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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AIA and SCS are pleased to announce the first-ever joint harassment policy for the AIA-SCS Annual Meeting. A joint AIA and SCS working group, including staff and officers of both organizations, developed the policy in response to events at the 2019 annual meeting and at other academic conferences, including the meeting of the Society for American Archaeology. The working group took into account feedback that AIA and SCS received via email, social media, and the annual meeting survey from members and attendees after the San Diego meeting. The group also considered policies and best practices in place at other scholarly societies. The policy has been reviewed by legal counsel representing AIA and SCS, and approved by the AIA Executive Committee and SCS Board of Directors.

The policy applies to all annual meeting attendees. Registrants will be asked on the registration form to check a box on that form indicating that they have read and will abide by the terms of the policy. We will also share the policy with our annual meeting hotels as part of ongoing collaborations designed to foster mutual respect among all involved in any capacity with the annual meeting.

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Tue, 09/03/2019 - 8:39am by Erik Shell.

In March of 2019, Jordan Peele's Us was released in theaters. Much like his previous project, Get Out (2017), Us took the horror world by storm. Unlike Get Out, whose direct references to U.S. racism were the foundation of the plot, Peele left Us intentionally vague; allowing for a flurry of online theories to be born as to what his intended meaning may have been. To those with a knowledge of ancient philosophy, however, Us appeared to be a modern horror version of Plato's allegory of the cave.

View full article. | Posted in on Thu, 08/29/2019 - 5:28pm by Justin Lorenzo Biggi.

As the new term approaches and gets underway, the SCS Blog is bringing you fresh perspectives and actionable ideas on teaching the languages, history, and material culture of the ancient Mediterranean.  Try something small — or something big — to kickstart your course!

τίς δ’ οὐχὶ χαίρει νηπίοις ἀθύρμασιν;

Who does not find delight in childish amusements?

Euripides, Auge fr. 272 TrGF

Anyone who has taught an introductory language class is familiar with the age-old challenge of keeping students active and engaged, especially when these courses tend to meet four to five times a week in the morning. This challenge becomes particularly acute for morphology-heavy beginning courses in ancient Greek and Latin, where “drilling” declensions and conjugations has long been a staple. In short: I don’t think I’m saying anything controversial in suggesting that it is easy for drudgery to reign in our beginning language courses.

View full article. | Posted in on Mon, 08/26/2019 - 7:06am by Amy Lather.

The new Classics Everywhere initiative, launched by the SCS in 2019, supports projects that seek to engage communities all over the US and Canada with the worlds of Greek and Roman antiquity in new and meaningful ways. As part of this initiative the SCS has been funding a variety of projects ranging from after-school enrichment programs to collaborations with artists in theater and dance. In this post, we focus on four projects that engaged new audiences by allowing them to explore what it was like to do and think as the Greeks and Romans did.

View full article. | Posted in on Thu, 08/22/2019 - 10:54pm by Mallory Monaco Caterine.
NEH Logo

August, 2019

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

  • Gregory Crane (Tufts College) - "Beyond Translation: New Possibilities for Reading in a Digital Age"
  • Matthew Panciera (Gustavus Adolphus College) - "Roman Daily Life in Petronius and Pompeii"
  • Sturt Manning (Cornell University) - "Medieval Monuments and Wooden Cultural Heritage on Cyprus: Building History with Tree-Rings"
  • Elise Friedland (George Washington University) - "Classical Washington: Greece and Rome in the Art and Architecture of D.C."
  • David Konstan (New York University) - "The Legends of Barbara and Katherine in the Greek Tradition (4th - 10th Centuries)"
  • Elizabeth Samet (United States Military Academy) - "The Nine Lives of Alexander the Great"
  • Jose Bermudez (Texas A&M University, College Station) - "Reconsidering the Sources of the Self in the Ancient, Medieval, and Early Modern Periods"

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View full article. | Posted in Awards and Fellowships on Thu, 08/22/2019 - 1:15pm by Erik Shell.

Many thanks to Bill Beck for his SCS blog post on funding opportunities for undergraduates, graduate students, teachers and aspiring teachers. In September, look out for more resources on funding, specifically on funding offered by North American institutions to students enrolled in their MA / PhD programs and terminal MA / MAT programs. This forthcoming resource has been a summer project of the SCS office and our summer interns.

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(Photo: "_DSC7061" by rhodesj, licensed under CC BY 2.0)

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Mon, 08/19/2019 - 10:20am by Helen Cullyer.

Below is an annotated list of funding opportunities for undergraduate students, graduate students, and current and aspiring teachers of classical philology, ancient history, and classical archaeology. This post is divided into three parts, corresponding to the different target populations, originally discussed separately here, here, and here. The first part is relevant to undergraduate students; the second part concerns funding opportunities for graduate students; the final section is of interest to current and aspiring teachers of classics.

I. Funding Opportunities for Undergraduates

Funding opportunities for undergraduates are organized into two categories: (1) funding for undergraduate study and (2) funding for current undergraduate students who intend to pursue graduate study.

Funding for Undergraduate Study

View full article. | Posted in on Mon, 08/19/2019 - 6:01am by Bill Beck.

I bought an old book the other day. 

Used to be, that wouldn’t have been the lede for any writing designed to grab your attention, but as pastimes go, it’s getting a bit less common, so maybe it will do. 

It’s not just that old books have been crowded into a corner of the market for attention by media unimagined only yesterday, but that there are natural cycles that have also been disrupted.  When I was young, we haunted second-hand bookshops and the like because we needed books––good books––ones that had been printed before we were born and long since gone out of print.  Now we’re rich:  everything seems to stay in print forever.  I used to snap up $2 hardcover copies of Henry James novels on the assumption that someday I’d read them.  Now I wonder what I would do with a tired old hardcover when I can count on crisp new paperbacks being deliverable to my door by Amazon in 24 hours any time I want one or e-versions to my iPad in seconds.  In the 1980s, when I wanted a decent copy of Boswell’s The Life of Samuel Johnson of my own to reread, I spent a month searching for one I could purchase––in Philadelphia no less.  My Henry James anxiety only dissipated during the glory years of bookstore superstores. 

View full article. | Posted in on Thu, 08/15/2019 - 8:56pm by James J. O'Donnell.

Williams Sanders Scarborough, an 1875 graduate of Oberlin College, was a pioneering African American scholar who wrote a university-level Greek textbook. Kirk Ormand, who now teaches at Oberlin, interviewed Prof. Michele Ronnick, who has recently published a facsimile edition of Scarborough’s Greek textbook, First Lessons in Greek (1881), with Bolchazy-Carducci press. Prof. Ronnick is the world’s leading expert on Scarborough. She found, edited, and published Scarborough’s autobiography in 2005, and has researched Scarborough’s time at Oberlin and as President of Wilberforce University.[1]  

Kirk Ormand: You are publishing a facsimile edition of William Sanders Scarborough’s First Lessons in Greek.Tell us a bit about why Scarborough’s book is important to the history of the profession.

View full article. | Posted in on Thu, 08/08/2019 - 9:01pm by Michele Valerie Ronnick.

Generic Interplay in and after Vergil

Symposium Cumanum 2020

Villa Vergiliana, Cuma

June 24–26, 2020

Co-directors: Brittney Szempruch (United States Air Force Academy) and John F. Miller (University of Virginia)

Although Vergil famously opens the Aeneid with a definitive statement of poetic intent—arma virumque cano—scholarship has long highlighted the poet’s propensity for the complication of firm generic boundaries. Amid a range of theoretical responses that have shaped the past nearly one hundred years (Kroll 1924; Cairns 1972; Fowler 1982; Conte 1986; Harrison 2007), the Vergilian corpus has emerged as some of the most productive ground for the in-depth study of generic flexibility (e.g. Nelis 2004; Seider 2016).

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Wed, 08/07/2019 - 10:12am by Erik Shell.

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