The backs of graduates in red caps and gowns

It’s easy to see Deep Springs College—a tiny, highly selective two-year liberal-arts institution just outside Death Valley—as a bastion of tradition. The school was founded in 1917 by the electricity tycoon L.L. Nunn to create service-oriented leaders, and in many ways it can seem like a finishing school for intellectual cowboys. The 25 or so students are all male. They spend their days engaging in both manual labor (the college is a working cattle ranch) and classroom discourse (syllabi skew toward the Western canon). Alcohol and drugs aren’t permitted during the seven-week academic terms, and the community enforces a strict isolation policy that prohibits students from leaving the Deep Springs Valley except in cases of emergency or religious observance. Even the drive to the college evokes cinematic scenes of frontier outposts.