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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TAPA Books Fanned

JOIN TAPA FOR A VIRTUAL OPEN HOUSE

Join co-editors Joshua Billings and Irene Peirano Garrison, and editorial board members Catherine Conybeare, Lorenzo Garcia, and Nandini Pandey, for an open house via Zoom on June 15, 2022 @12:00 pm EDT.

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*Once you are registered you will receive a Zoom link 24 hours before the event and a reminder on the morning of June 15.

Open house attendees will learn about how to submit to TAPA, the peer review and editorial process, and particular areas of focus.

The Spring 2022 issue of TAPA is now out and that it includes scholarly articles and also short essays on Classics after COVID.

View full article. | Posted in Conferences, Lectures, and Meetings on Tue, 06/07/2022 - 10:15am by .
Four fragments of pottery with different marks on each. Beneath each photo of a pottery sherd is a drawing of that sherd. From left to right, the sherds are labeled Geometric Mark, Complex Mark, Script Sign, and Multi-sign.

Today we take our saturation in a graphic world for granted. When we see baseball caps with logos or nonsense writing on graphic t-shirts, we don’t immediately recognize them as evidence for writing. But in the case of the Late Bronze Age script of Cyprus (ca. 1600–1000 BCE), the undeciphered Cypro-Minoan script, we have more baseball caps and t-shirts than longer texts. Multi-sign texts with two or more contiguous signs, likely to represent words, number around 250. Most of these multi-sign texts are quite short, consisting of only one or two words.

The baseball caps in this analogy most often take the form of what are called Cypro-Minoan “potmarks,” mercantile vessels bearing single-sign texts. The potmarks contain both Cypro-Minoan script and non-script marks without equivalents in the Cypro-Minoan script. The single-sign text potmarks number over 1000. Like a Yankees cap or a graphic tee, the potmarks employ recognizable and non-recognizable elements of writing. But should they be taken as evidence for literacy?

This is the question at the heart of my dissertation. If the single-sign text potmarks were made by literate individuals, then Cypro-Minoan is not a meagerly attested script, but a mercantile script in wide use within Cyprus and, less widely, outside of it. Significantly, it would be one of the few scripts in the region that survive the Late Bronze Age collapse, and the only one that would be well-documented during this transitional period.

View full article. | Posted in on Mon, 06/06/2022 - 12:47pm by .

Call for Papers: AMPRAW (Annual Meeting for Postgraduates in the Reception of the Ancient World)

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 2022 will be held at Yale University from Thursday 3rd November to Saturday 5th November 2022, with the generous support of the Department of Classics at Yale University, the ARCHAIA program, and the Whitney Humanities Centre.

We anticipate holding this conference in a hybrid format. We hope that participants will be able to join us in person in New Haven, but will also allow remote access for both speakers and audience members.

This year’s theme is “Islands”. Possible topics may include, but need not be limited to, the following:

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Mon, 06/06/2022 - 9:26am by .

posted on behalf of the conference organizers

Classical Studies and the Americas

CIUDAD DE MÉXICO 1-5 / AGOSTO / 2022

The upcoming triannual Congress of FIEC will be a virtual conference, hosted in Mexico City.

Click Here to Register for virtual attendance

Visit the conference website (English and Spanish versions)

The FIEC International Congress for Classical Studies returns to this side of the Atlantic Ocean searching to arouse a plurality of voices. 

Contact for questions and more information: fiec_mexico2022@unam.mx

View full article. | Posted in Conferences, Lectures, and Meetings on Fri, 06/03/2022 - 9:51am by .
A dinner spread atop a mosaic-printed tablecloth. Two small glasses of red wine, a round bread loaf sliced into eighths, a terracotta bowl of green olives, and a bowl of pesto with a wooden spoon.

In the latest issue of the CADW magazine, the organ of Wales’ official heritage body, the discussion of the Roman fort at Caerleon was accompanied by a graphic designed for children on the subject of Roman dining. With a Horrible Histories-type tone, the cartoon features a boy asking his mother if his friend can stay for dinner. “I thought we’d go Italian,” says his mother, but it’s not the demanded “Pasta? Pizza? ICE CREAM?”; rather, “Rich Romans had things like…Parrot heads or…dormice…and … sea urchins maybe” (to which the boy says “I feel sick”). But the “lush” counteroffer of fast food “meat patties in bread” — “Roman burgers” — is quickly scotched by the obligatory “fermented fish gut sauce”: the dog says, “Not even I’m eating that!” The closing reference to garum here, seen as undeniably negative, underscores the complex nature of our response to research on ancient foodways; one wonders what would happen if Worcestershire sauce, as standard in Welsh rarebit, were revealed to readers as similarly derived from fermented fish.

View full article. | Posted in on Thu, 06/02/2022 - 11:15am by .

34th Biennial Conference of the Classical Association of South Africa

Order and Chaos

22 - 25 November 2023

University of Cape Town

FIRST CALL FOR PAPERS

View full article. | Posted in Conferences, Lectures, and Meetings on Thu, 06/02/2022 - 7:53am by .
The University of Turin and the De Wulf-Mansion Centre for Ancient, Medieval, and Renaissance Philosophy (Leuven) are glad to invite you to the conference "Providence and free will from the post-Hellenistic age to the Middle ages" that will take place in Turin on June 8th-10th
 
The conference will be held in person, but a connection will be made available for those who wish to attend online. To register, please write to filosofia.antica.to@gmail.com by Monday 6th
 
View full article. | Posted in Conferences, Lectures, and Meetings on Thu, 06/02/2022 - 7:21am by .
A stone sculpture of Sabina's head from the front. She has a subtle smile and wears a fillet on her hair, which is styled into an updo.

The portraits of Sabina represent a shift in the representation of imperial women in the Roman Empire. Sabina is the first empress to appear as the obverse portrait of a continuous coin production at Rome and the first woman to appear on all of the main denominations at the central mint. Her portraiture is also more varied than that of any previous empress. She is represented on imperial coinage with five different portrait types—i.e., modes of representation—most easily distinguished by hairstyle, all of which are depicted below. This is matched by an increased presence of Sabina’s portraits in provincial coinage and sculpture. This greater visual prominence for the Empress set a new standard that was followed by subsequent administrations, making the portraits of Sabina an integral corpus in the history of Roman imperial portraiture.

View full article. | Posted in on Tue, 05/31/2022 - 10:45am by .

Posted on behalf of the conference oraganizers

We are organizing an international e-conference entitled “Archaeology of Izmir-Smyrna” that will take place on November 17-18, 2022 on Zoom.us. We warmly invite contributions by scholars and graduate students from a variety of disciplines of ancient studies related to these objects. The video conference is free of charge. We would be delighted, if you could consider contributing to our e-conference and contact us with the required information before September 9, 2022. Our e-mail address is: alevcetingoz@gmail.com

We kindly request that you alert any persons within your research community who would be interested in participating at this e-conference, either by forwarding our e-mail through Academia, Researchgate, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or other similar social media, or by printing this circular or poster and displaying it in your institution. We hope that you will be able to join us on Zoom, and look forward to seeing you in May 2022!

Click Here for the full description and requirements:
/sites/default/files/userfiles/files/1_%20DEU%20Sempozyumu%20Birinci%20Sirkuler%20Ingilizce.doc

View full article. | Posted in Conferences, Lectures, and Meetings on Tue, 05/31/2022 - 9:29am by .
A pink flyer titled "A Conversation with Luis Alfaro." Shows a hand holding up an illustration of a theater, with images of theater lights behind it.

I first met Luis Alfaro at the 2019 annual meeting of the Society for Classical Studies, where he delivered a deeply moving keynote address in which he discussed his adaptations of Greek tragedies and how his plays have brought reimagined ancient stories to new audiences, to provoke social change. This profoundly important event was made possible by a partnership with my former employer, the Onassis Foundation USA, the Classics and Social Justice affiliated group, and the SCS. As many of us will recall, this conference was also marred by the ugliness of racism, which reared its awful head amid an already tense, ongoing conversation about the state and future of our field that has since spilled into the wider public discourse, perhaps for the worse. But there is hope, and I sincerely believe that Alfaro’s work can be one of those mechanisms of change, if only our field would embrace it.

View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 05/27/2022 - 12:36pm by Young Richard Kim.

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