Since its creation thirty-eight years ago, AGS has been hosted at Hendrix. The six-week residential program aims at immersing rising high school seniors in critical thinking and has produced thousands of alumni—many of whom agree that their AGS experience was defined by the program’s location on Hendrix campus.
Every three years, each college in Arkansas is eligible to submit a proposal to host the program—as long as they meet criteria in fields like security, facilities, and curriculum. While Hendrix has always been chosen, other schools made bids in 2007 and 2010. This year, three schools from the state submitted proposals and budgets: Arkansas Tech University, University of Central Arkansas, and Hendrix College.
Hendrix received the highest overall rating from the site visit evaluations, where criteria like curriculum, dorms, security, and recreational facilities were analyzed. Despite this, nine out of the thirteen judges ranked ATU over Hendrix. The Arkansas Department of Education announced in a Facebook post that the committee will recommend Arkansas Tech University to host the 2019-2021 sessions, and soon after, the college published a response that confirmed this decision. In the statement, President William Tsuitsui thanked Dr. Lyle Rupert for working as director of AGS for twelve years. President Tsuitsui also thanked the faculty and staff who helped create a welcoming environment each summer.
Dr. Rupert said that Hendrix is losing the prestige that accompanies hosting AGS, as well as the opportunity to bring awareness of Hendrix to gifted and talented high schoolers who might not be familiar with the school. The AGS move will also mean a loss of summer employment for those who work in the dining hall, health offices, and library. In past years, over eighty faculty and staff members worked during the summer session.
While the Department of Education prohibits AGS’s host school from recruiting prospective students during the program, there’s evidence to suggest that AGS influences students to come to Hendrix, according to Dr. Rupert. Because no other summer programs have been hosted at Hendrix alongside AGS, the program’s students have had the small campus to themselves, which creates a close-knit community—and a love for the campus. Dr. Rupert added that, at Hendrix, AGS is a true gifted and talented program. “We focus on the specific needs of GT students. There’s a central focus of critical thinking, understanding processes, and epistemology. That’s the fundamentals of the governor school model.”
AGS alumni may also recall Hendrix’s restriction of student’s use of technology—especially cell phones. According to AGS policy, phones aren’t allowed out of the dorms unless they are being used in class under the instructor’s discretion. Students’ involvement in real-life, face-to-face discussions and debates is an iconic part of the experience at Hendrix. The ATU proposal suggests that technology will be a central focus in curriculum; the first sentence of their submission states, “The Digital Revolution has brought about a high-tech global economy that requires a technology educated workforce.”
Many alumni have argued that the proposed tech-focus does not honor the spirit of AGS. Of the nearly 3,000 alumni who signed the petition to keep the program at Hendrix, many believe that ATU plans to make AGS “just another STEM camp.” Others are criticizing the curriculum for “jumping on the bandwagon” and underplaying the value the humanities and the arts, instead favoring math, science, and technology. Parents and alumni from the thirty-eight different sessions blatantly pose the question: If it’s not broke, why fix it?
Dr. Rupert advises that ATU should be careful that the tail is not wagging the dog, so to speak. “Technology should be used as a tool to enhance critical thinking and epistemology. It should not replace it. [Hendrix] used technology when appropriate,” he said.
The decision has been finalized, and the best alumni can do is hope that AGS will thrive at ATU. Some hope that when the selection process takes place three years from now, Hendrix will bring AGS back. In the meantime, the college will focus on finishing the Miller Creative Quad and will investigate the possibility of hosting other summer camps or even summer school.
“I will miss the camaraderie I had with faculty, staff, and students. The summers were always vibrant and intellectual. I got to know a lot of the Hendrix staff, like dining hall employees and public safety, that I otherwise would not have had a connection with. Those friendships are very valuable to me,” Dr. Rupert said. Such sentiment is shared widely by the thousands of alumni who experienced the uniquely Hendrix program.