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Graduate Student Perspectives and the State of the Field
by Helen Cullyer

Graduate Student Perspectives and the State of the Field

by Helen Cullyer

In March, the SCS office posted on the SCS News feed a piece by a group of graduate students, collectively named Classicus Proletarius (CP). This piece responded to a recent blog post, “Working Towards a Just and Inclusive Future for Classics”, by Joy Connolly and also addressed many important topics in the field and in academia generally, including the state of the job market. We are glad that the piece generated thoughtful debate on social media and beyond. Here in the newsletter, we present several reactions to the piece from different constituencies within SCS.

We Need to Listen to Graduate Students:

Professor Connolly herself comments, “I'm very glad the conversation is being kept alive, lively, and open to controversial and provocative statements; it's crucial that it continue, because the field needs the voices of the upcoming generation, especially in a time of upheaval and necessary, self-aware critique.” In order that we continue to hear the voices of graduate students, the SCS Graduate Student Committee, formed last year and comprising both graduate students and faculty, has a number of priorities, described below by the committee co-chairs Allannah Karass and Del Maticic. Please note that the committee now has a dedicated email address:

“The newly formed SCS Graduate Student Committee (GSC) met for the first time in San Diego on January 5, 2019. We did not play a part in writing or publishing the response of Classicus Proletarius, but we are actively engaged in conversations about the future of graduate students and the SCS. While some of the problems raised by Classicus Proletarius cannot be addressed by the Society, the SCS Graduate Student Committee takes graduate student ideas and proposals seriously. In that spirit, we would like to take this opportunity to present the aims and current goals of our committee for the larger Classics community. The GSC represents the interests of M.A. and Ph.D. students in the SCS, works towards identifying and solving problems that graduate students face on a national level, and seeks to create resources to empower predoctoral scholars to succeed professionally in and beyond the academy. At our initial meeting, the committee decided to pursue three initiatives throughout the coming year 2019-2020: (1) to host a panel for the next annual meeting entitled “Graduate Student Leadership in Classics;” (2) to work closely with senior SCS leadership to create a more comprehensive and user-friendly resource page for prospective Classics masters students; and, (3), to establish a network of graduate student liaisons in graduate-degree-granting Classics Departments throughout the U.S. We welcome input and suggestions about how we can better advocate for graduate students within the SCS and help to address challenges in the ways we can. For more information or questions, please email us at:

We Need Meaningful Inter-Generational Dialogue:

We must also try to foster meaningful inter-generational dialogue. Some members of SCS were concerned that CP’s suggestions that faculty should be encouraged to retire at a “reasonable” age (for example, 65) could be construed as age discrimination. There are many reasons why faculty may choose not to retire earlier than they do (including the threat of elimination of their faculty line upon their retirement). Within SCS, from our staff to our board, we value the contributions of those approaching retirement and of retirees. At the same time, we understand how problematic a lack of faculty renewal and dearth of job openings for early-career scholars can be for both departments and individuals, and we understand CP to have been making that point. We hope that our organization, which includes as members early-career graduate students, those who are retired, and everyone in between, can work together to address the serious challenges that Classics and the humanities in general face. Recently issues of racism and hierarchies in the profession have become prominent in online and in-person discussions. This moment is a “precious opportunity”, as a former SCS President has told me, to “make real and genuinely inclusive change in how we focus our collective efforts”, and that will involve us all.

Real and Genuinely Inclusive Change:

The SCS leadership recognizes that developing new narratives regarding the ancient Mediterranean world and more inclusive perspectives in research and teaching, and that revising many course descriptions, syllabi, and textbooks are necessary; and that junior scholars attempting to develop these new narratives need to be supported. Based on submissions to the 2020 Annual Meeting program and on special events sponsored by the SCS leadership and our affiliated groups, I expect that the 2020 Annual Meeting will be a venue to hear new narratives, arguments, and to foster support for new perspectives. How we name the field is likely to figure in ongoing discussions. In addition to expanding the scope of our field, SCS is actively pursuing funding possibilities for long-term fellowships for underrepresented students, as recommended by CP, and we hope to offer more than three summer Undergraduate Minority Scholarships for summer 2020 thanks to the generosity of our members and donors.

SCS will also continue to work with groups such as the American Council of Learned Societies and National Humanities Alliance to advocate at many levels for the study of the humanities and humanistic social sciences. Further, a joint AIA-SCS working group, led by the AIA and SCS Presidents, is developing a statement about the importance of studying the ancient Mediterranean studies for the benefit of university administrators.

The Job Market and Working Conditions:

It is not feasible for SCS to create “a collective bargaining body such as a faculty union" given that SCS is a 501(c)3 public charity with only three staff in its central office. Nonetheless, Timothy Heckenlively, chair of the Contingent Faculty Committee, is in contact with the AAUP on contingent faculty issues. The Executive Director is reaching out to other organizations including the MLA, New Faculty Majority, the Delphi Project, and other groups to see how we can work more effectively across disciplines and organizations on issues of salaries, benefits, and working conditions for graduate students and contingent faculty. We also hope to produce a high-level report on the state of the job market in Classics from 1986 to the present in order to put the current state of the job market in perspective. Preliminary analysis reveals that while the late 90s and early 2000s were certainly much, much better in terms of number of jobs, the situation in the early 90s was similar to the present. My thanks to Jim O’Donnell and Kirk Ormand for the historical perspective. What is different now is the number of contingent positions and the number of contingent faculty on the market from year to year. The “adjuntification” of Classics faculty is a symptom not only of trends in higher education but also of the growth of contingent labor more generally among the US workforce, as CP recognizes.

A Variety of Career Paths:

It is true, as CP notes, that PhDs looking for work outside the scope of research and teaching in higher education have had little guidance on job seeking and career paths. This summer, we will be publishing in online and print versions Careers for Classicists: Graduate Student Edition, a new publication featuring advice on a variety of careers and how to find jobs, with sections by Catherine Connors, Keely Lake, and John Paulas. SCS will also release soon a board statement endorsing a variety of careers and job placements as successful outcomes for Classics PhDs. We also note this piece by the Paideia Institute on their initiatives to assist Classics PhDs on the job market. Faculty interested in helping to advise their students who are looking for careers outside academia should consult this MLA toolkit.

Many thanks to Classicus Proletarius and to Joy Connolly for their contributions and to all of you who have voiced their opinion on social media or other venues.

More April 2019 Newsletter Content

Congratulate our many winners of SCS Scholarships, Fellowships, and Grants.

Peruse the data received from our Annual Meeting Survey.