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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Header Image: Etruscan Alabaster Cinerary Urn with bas-relief that represents Odysseus and the Sirens. 3rd-2nd Cent. BCE. Museo Guarnacci, Volterra, Italy.

The Ancient Worlds, Modern Communities initiative, launched by the SCS in 2019 as the Classics Everywhere initiativeby the SCS in 2019 as the Classics Everywhere initiative, supports projects that seek to engage broader publics — individuals, groups, and communities — in critical discussion of and creative expression related to the ancient Mediterranean, the global reception of Greek and Roman culture, and the history of teaching and scholarship in the field of classical studies. As part of this initiative, the SCS has funded 98 projects, ranging from school programming to reading groups, prison programs, public talks and conferences, digital projects, and collaborations with artists in theater, opera, music, dance, and the visual arts. Awardees are selected by the SCS Committee on Classics in the Community. The initiative welcomes applications from all over the world. To date, it has funded projects in 25 states and 10 countries, including Canada, UK, Italy, Greece, Belgium, Ghana, Puerto Rico, Argentina, and most recently, India.

View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 04/09/2021 - 9:58am by .
Emerging Scholars NYU Center for Ancient Studies images of landscape, statues, manuscripts
The NYU Center for Ancient Studies is seeking to engage the work of current PhD candidates as part of a new Emerging Scholars video presentation series, beginning in spring 2021. In this series, we aim to showcase research that takes innovative approaches to the study of the ancient world or that incorporates non-traditional materials and/or methods. We are also especially interested in highlighting the work of scholars from groups that are and have historically been marginalized and underrepresented in the fields of ancient studies and the academy at large.

The presentation format of the videos will feature individual PhD candidates who briefly describe their research and then engage in conversation with an NYU faculty member that positions this work in relationship to broader scholarship. These videos will be advertised as part of the Center's academic program and highlighted on our website.  

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Thu, 04/08/2021 - 9:21pm by Helen Cullyer.

CfP: Affect, Intensity, Antiquity (Online Conference)

Organizers: Chiara Graf and Adrian Gramps (St Andrews)

Confirmed Speakers: Aaron Kachuck (Trinity College, Cambridge / UCLouvain), Alex Purves (UCLA), Ben Radcliffe (Loyola Marymount), Mario Telò (UC Berkeley)

sed cur heu, Ligurine, cur
manat rara meas lacrima per genas?

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Wed, 04/07/2021 - 2:26pm by Erik Shell.
The homepage of Alpheios

Alpheios Reading Tools (henceforth Alpheios) is an open-source web extension that allows users to access information about Greek, Latin, Classical Arabic, or Persian text on any web page. After enabling the extension in Chrome, Safari, or Firefox, you simply double-click on any word on any page to see definitions, morphology, usages, and grammatical information. 

Figure 1: Alpheios Reading Tools integrates fluidly with the online Loeb Classical Library.
Figure 1: Alpheios Reading Tools integrates fluidly with the online Loeb Classical Library.

As an avid user of Alpheios in my capacities as both a Ph.D. student and instructor, I jumped at the chance to speak with Harry Diakoff and Bridget Almas, two of the founding members of Alpheios. Harry Diakoff is currently the president of the board of The Alpheios Project, Ltd., which is a registered 501(c); Bridget Almas is the Executive director and Chief Software Architect for the project.

View full article. | Posted in on Mon, 04/05/2021 - 10:18am by .

The conference "Contact, Colonialism, and Comparison" will take place over Zoom April 16-17, 2021. Please visit the event page here for further information, including a tentative schedule and list of participants. Conference papers are being made available to participants in advance, and sessions during the event itself will begin with an introductory contribution from a respondent followed by a brief author response and then open discussion. If you'd like to register for the conference, please fill out this online registration form to receive access to the papers as well as a Zoom link closer to the date.

View full article. | Posted in Conferences, Lectures, and Meetings on Mon, 04/05/2021 - 7:49am by Erik Shell.

AMPRAW is an annual conference that is designed to bring together early-career researchers in the field of classical reception studies, and will be held for the tenth year. It aims to contribute to the growth of an international network of PhDs working on classical reception(s), as well as to strengthen relationships between early career researchers and established academics.
AMPRAW 2021 will be held at Columbia University in the City of New York (USA) from Thursday, November 11 to Saturday, November 13, 2021, in collaboration with the Department of Classics at Columbia University, the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society (ICLS), the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and Columbia University Libraries Journals.
Due to the unpredictability caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, we are not yet able to confirm that the conference will take place in person. We hope that this will be possible; however, we are also making plans to accommodate a hybrid or online-only event. We will keep you updated as the situation evolves. Please be aware that, if the conference will be in person, we are unable to guarantee travel reimbursements to speakers, but we might be able to offer support on a need basis.
 

Confirmed keynote speaker:
Dr. Patrice Rankine (University of Richmond, Virginia)
 

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Tue, 03/30/2021 - 12:25pm by Erik Shell.

Chères et chers collègues,

L’appel à communication pour les sections parallèles du prochain congrès international d’épigraphie grecque et latine est toujours en cours, jusqu’au 30 mars 2021. Vous trouverez sur le site du congrès (https://ciegl2022.sciencesconf.org/) la liste de ces sections. Nous rappelons que l’appel à communications ne vaut que pour les sections parallèles et en aucun cas pour les sessions plénières, qui seront constituées d’un rapport et n’accueillent pas de communications.

Les propositions de communications doivent être envoyées à cette adresse : ciegl2022@sciencesconf.org. L’argumentaire les accompagnant peut être formulé dans une des cinq langues du congrès, allemand, anglais, français, espagnol et italien.

Vous pouvez toujours vous abonner à la liste de diffusion :

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Mon, 03/29/2021 - 2:09pm by Erik Shell.
Dr. Rock-McCutcheon and the cast of Antigone for Arts Day 2019 at Wilson College. Image courtesy of Bonnie Rock-McCutcheon.

Our fourth interview in the Contingent Faculty Series is a virtual conversation between Joshua Nudell and Dr. Bonnie Rock-McCutcheon. Dr. Rock-McCutcheon received her Ph.D. from The Ohio State University, where she wrote a dissertation on the role of spectacle in gifts to Delian Apollo in the Archaic period, before becoming a Lecturer of Classics at Wilson College in Chambersburg, PA. Her current research focuses on sociality with the gods, the role of gender in myth, and the use of graphic novels in the classroom. She was recently featured in an episode of the Creators Unite podcast, talking about her experiences using comic books and graphic novels in the classroom. When not teaching a wide range of courses for both the history and classics programs, Dr. Rock-McCutcheon spends time with her three cats and quilting.

Joshua Nudell: When we talk career pathways, there is, at least in theory, a formula for how one lands a tenure-track job, but less discussion of how one makes a path as a contingent faculty member. What was your journey into your current position?

View full article. | Posted in on Mon, 03/29/2021 - 11:41am by .
Header image: Gold death-mask, known as the ‘mask of Agamemnon’. Mycenae, Grave Circle A, Grave V, 16th cent. BC. National Archaeological Museum of Athens.

The Classics Everywhere initiative, launched by the SCS in 2019, in March 2021 has been renamed and reimagined as the Ancient Worlds, Modern Communities initiative. Ancient Worlds, Modern Communities supports projects that seek to engage broader publics—individuals, groups, and communities—in critical discussion of and creative expression related to the ancient Mediterranean, the global reception of Greek and Roman culture, and the history of teaching and scholarship in the field of classical studies. As part of this initiative, the SCS has funded 98 projects ranging from school programming to reading groups, prison programs, public talks and conferences, digital projects, and collaborations with artists in theater, opera, music, dance, and the visual arts. Awardees are selected by the SCS Committee on Classics in the Community.

View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 03/26/2021 - 10:01am by .

Last week, several members of the SCS Board of Directors participated in a powerful and important solidarity event organized by the Women’s Classical Caucus (WCC) and Asian and Asian American Classical Caucus (AAACC) after the shootings in Atlanta that resulted in the deaths of eight individuals, six of whom were Asian women. After this event, we reached out to AAACC to ask what actions SCS could meaningfully take to support the AAACC community and AAPI communities more broadly. As a result, the SCS Board of Directors has approved donations to the Asian Counseling and Referring Service and Asian Americans Advancing Justice. SCS will also be working with AAACC on data collection in order to understand better the demographics and needs of Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander classicists.

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Fri, 03/26/2021 - 8:45am by Helen Cullyer.

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