Jeff Barber’s “Para-Pillars” memorializes thirty years of St. Olaf’s Paracollege, which provided innovative, individualized, interdisciplinary learning. The sculptor, class of 1978, is himself an alumnus of the “college within a college” system.
“Para-Pillars” consists of three stone columns and a slab placed in the ground to represent the corners of a triangle. The first column of granite supports a standing figure cast in bronze. Another corner—two sandstone columns from the college’s old Ytterboe Hall—supports a reclining figure, also in bronze. The third corner of empty plinth encourages interaction, inviting people to enter the triangle to experience its dynamic relationships.
The St. Olaf Paracollege began in 1969 and offered students an alternate means for obtaining a bachelor’s degree.
“[For students at the time] the watchword was relevance,” said Associate Professor of Religion David Booth, who tutored in the Paracollege from 1985 to 2000. “They didn’t want an education that would reproduce their parents' boring lives. They wanted to know the truth about reality so they could bring about peace and liberation.”
With a curriculum centered on the student, he or she designed a unique major. The Paracollege was phased out starting in 1998; it was replaced by the Center for Integrative Studies, which continues to integrate Paracollege innovations into the core curriculum.
The sculpture was dedicated in 2000 during commencement and reunion weekend. Thirty-one students graduated from the Paracollege in its final year. At the dedication of the sculpture, DeAne Lagerquist, the Paracollege’s last senior tutor, cited a Max DePree quotation: “Have the courage to commit to other people’s wild ideas.”
“When I read this advice,” Lagerquist said, “I recognize it as a key element in the genius of the Paracollege. . . . Over three decades of students have committed themselves to the wild ideas that education is not contained in disciplinary boxes, nor is it separated from living. Tutors have committed themselves to all manner of wild ideas proposed for tutorials or senior projects.”