April 2013 President's Letter: What's A University For?

In The New York Times on April 5, David Brooks asks a fundamental question: “What is a university for?” (“The Practical University”, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/05/opinion/Brooks-The-Practical-University.html?ref=davidbrooks&_r=0).  In answering, he distinguishes between “two sorts of knowledge, what the philosopher Michael Oakeshott called technical knowledge and practical knowledge”.  Basically, “technical knowledge” is “the sort of knowledge you need to understand a task”, “like the recipes in a cookbook”, whereas “practical knowledge” is a kind of “practical moral wisdom”, absorbed rather than memorized, acquired and sustained through practice.  According to Brooks, the online revolution in education will have its main effect in the domain of “technical knowledge”, and the real “future of the universities is in practical knowledge”. 

This is certainly an interesting way of thinking about what universities do, but it stops short of addressing the initial question, “What is a university for?”  In a more Socratic vein, we need to go deeper and to ask what the purpose of a university is, what its goals ought to be, in order to answer that question.  One can imagine Socrates interrogating David Brooks along these lines, trying to get him to isolate what the real thing is that universities ought to be aiming at, what their goal, their telos, is.  Brooks would begin by offering his two kinds of knowledge as the answer, and Socrates would pick away at them for a while in his usual way, showing that they are surface features of what happens in universities, rather than the actual thing that universities are for.  By the end of their conversation, we would reach the familiar impasse—Socrates: “So then, we still do not know what the telos of the university really is”; Brooks: “It appears so, Socrates.”  Rather than enact that hypothetical dialog, however, let me refer you to a genuinely Socratic approach to the problem, as given by Richard Gombrich, in a lecture which to my mind offers the best one-word answer to this hard question.  

In 2000, towards the end of his tenure as the Boden Professor of Sanskrit at Oxford University (1976—2004), Gombrich gave a lecture at Tokyo University entitled "British Higher Education Policy in the last Twenty Years: The Murder of a Profession" (http://indology.info/papers/gombrich/).  In the course of his argument he speaks of how “institutions work best if they have clear goals and are designed to achieve those goals”.  Socrates would put it a bit differently, asking, for example, “What is the goal of the art of medicine?  It is to cure the sick, is it not?  And of navigation?  To guide a ship safely?”  But this is in effect what Gombrich is saying of the institutions which embody the various “arts”, with his declaration that “hospitals are for care of the sick, orchestras for playing music, and they should be used for those goals”.  Analogously, then, says Gombrich, “universities are for truth”.  And he expands his definition of this goal: “to promote its pursuit (curiosity) and encourage its use under all circumstances”.

This will sound wildly utopian to many, and you don’t have to be a paid-up poststructuralist to acknowledge that there are different ways of defining truth.  But in history and in the contemporary world there are many examples to hand of what happens when a society has no sector dedicated to Gombrich’s kind of truth—to free and disinterested enquiry, and to communicating the fruits of that enquiry.  It is not a human activity we should take for granted, and it is always and everywhere under threat.  Modern universities are under all kinds of pressures to put other goals first, but it is not only faculty and students who are at risk if members of the universities abandon this species of curiosity and if we stop insisting that in our domain the criteria of truth trump other criteria. 

Certainly, the acquisition of technical and practical knowledge is compatible with Gombrich’s definition of what the telos of the university really is: in fact, the better universities are at keeping their eye on their real goal, the better they will succeed at making the acquisition of such knowledge possible.  But they need to keep their eye on that goal, on that Socratic telos, if they are to do anything worthwhile.

Denis Feeney
President

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August, 2020

Below is a list of the most recent NEH grantees and their Classically-themed projects. The NEH helps fund a number of SCS initiatives, and their support affects the field of Classics at a national and local level.

Grantees

  • Eleni Hasaki (University of Arizona) and Diane Harris Cline (George Washington University) - "Social Networks of Athenian Potters: Networks, Tradition and Innovation in Communities of Artists"
  • Rega Wood (Indiana University, Bloomington) - "Richard Rufus Project"
  • Matthew Panciera (Gustavus Adolphus College) - "Digital Ancient Rome"
  • Noah Heringman (University of Missouri, Columbia) - "Vetusta Monumenta: Ancient Monuments, a Digital Edition"
  • Alexander Jones (New York University) - "The ANcient Sciences in Cross-Cultural Perspective"
  • Rachel Kousser (CUNY Research Foundation, Graduate School and University Center) - "The Last Years of Alexander the Great (330-323 BCE)"
  • Michael Satlow (Brown University) - "Seeking the Gods: The Spiritual Landscape of Late Antiquity"
  • Pramit Chaudhuri (University of Texas, Austin) - "Computational Tools for Diachronic and Cross-cultural Study of Literature: Multilingual Stylometry and Phylogenetic Profiling"
  • Jessica Powers (San Antonio Museum of Art) - "Art, Nature, and Myth in Ancient Rome"

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View full article. | Posted in Classics in the News on Thu, 09/10/2020 - 8:57am by Erik Shell.

American Philosophical Society, RESEARCH PROGRAMS
Information and application instructions for all of the Society's programs can be accessed at our website, http://www.amphilsoc.org. Click on the "Grants" tab at the top of the homepage.

View full article. | Posted in Awards and Fellowships on Thu, 09/10/2020 - 8:48am by Erik Shell.

Preliminary CfP: Edited Volume on “Cicero in Greece, Greece in Cicero”

Submissions are invited for an edited volume on “Cicero in Greece, 
Greece in Cicero”.

In 2021 it will be 2100 years since Cicero’s trip to Greece in 79 BCE, 
which was a significant factor in moulding him as an orator, 
philosopher and politician. This provides the opportunity to put 
together new and unpublished material on Cicero’s presence in Greece 
literally, namely for the years he spent in nowadays Modern Greek 
territory, including his aforementioned travel in 79/78 BCE and the 
period of his exile in 58/57 BCE, and metaphorically, that is the 
reception of Cicero in Late Roman, Byzantine, Post-Byzantine, Early 
Modern, and Modern Greece through translations, studies, imitations, 
etc. It is also an opportunity to approach from a new point of view 
the presence of Greece in Cicero, namely how the Greek world, people, 
language, civilisation, history, philosophy, politics and political 
theory, religion, geography, etc. appear in his work.

Abstracts for proposed submissions are invited on any of the 
aforementioned topics. Diverse, interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary 
and other approaches to the material are welcome and encouraged. Early 
career researchers are also encouraged to apply.

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Thu, 09/10/2020 - 8:46am by Erik Shell.

Call for Participants
Veteran Politics and Memory: A Global Perspective

Department of History, University of Warwick
16th and 17th April 2021

From the fields of Gettysburg to the beaches of Normandy, the participation and presence of former soldiers has been an integral part of the memorial culture of many conflicts. As survivors of war, veterans are often portrayed a group imbued with a unique knowledge whose experiences should not be forgotten. Yet while public commemorations have sought to establish consensus about the meaning of the past, veterans’ memories have also been a source of conflict and contestation, engaged in struggles over rights, recognition, and the authority to remember the past and speak for the future.

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Thu, 09/10/2020 - 8:35am by Erik Shell.

Congratulations to the three winners of the 2020 Charles J. Goodwin Award of Merit. The award recognizes outstanding achievement in classical scholarship. You can read the full award citations by clicking on the names of the winners below:

Paul J. Kosmin

Kelly Shannon-Henderson

Steven D. Smith

Paul J. Kosmin, Time and its Adversaries in the Seleucid Empire (Harvard University Press, 2018)

View full article. | Posted in Awards and Fellowships on Wed, 09/09/2020 - 12:02pm by Helen Cullyer.

Unattainable wishes for the present or past may be entirely reasonable.

– Smyth’s Greek Grammar, “Wishes” §2156.5

Picture the heroine in the sand, wind-lashed and desperate, cursing the hero who left her behind. She’s Medea, she’s Ariadne, she’s Dido. Each of the three make a similar wish:

 

If only that ship had never reached my shores

If only that ship had never sailed

If only that ship had never even been built.

View full article. | Posted in on Mon, 09/07/2020 - 10:40am by Hilary Lehmann.

Call for Application and Nominations for Editor of TAPA (2022-2025)

The current TAPA Editor Andromache Karanika will end her term of service with volume 151 (2021). Therefore, we are now opening a search for the next TAPA Editor, to cover volumes 152-155 (2022-2025), and inviting applications and nominations for the position.

TAPA is the only journal published by the Society for Classical Studies. Though founded as a philological journal, TAPA is now expected to reflect a broad spectrum of topics, sub-fields, and theoretical and methodological approaches within Greek and Roman Studies.

Qualifications:

The Editor must be a member in good standing of the SCS.

Candidates should have some experience and understanding of the journal publication process, but prior journal editing experience is not necessary.

Responsibilities:

View full article. | Posted in General Announcements on Tue, 09/01/2020 - 12:00pm by Erik Shell.

The Classics program at Austin Peay State University is pleased to invite submissions for the fifth volume of Philomathes: An Online Journal of Undergraduate Research in Classics.  This refereed on-line journal publishes original research projects carried out by undergraduate students in any area of Classics.  Submissions are welcome from current undergraduates and those who have recently completed their undergraduate education (within one year of graduation).  The deadline for submissions for the next issue is Monday, November 16, 2020 with an online publication date scheduled for May 2020. 

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Tue, 09/01/2020 - 7:48am by Erik Shell.

The Classics Everywhere initiative, launched by the SCS in 2019, supports projects that seek to engage communities worldwide with the study of Greek and Roman antiquity in new and meaningful ways.

How can we continue to encourage engagement with the ancient world as many transition to an online existence? Three Classics Everywhere projects have found creative and innovative ways to continue their work through the obstacles the COVID-19 pandemic has produced: a feminist adaptation of the Odyssey in the form of a chamber opera; an after-school Latin program in New York City’s Morningside Heights; and the launch of a new site and social media campaign aimed to inspire passion for ancient studies.

View full article. | Posted in on Mon, 08/31/2020 - 4:07pm by .

America and the Classical Past: Trends in Greco-Roman Reception

September 11, 2020, 11 am to 5:30 pm EST

 

View full article. | Posted in Conferences, Lectures, and Meetings on Thu, 08/20/2020 - 5:19pm by Erik Shell.

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