate School: Combining World-Famous Thinkers, an Inventive Curriculum, and Intellectual Freedom

The European Graduate School, located in Switzerland, the heart of various institutions of higher education, is far from your typical grad school. Founded in 1994, EGS devotes itself to recruiting students who show genuine intellectual promise, who have the creative capacity to further problematize big ideas that have driven modern philosophy to this day. While most graduate schools have various different degree programs from which to choose, EGS has only two Media and Communications, and Arts, Health, and Society. Arts, Health, and Society is an interdisciplinary course of study that examines the ways in which the arts, broadly speaking, affects and enhances individual, social and political life.

The more famed of EGS's programs of study is its Media and Communications division, which offers Master's and PhD degrees in the interdisciplinary study of philosophy, communications, film, literature, internet, web and cyberspace studies. In many ways, the Media and Communications program works like a TED conference. As a limited-residency institution, EGS has its students do most of their work at home, pouring over a structured and demanding reading list, completing assignments and discussions online. In the summer, EGS students and faculty meet in Saas-Fee where the campus is located, to listen to lectures and work together on research.

What distinguishes EGS from other institutions is the renown of its faculty, which represents a group of scholars, thinkers, and artists who are at the very cutting edge of theoretical study, dealing with issues of global concern. These "superstar" faculty members have included Alan Badiou, Slavoj Zizek, Jacques Derrida, and Michel Houellebecq, among others. EGS is highly selective of its student body, picking students who have demonstrated the capacity to work independently and who will not be shy when it comes to working with scholars of international repute as intellectual peers and not simply as professors. Although EGS emphasizes interdisciplinary study, every MA and PhD student selects a specific specialization and advisor, who will work with each student to develop a highly original contribution to modern thought.

While EGS is an extremely well-renowned institution, it isn't, of course, for everyone. Many doctoral students come to EGS for a second PhD, and the value of the school's course of study is more intellectual than career-driven.

Speaking about the school, philosopher and cultural theorist Slavoj Zizek noted: " not only a place to create an interaction between students...but giving them freedom, not freedom to do nothing, but precisely freedom to work in this creative inter-space. Also, the way curriculum, the way talks are done: We do very serious theoretical work here...I like how the school approaches me...You know, I had to be there for exams for the I thought how should I terrorize them...and I told them, 'You ask yourself a question and then you answer it'. Ah, but you know? They didn’t have any excuse. They couldn’t have said, 'Ah, sorry. You know, I could not answer you.' They had to be at their best. No excuse...We are challenged to do so. No excuse...It’s really serious work...It’s enough mixing between students and professors as equals so that you can get real productive exchange, not just ritualistic questions, answers, and so on. I think this is what accounts for the growing success of EGS here. It’s simply a negative proof of the failure of today’s academia."

For those who find this sort of challenge exciting, EGS may be just the place for you.

This guest contribution was submitted by Katheryn Rivas, who regularly writes for online universities. She especially loves hearing back from her readers. Questions or comments can be sent to:

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