As some of you witnessed personally and all can now read (see, e.g., The Chronicle), the 150th Annual Meeting of the Society for Classical Studies last weekend in San Diego was disgraced by two shocking incidents. One occurred when an independent scholar attending a panel told Princeton Assistant Professor Dan-el Padilla Peralta that he got his job because he is black. The SCS, after consulting internally and in accordance with our annual meeting harassment policy, notified the scholar that she should no longer attend SCS sessions and events in San Diego.
In my most recent letter, I outlined the reasons why there are so few cities that can accommodate the SCS-AIA Joint Annual Meeting. That constraint has mainly to do with facilities, and it will likely remain even if we decide to meet at another time of year. In fact, it could get worse, because at another time we might face more competition from the corporate sector, and thus higher costs. But there are good reasons to consider meeting at another time of year, anyway.
In my first presidential letter, right after the annual meeting last January, I wrote about the need to consider not only where we meet, but at what time of year. This letter addresses the first question; I will write separately about the other one.
When I wrote my previous letter, we had already signed contracts for meetings through 2024, and since then we have signed another for 2025; the details are here. So, no immediate change is possible, but we still must move quickly since we have to make decisions that far in advance in order to get the venues we want, when we want them, and at an affordable price. It will soon be time to sign a contract for 2026, no matter where, or on what specific days we want to meet.
January 15, 2018
Looking back on the recently concluded Annual Meeting, I’m of two minds. For those who took part, I think it was a big success. Newer-format events, like Career Networking and Ancient Maker Spaces, were really lively and well attended, especially by younger members. Georgia Nugent’s presidential panel on the PhD as a launching pad for careers other than college teaching was really inspiring. And the Program Committee’s special session on “Rhetoric: Then and Now” brought our professional responsibility to be political into the spotlight in a way that I feel was both fruitful and long overdue.
June 19, 2017
Recent weeks and months have seen an increase in the cultural tensions in our nation—and, indeed, the world. It is not uncommon now for disagreements to escalate quickly into verbal attacks, threats of violence, and even—as recently took place in Washington, DC—actual violence. Unquestionably, this tendency has been facilitated by social media. But our digital media are only a means or instrument. More troubling is the mentality fueling the rush to attack, across the political spectrum; and that is an unwillingness to verify information, weigh arguments, and attempt to make independent, rationally-grounded judgments. These habits of mind are the very bedrock of learning and of scholarship; they are the principles on which the SCS, as a learned society, is founded and which we have a duty to uphold and protect.
The draft budget proposed by President Trump's White House seems unlikely to be adopted. Many believe it is simply an habitual negotiator's opening salvo, intended more to "start the bidding" than to be taken seriously at face value.
However, it is serious, because of the strong statement of values that it represents. Along with the decimation or elimination of many critical programs that foster the health of our polity and our planet, Trump's budget, by proposing to eliminate the NEH and the NEA, asserts that the United States has no national interest in the support of the humanities or the arts.
I should like to bring you up to date on the Society’s efforts to encourage the development of a more diverse profession of Classics. It is perhaps appropriate that I write these words in St. Louis, which has become one of the symbols of our nation’s failure to achieve equity in a diverse population. It might also, however, become representative of what can be achieved by people of very different outlooks and interests, working together for the common good. Last night, my daughter attended a meeting of a civic coalition devoted to reforming local governance; it framed its discussions, before an overflow audience, with the question, “Why does a region with world-class resources struggle to thrive?” Social justice groups and the Chamber of Commerce came together around the task of thinking through some practical approaches to fixing the extreme governmental fragmentation that has made St. Louis County notably ineffective in many domains, not least in the justice system.
As I mentioned in my last message, at their meeting in June the Board of Directors adopted significant changes to the Bylaws and Regulations. Please do not stop reading here! These documents do not make interesting reading for most people, but they embody our sense of what we are about, and the changes are important.
Some of them are technical matters, improving consistency of language, adapting to modern technology for communication, and conforming to current legal standards; we had legal counsel review them, and she made lots of small changes. But the interesting changes mainly reflect two important developments. One is the gradual implementation of our strategic plan, and the other is our response to the financial stress that almost all learned societies face today. And they also reflect the experiences of the vice presidents in leading their divisions in recent years.
Your Board of Directors met in New York on June 18th. Our gathering came as we near the hand-over from one executive director to another for the first time in seventeen years, with Adam Blistein’s retirement at the end of this month. Helen Cullyer, his successor, began work for the Society on May 1st, and they have been working together closely over the past seven weeks. The directors made special contributions to the annual fund in honor of Adam’s service—and it’s not too late for you to do so also before the close of our fiscal year on June 30th.
No one who was present at the presidential panel organized by John Marincola in San Francisco will soon forget the combination of analysis, passion, and practicality offered by the speakers, as they sought to quantify and personalize the plight of those looking for permanent academic employment today (Eleanor Dickey, Stephanie Budin), to suggest a wider range of career possibilities for those with doctorates in classics and the humanities more broadly (John Paul Christy), and to propose ways large and small in which all of us can help make the working conditions of adjunct faculty more humane and more likely to keep them active members of our scholarly community (Toph Marshall).