CI classes go "back to the beginning"

Release Date: 11/29/2012

This past September, two freshman Critical Inquiry classes traveled to Cane Hill, Ark., to visit the historical community where University of the Ozarks was born as Cane Hill School in 1834.

Dr. Heather McFarland, assistant professor of communication, and Dr. Dave Daily, professor of religion, are both Critical Inquiry (CI) instructors this fall, which means they, together with upperclassmen peer mentors, are responsible for shepherding a group of freshman through the transition from high school to college.

McFarland developed the idea of taking students to the small Northwest Arkansas community of Cane Hill as a rite of passage.

CI students at Cane Hill, Ark.

Students and faculty members from two U of O Critical Inquiry classes gather around a plaque that commemorates the first college in Arkansas, Cane Hill College, which was located in the small community of Cane Hill in Northwest Arkansas. The college, which was established in 1834 as Cane Hill School, moved to Clarksville in 1891 and is now University of the Ozarks.

"I wanted to introduce the incoming freshmen to the history and legacy that surrounds Cane Hill," McFarland said. "I had spoken with some of my previous peer mentors about the possibility of a trip to Cane Hill. None of them had ever gone, and they all said that they felt like they were missing something by not having been to the beginning."

Established by a group of Cumberland Presbyterians, Cane Hill School, which became Cane Hill College in 1852, had an eventful and colorful existence. The college closed abruptly in 1861 for a short period when then-President F.R. Earle and most of the school's all-male student body took up arms and joined the Confederate Army. In 1864, virtually all of the Cane Hill community, including most of the college, was burned to the ground when Union troops occupied the area.

Classes resumed following the Civil War, and the college made history soon thereafter when it began admitting women, becoming the first coeducational college in the state. Five women earned degrees from the college in 1877. The school suffered another setback in 1885 when a fire destroyed most of the college. Six years later it would close down in and move to Clarksville as Arkansas Cumberland College in 1891.

Before the semester began, McFarland discussed her plan with Daily over lunch one day only to discover that other faculty members had an interest in figuring out a way to introduce students on campus to the University's historical landmark, Cane Hill.

"Initially, I wanted to include the entire freshman class," McFarland said. "However, there wasn't enough time to fully execute such a huge event before the semester began, so I thought I could at least start with my CI class. Dr. Daily also wanted to introduce his students to Cane Hill, so we made it a joint venture."

The trip was more than simply seeing the original site of Cane Hill School. The group was able to coordinate their arrival with the Cane Hill Harvest Festival, which gave them further access to those working to preserve the historical community. 

As part of the event, they had a country breakfast on Cane Hill grounds and toured the Cane Hill museum, which houses some original diplomas and memorabilia from Cane Hill School.

McFarland considers this first venture into Ozarks history a success and hopes others on campus will explore Ozarks' legacy.

"In the end, I believe that this experience is something that every student, faculty, and staff should take part," she said. "By seeing where we come from, we have greater clarity as to where we need to go.  It encourages pride in the University and those that fought to maintain a higher degree of education in this area."