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Different Strokes for Different Folks: Three Universities, Three “Classics”

Patrice Rankine

University of Richmond

The purpose of this paper is to present “the Future of the Classics” from my perspective as the Dean of the School of Arts & Sciences at the University of Richmond, and Professor of Classics. Others on the panel will speak from their perspectives – large publics, graduate versus undergraduate – but I will focus on three different frameworks for the study of Classics at the college level: a large, public institution, where Classics is part of a large School of Languages and Cultures, where enrollments matter and can make or break a program; a small, liberal arts college, where having the discipline of Classics brings caché but rests on the back of a single, “program builder;” and a well-heeled, top 25 liberal arts university, where Classics is not at all under threat but where liberal arts majors, in general, hover in the fiftieth percentile, business and other, pre-professional majors threatening to edge out the liberal arts.

In my paper, I will draw from my experiences to use each of these three institutions as case studies for instantiations of the Classics in the present, and its future. I will draw from a broad body of essays on the place of liberal arts in higher education, or liberal arts under threat; and I will draw from my case studies to demonstrate how three different institutions have approached the problem of Classics’ future.

My argument is that adaptability is essential to the survival of Classics at many institutions. In my discussion, it will be important to differentiate the institutions in my case study from elite institutions, like Yale or Stanford, where Classics is not at all under threat. At many institutions, however, Classics is embedded within broader liberal arts offerings. Colleagues must, from an administrative standpoint, put away their sense of the discipline’s purity – whether in terms of departmental structure, philology over the “studies” approach – for adaptability, and more specifically, the issue of influence. Classics can have influence, a role to play, in broader arguments regarding the utility of a liberal arts education.

I will draw from my experience to give examples. Recently, a Classicist at my institution lit up the room at an admissions day event for prospective students when she spoke about “the Classics” as a microcosm of all of arts and sciences. That is, with the various disciplinary approaches of art, material culture, language, sciences, politics, etc., the arts and sciences are the Classics writ large, an argument that Cicero would have applauded. This is one of the many examples from which I will draw to demonstrate how colleagues have made the argument for the future of the Classics at these various institutions.

As a member of an underrepresented group, I will say a word about the Classics in our ever-diversifying institutions. Not only should the Classics adapt to survive, but it must. Its adaptability toward intellectual and human diversity is essential to its relevance to Generation-Z students, who will be the most diverse student body in the history of American education. 

Session/Panel Title

Administrative Appointments: A Contribution to the Dialogue on the Present and Future of Classics...

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