Board Statement on Anonymous Online Attacks

This post has been revised to include a letter from members and a response to that letter:
 
The SCS Board of Directors has approved the following statement (January 22, 2019):
 
The SCS Board of Directors condemns the practice of writing and circulating anonymous ad hominem attacks. Frank exchange among its members, including openly expressed criticism, are ideals of a scholarly community.  Anonymous attacks contradict the principle of frank exchange.
 

Letter to President Mary T. Boatwright, President-Elect Sheila Murnaghan, Immediate Past President Joseph Farrell

25 January 2019

Dear colleagues:

We write in response to the SCS Board of Directors’ statement on anonymous online attacks, published on the SCS website on January 22nd, 2019, which reads as follows:

The SCS Board of Directors condemns the practice of writing and circulating anonymous ad hominem attacks. Frank exchange among its members, including openly expressed criticism, are ideals of a scholarly community.  Anonymous attacks contradict the principle of frank exchange.

The statement dismayed us for a number of interrelated reasons. First, as was pointed out by Max Goldman, the statement seems to conflate “anonymity and ad hominem attacks, leaving it unclear what is being condemned.” Indeed, the statement seems to ignore the long and complex history of anonymity and pseudonymity. Of course the motivations for anonymity have varied considerably, but many essays have indeed been written anonymously to protect the author and were central to the formation of a productive discourse because they allowed for frank exchanges that were committed to ideas and less structured by the interplay of personalities, power dynamics, and politics. Indeed, anonymity remains a central pillar of peer review for exactly this reason. For the past three hundred years, anonymity has served to protect individuals in precarious positions who express uncomfortable or subversive sentiments. Anonymity was and is critical for speaking truth to power.

Second, despite valorizing “the principle of frank exchange,” the statement is conspicuously silent on what exactly has precipitated this condemnation, and which specific attacks it is condemning. If the SCS Board values open and frank exchange, including openly expressed criticism, then why does its statement refuse to engage in these practices? Simply put, the statement fails to live up to its own ideals.

Indeed, due to the statement’s lack of clarity, many readers of the SCS statement will assume, rightly or wrongly, that the statement is a response to a pseudonymous article about Mary Beard published on January 3rd, 2019. While we cannot be sure of the motivations of the author of that article, we think that it is virtually certain that they preserved their anonymity because they are a member of our community (i.e., a member of the SCS) who wishes not to be subject to retaliation (conscious or not). Given the precarity of the job market in Classics, only a small minority of our colleagues could indeed feel comfortable criticizing a prominent member of our discipline; even tenured professors are subject to significant pressures.

Thus, the condemnation of the SCS Board effectively does two things. First, it risks characterizing the article mentioned above as an ad hominem attack without evidence or argument. It is not clear to us that the article meets this standard.  Second, especially because other anonymous attacks (aimed especially against scholars of color and junior women) published online at Famae Volent and its successor have not been similarly censured, it risks communicating that the SCS prioritizes the interests of its most powerful and prominent members to the detriment of the less powerful and prominent, precisely those members whose precarity is such that they feel the need to maintain their anonymity. It is, however, the responsibility of the SCS leadership to defend and support all of its members. Thus, while it seems appropriate to us that the SCS should unequivocally support members who are subject to unjustified or ad hominem attacks, when it comes to reasoned and evidenced-based disputes within the SCS, it is important that the SCS Board be seen to act as a fair and neutral arbiter rather than an enforcer of established hierarchies.

In our view, the Board is rightly concerned about such anonymous essays. The fact that people feel the need to write anonymously is indeed concerning and a sign of the substantial inequities within our community. The Board’s condemnation, however, simply reproduces the power dynamics that produced these essays in the first place. That is to say, the SCS Board has effectively created circumstances in which such essays can only be published anonymously, since the same content published by named authors would presumably be subject to similar condemnation. The SCS could use its power of the bully pulpit once again to censure them, a censure that could certainly produce very real and material consequences. The Board has thus virtually guaranteed that such criticism will be driven underground or conducted through private conversations.  If the SCS is truly committed to producing an atmosphere conducive to frank exchange, then it must seek to understand the dynamics at play that motivate anonymous essays in the first place. That is, we should be asking: Why are we in this position? What concrete steps can be taken to improve the situation? To find solutions to these difficult questions, careful thought and deliberation are required, and more importantly, listening seriously to the concerns of the widest possible cross-section of SCS members, especially those whose voices have in the past been marginalized. To be clear, we agree with the SCS Board that harassment and ad hominem attacks cannot be tolerated, but we do not think that the statement’s unilateral condemnation of an important form of speech is a productive way forward, especially in light of the power dynamics currently at work in Classics.

Dimitri Nakassis                                             

University of Colorado Boulder         

Jennifer V Ebbeler

The University of Texas at Austin

(Many others signed onto this letter. You can view a full list of signatories by clicking on this link.)

SCS Letter in Response

February 5, 2019

Dear Professor Nakassis and Professor Ebbeler,                                             

We now reply to your letter (1/25/19) sent in response to the SCS Board's statement on anonymous, ad hominem attacks (1/22/19). Your thoughtful letter and the number of its signatories underscore that this is a complicated issue impacting many different aspects of our profession, even our daily lives. We discern two main strands in what you write to us. One is a dissatisfaction with our not distinguishing among different types of behavior on social media and other online venues; the other is the conviction, suspicion, or fear that the SCS reproduces systemic and oppressive power dynamics. Because both issues are tied to much larger and endemic problems, no single response will address every related problem or speak to each constituent of the SCS. We respond nevertheless: we are committed to open dialogue and to listening to our members, especially those who feel marginalized. We encourage members and non-members alike to contact SCS via social media or via email to the Executive Director and SCS President. We will also pay attention to publicly posted blogs that offer thoughtful criticism and that are brought to our notice.

For some years the Board of Directors and several committees have discussed defining best practices about ethics in social media and online discourse. The statement issued by the Board of Directors on 1/22/19 was neither final nor complete, although it was a start. We see in particular that we were insufficiently attentive to the circumstances that can make anonymity necessary. In the coming months we will work on an expanded and more nuanced statement.

But no single statement can fix the underlying problem, for which we must think broadly and work steadily. Historical inequality and marginalization because of race, ethnicity, gender, and other factors have shaped the SCS just like other American institutions and our society at large. More recently we have seen the number of K-12 schools offering Latin drastically decreased, Classics departments in colleges and universities squeezed by having faculty “do more with less,” the number of contingent faculty increased, Classics and humanities generally devalued, and expectations for tenure and promotion raised. Many if not all classicists often feel isolated and beleaguered. This is especially true of those who are just starting their careers, but also affects more experienced colleagues who work without the benefit of long-term job security or, in many cases, a single, full-time position. The restructuring in 2017 of SCS governance, which resulted in six divisions and 35 committees, was made precisely to address such issues. Although some progress has been made, your letter and recent events show that we still have far to go.

Only by hearing challenges can we respond to them, and only by responding can we move forward. But we need collective action and thought. We welcome your energy and insight as we address the present and future of our shared discipline and profession. We are open to whatever suggestions you, and others, want to communicate.

Sincerely,

Mary T. Boatwright, President

Joseph Farrell, Immediate Past President

Sheila Murnaghan, President-Elect

Helen Cullyer, Executive Director

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High school Latin programs (along with Classics programs at the college or university level) are in perpetual peril, and keeping any program alive contributes to the ongoing effort to keep our field afloat and relevant, while also continuing to provide students with all of the benefits that we know that Latin offers. Monmouth College’s Classics Department spearheaded a successful, broad-based effort to resist the proposed elimination of the thriving Latin program at Monmouth-Roseville (IL) High School (MRHS) in Spring 2019.

This reflection is meant as a case study for understanding and then addressing the issue of threatened Latin programs across the country. I will lay out the factors and steps that led to the initial decision to drop the program, those that we discovered were critical in the eventual success of the resistance effort, and roles that a college or university Classics programs can play to retain their comrade programs, which cultivate many eventual Classics students and majors. 


Figure 1: Monmouth-Roseville High School in Monmouth, IL. Photo Credit: Robert Holschuh Simmons.

Background on the situation at Monmouth-Roseville 

View full article. | Posted in on Thu, 09/12/2019 - 8:49pm by Robert Holschuh Simmons.

Sailing with the Gods: Religion and Maritime Mobility in the Ancient World

           Sponsored by: The Society for Ancient Mediterranean Religions

           Location: Grand Hotel Excelsior, Floriana, Malta

           Dates: June 17-21, 2020

           Ritual practices dedicated to maritime success appear across a wide span of human cultural history, from the Mediterranean to the North Sea, Southeast Asia across the Pacific to the west coast of the Americas. Culturally-constructed seafaring rituals could be seen as spiritual or superstitious, and respond to the combination of risk and profit endemic in even short voyages by water. Maritime religion infuses all water-borne contact across cultural boundaries; the crafts of those who build rafts, canoes, and sailing vessels; navigational skills which may reach back to ancestors who have faded into cultural legend; and myriad mnemonic and naming strategies extending to littoral markers and celestial patterns. Mythic and ritual responses are accordingly complex, ranging from apotropaia to the divine authorization of civic structures, shipboard shrines and functional epithets which could link divinities, heroes and nearly-deified rulers to the control of the waves and winds.

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Mon, 09/09/2019 - 2:33pm by Erik Shell.

Please find a list of award and fellowship deadlines for this Fall:

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Mon, 09/09/2019 - 9:09am by Erik Shell.

ORBIS: The Stanford Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World (from now on: Orbis) is an interactive scholarly web application that provides a simulation model of travel and transport cost in the Roman Empire around 200 CE. Walter Scheidel and his team at Stanford University designed and launched the site in 2011–12, and the project saw a significant upgrade in 2014 (the old version is still available). The project is currently concluded.

The aim of Orbis is to allow investigation of the concrete conditions of travel in the ancient world, with a particular focus on the 3rd-century Roman route and transportation network. Orbis is a response to the long-standing scholarly debate about visual representations and study of “spatial practice” in the premodern world: traditional mapping approaches fail to convey the complexity of the variables involved in travel practices and provide a flat view of phenomena that are strongly connected with space and movement, such as trade, economic control, and imperialism. Orbis was conceived to respond to the specific question of how travel and transport constraints affected the expansion of the Roman Empire.

View full article. | Posted in on Thu, 09/05/2019 - 10:02pm by Chiara Palladino.
The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation is now accepting applications for the Career Enhancement Fellowship for Junior Faculty program and the Career Enhancement Adjunct Faculty Fellowship. The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation administers these fellowships through a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, along with the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellows Dissertation Grants, which opens in mid-September.
 
View full article. | Posted in Awards and Fellowships on Thu, 09/05/2019 - 10:55am by Erik Shell.
"Empty Theatre (almost)"by Kevin Jaako, licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Braggart Soldier

The Shackouls Honors College at Mississippi State University presents a performance of the Braggart Soldier, a Roman comedy by Plautus.

The play, directed by Dr. Donna L. Clevinger, will be performed at 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, September 24th and Wednesday, September 25th, 2019 in Griffis Hall Courtyard, Zacharias Village. Both performances will go up rain or shine and be free to the public.

This production is part of the Honors College Classical Week 2019. For additional information, call 662-325-2522.

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(Photo: "Empty Theatre (almost)" by Kevin Jaako, licensed under CC BY 2.0)

View full article. | Posted in Performances on Thu, 09/05/2019 - 10:17am by Erik Shell.

Registration for the Joint AIA/SCS Annual Meeting is now open!

Reservations at the conference hotel are now open. You can reserve your room at the Marriott Marquis, Washington D.C. here. We have also booked an overflow hotel for the conference, located a 3 minute walk from the Marriott. You can reserve your room at the Renaissance Washington D.C., Downtown here.

To register for the meeting itself, click here.

For other important information, such as the preliminary program, see the "Essential Links" section on our Annual Meeting page here.

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View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Thu, 09/05/2019 - 9:50am by Erik Shell.

(Written by Donald Lateiner, acknowledging gratefully the help, research, and energy of the following people in compiling this SCS memorial: Natalie Wirshbo, Greg Bucher, Brad Cook, Kerri Hame, Nick Genovese, Robert Eisner, Page duBois, and June Allison. Rosaria Munson and Joe Patwell also offered observations. E. Marianne Gabel captured the photograph below on the left at Le Trou Normand during the 2016 SCS meetings in San Francisco. Natalie Wirshbo provided the photograph on the right)

ELIOT WIRSHBO. 24 January 1948--19 July 2019.

Parents: Nathan and Peggy Wirshbo.

Education: Hunter College BA 1968, University of Pennsylvania PhD 1976.

Positions: San Diego State University 1977-1979, Ohio State University 1979-82, lecturer (eventually tenured) at University of California San Diego, Department of Literature 1982-2019.

Dissertation: "Attitudes toward the past in Homer and Hesiod," 1976, directed by Martin Ostwald.

Publications: “On mistranslating Vergil Aen. 1.203,” CW 73.3 (1979) 177-178.

“Lesbia, a mock hypocorism?” CPh 75.1 (1980) 70-71.

“Can emotions be determined from words?” American Behavioral Scientist 33.3 (1990) 287-96.

"On Critically Looking into Snell's Homer," in Nomodeiktes: Greek Studies in Honor of Martin Ostwald, ed. R. Rosen and J. Farrell (Ann Arbor 1993) 467-77.

View full article. | Posted in In Memoriam on Tue, 09/03/2019 - 9:32am by Erik Shell.

(Written and provided by Ward Briggs)

Lee, Mark Owen (1930-2019)

Fr. M. Owen Lee (as he preferred to be called) was a beloved fixture at the University of Toronto, where he spent nearly 30 years of his life, and a perceptive critic of Latin poetry. He is, however, best remembered by the sophisticated public as a longtime panelist on the Texaco Opera Quiz, where he answered questions with remarkable alacrity (he was often the first to raise his hand to answer) and with a seemingly fathomless depth of knowledge about opera.

View full article. | Posted in In Memoriam on Tue, 09/03/2019 - 8:48am by Erik Shell.

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