A Liberal Art for the Future

By Nigel Nicholson, Reed College

This paper was delivered as part of "The Future of Classical Education: A Dialogue," a panel organized by the SCS Program Committee at the 147th annual meeting of the SCS in San Francisco, January 8, 2016.

The problem of perceived employability

The biggest challenge that Classics as a discipline faces in the current climate in this country is surely the perception that, unless you are going to be a teacher, a BA in Classics does not make you much more employable than a high school diploma. The challenge comes from a variety of stakeholders: students, of course, current, past and future; students’ parents (I am sure we have all had conversations with parents about what young Johnny will “do” with a classics degree); but also accrediting agencies, deans and provosts, foundations and donors; and, right now, crucially, employers, and indeed many of the employers that our students are interested in working for.

This problem is not just our problem; it afflicts all the humanities and arts, and also the social sciences, and even the life sciences. What young Johnny will “do” is often code for what young Johnny will earn, and there are a lot of organizations and institutions invested, purposefully or otherwise, in the reduction of a college degree to earnings after college – not just the Presidential Scorecard..1 All of these show roughly the same conclusion: higher salaries for engineers, computer scientists, physicists and chemists, and business degrees; lower for the rest of us (though certainly significantly higher than for those without a BA). Classics has particular problems of its own—the perception of privilege, of being out of touch with changing demographics or concerned only with the white and the male—and these are very real challenges for the discipline that I in no way mean to diminish, but I am going to focus on the problem of perceived employability, because this is the one that I, as Dean of Faculty, hear most from parents.The Colorado State University 2014 Spring College of Liberal Arts II Commencement ceremony, May 17, 2014. Photo: via flickr, © Colorado State University

Helping students express the value of their degree

What is so odd about this for many of us is that we grew up in a world where Classics was—or was until recently—an obvious and well-worn route to success in business and government—seen as making the best students better: stronger intellects, with a breadth of vision and understanding of ethics and history. In Britain in the 70s, if a government minister had gone to college, he or she had typically read History, PPE, or Classics; classicists were a major part of the fabric of public life, dominating the obituary pages in the “quality” newspapers. No one asked you why you wanted to study Classics or what you would do with it. It was assumed you would get a good education and be successful.

But times change, and we need to address the prevailing zeitgeist. That does not mean acceding to the idea that the point of college it to train you for an entry level job on graduation (and no more than that) or devaluing the value of a Classics degree or liberal learning in general in favor of business and technical degrees. But it does mean engaging with the questions these stakeholders are asking. And this is my main point today. Part of our job must be to help students transition to careers and vocations. We cannot leave this, as we once did, to the Office of Careers Services, or to the students themselves. The Classics degree cannot be taught under the sign of graduate school; some of our students go on to teach, but the vast majority do not, and we need to help that majority make this transition. And to do this, we need to articulate, and help our students articulate, what they learn in terms of broader, transferable skills and abilities so that they have a language in which to frame their considerable achievements when they want to begin or change a career.

This is not something we do well, according to a study done by Kenny Morrell and the Center for Hellenic Studies, and funded by the Teagle Foundation..2 Or at least the CHS group showed that Classics majors are rarely framed in terms of the broader goals of a liberal arts education—and I think such framing is a good place to start in helping students navigate what it means to be classics major in terms that are legible to employers and parents. The CHS group interviewed classics majors at four liberal arts colleges, including Reed, to construct a sense of what broader goals these students saw represented by their major, and the five most commonly agreed goals were:

  • Critical thinking. As the authors note, this rather vague category probably represented a catch-all for a number of more specific skills such as clarity of thought, reasoning, problem-solving etc.
  • Synthesizing information. The authors relate this to the fact that Classics, in contrast to most other language and literature departments, claims as its own the study of the culture as a whole, including history, art history, archaeology, philosophy, etc., and typically offers classes in them.
  • Research skills: finding, evaluating and appropriately deploying information, and doing a full survey of a problem, rather than reading superficially.
  • Communicating through writing.
  • Ability to continue learning throughout life.

There are certainly many reasons to be a Classics major; I suspect that most students are drawn to the major by simple enjoyment, the quality of the professors and the other students in the major, or the perceived difficulty or even prestige of the major—at least within the Humanities. But helping students think about what they are doing in these more general terms, in terms appropriate to all liberal education, will give them a language with which to express the value of their degree to someone who may have little understanding of what that degree represents. The CHS study concludes by encouraging faculty members to explicitly help students frame their work on this level, and some programs are doing that already. One very interesting experiment is going on at Skidmore, where Dan Curley teaches a class for seniors that takes as its goal encouraging reflection on such questions as well as on the constitution of Classics as a discipline, while making sure students know more immediate details like how to write resumes and cover letters..3

Challenging traditional classics curricula

The main limitation with the CHS study is that it reflects a kind of reverse engineering: it asks, “Given what you are studying now, how might you talk about it?” But I think one of the great benefits of this exercise is that it can be prospective, a chance not just to articulate the curricula we presently teach, but rethink aspects in order to better serve the larger goals that we identity as important. There is a lot of helpful educational work being done by supportive institutions that can help this process of proactive reflection. One rubric that I quite like, and that the CHS study also uses, is that provided by the American Association of Colleges and Universities. As part of its centenary the AAC&U is backing an advocacy program entitled LEAP (Liberal Education and America’s Promise) that champions the importance of liberal education today, both for an individual’s intellectual and moral development, and for a nation’s economic and democratic vitality. The rubric is not a perfect fit for majors—it concerns rather the whole curriculum—but there is a lot of useful research involved, plenty of food for thought, and the backing of an important advocacy organization..4

The AAC&U picks out ten practices that they see as having a major impact on student development:

  • Writing-intensive courses
  • Capstone projects that require integration of prior learning
  • Undergraduate research: involving students early on in the current open questions in a discipline
  • Diversity/Global learning: study of different cultures, often with experiential learning or study abroad
  • Intense, small-group seminars for first-year students
  • Learning Communities: pursuit of questions across different disciplines in different classes
  • Common intellectual experiences: suites of required courses that work together
  • Collaborative work
  • Service-learning or community-based learning
  • Internships

Looking at this list the first reaction for many of us will be to say that many of these elements are already part of a typical program. Classics majors are typically writing intensive; capstone projects—in many cases whole classes devoted to senior theses—are regular features; the fundamentally interdisciplinary nature of the field encourages the pursuit of questions through different disciplines; study abroad and learning about difference are often central; first-year seminars tend to be intense; and current research regularly features on syllabuses. So prima facie this rubric is a flattering one, and we can use its language, and its authority, to pick out and frame what outsiders who may never have heard of Catullus or the polis will recognize as valuable in what we do.

But, again, the goal here is not just to give a new description to what we do, but also to test ourselves against it.

  • Do we really teach in an integrative and interdisciplinary way? Are the different disciplines brought into real contact, or do they remain separate, studying different questions, with different students involved? What would it mean to really integrate different disciplinary modes and methods in the study of a single problem?
  • Or our capstones: how effective are they? Do they really draw together what the students have worked on and require that they use what they have learned?
  • How much do our syllabuses lean to explaining old debates and how they were solved, rather than pitching students into the new questions that as yet have no answers?
  • Is study abroad integrated into the students’ learning? Does the study abroad program involve the student in a different culture, or protect them from it?

And perhaps we can stretch further. Are there elements on this list that we do not typically pursue but might be able to if we did some rethinking? Two on this list are surely possibilities. Collaborative work is one, and surely a key one. I am speaking in broad strokes here, and there are certainly programs that stress collaborative work, but the SCS program itself is testament to the fact that classics research is still largely figured as an individual endeavor. Few articles, books and talks, certainly outside of archaeology, feature the multi-author lists of science papers, but there is no reason why this should be so. Collaborative work does take practice, though, and thought is required to build it into a curriculum. That is, of course, why it is a real skill.

A second interesting area is service learning or community-based learning, which is probably the preferred term right now, with its emphasis on partnership rather than charity. Some schools have fantastic programs. I think of Gonzaga’s program run by Dave Oosterhuis of translating historical documents written by Jesuits in the archives of a local Native American tribe. Few have such opportunities, but there are often tutoring possibilities in local schools, and in many if not most colleges, senior students tutor more junior students, building community, improving their own understanding and taking some of the workload of the professors in the process. This could be built into the requirements for upper-level language classes.

There are possibilities outside of this list too. First, oral communication is rarely emphasized in the way that written communication is, an odd thing in the department of Cicero and Demosthenes. Second, developing an ethical sense of one’s place in a community is increasingly common in college mission statements, and that could easily be one of our goals, given the importance of Plato, Cicero and Seneca, not to mention the centrality of the polis and Greek democratic institutions. And, third, technological expertise is often underplayed also, despite the obvious achievements made by classicists in this area, often well ahead of the curve—I think of BMCR, Perseus, the various digitization projects or Sunoikisis. (Sunoikisis is a collaboration that links together several mainly liberal arts colleges in a team-taught course each fall.) One of the elements that students in the Sunoikisis collaboration flag is that they develop a facility with distance communication software. But I am thinking of integrating technology on a different level, although integrating it into the modes of presentation of student work is surely productive. Our discipline, again outside of archaeology, is still very much guided by close reading, but the digitization of our texts gives us a great opportunity to do a different kind of big-data (or at least bigger-data) reading that could be particularly open to undergraduates who lack the kind of advanced language skills to read really closely. If we trained classicists, and not just some archaeologists, to do statistics, they might do more of this work.

This may not fit your vision of a Classics major, or even of an undergraduate liberal arts degree, but my larger point does not rest on the details; these are offered as one potential rubric, or several potential rubrics, that might help one plan and organize a major. My central point is simply that we need to articulate broader goals that are legible beyond Classics, and use these to interrogate what we actually do in the major. Different programs will surely articulate different goals, or like Dan Curley’s class encourage the students to articulate goals for themselves as well. But the key is to build this in, and not leave it to the students to make this leap—as many, if not most, will not be able to until later in their careers. Typically our students just need a foot in the door; employers love them when they see them. We just need to make sure they get that foot in the door. And this will not just help the students; a well-conceived and executed set of goals will also help the program represent itself to deans and accreditors also.

Getting involved

One further point: Good ideas don’t necessarily sell themselves; you have to make sure people are listening or have a chance to hear them. This means putting ourselves forward. The Liberal Arts College Caucus convened annually at the SCS by Barbara Gold of Hamilton College and Michael Arnush of Skidmore spends a lot of time thinking about how requirement systems (diversity requirements, language requirements) might advantage or disadvantage programs, or make it hard for people to begin, say, Greek in the fall. This is obviously not only sensible, but crucial, and having this vehicle for liberal arts professors to share good ideas has been one of my favorite pieces of recent SCS meetings. It also makes sense to volunteer to teach in first-year writing programs or other classes aimed at first-year students, or be part of learning communities and other initiatives that often are more generously underwritten than traditional programs—even if it takes more work, pulls us out of our comfort zones, or involves learning some new tricks or areas. I am speaking here especially to those of us with tenure here, who can afford to put more time into new programming.

Similarly, taking the time to cultivate relationships with admissions and development can pay dividends. On the one hand, it helps if a group of students comes as first-years already interested in classics; on the other hand, if a department has funds to send students on summer digs or fund unpaid internships of other sorts, students in the major are more likely to do something over the summer that will help them develop a vocation.

And finally, even if administration is not to your taste, it is important to serve on major committees—to make oneself available and also do the kinds of things that get you elected or appointed to such committees. The more places we occupy on these committees, the more our ideas will be heard within a college, but also the more we will know about how decisions are made, and against what criteria. If they have low enrollments, Classics programs may seem expensive, but with no lab assistants, no expensive equipment and few physical plant demands, they may still be a better deal than programs with many more students. It is in our interest to be at the table when questions and criteria are framed.

And that is my final point: that we need to engage rather than retreat. We have a strong story to tell—Classics can be a great training—but we need to tell it in words designed for an outside audience, even if that involves using a language that we find reductionist or getting involved in administrative work we find tedious or reframing and reinventing some of our courses or even our curricula. If we do that, we will not only help our students transition to their life beyond college, but we will also strengthen and improve our programs.


1. E.g. the NACE (National Association for Colleges and Employers) statistics (.pdf). This does not mean that humanities graduates are not employed, and it is clear that they are much more successful than those without a BA, but even defenders agree that their median salaries are lower than those of BA holders as a whole. Cf. Wilson Peden, “The Myth of the Unemployed Humanities Major,” LEAP Challenge Blog [published by the AAC&U], November 11, 2015.

2.Center for Hellenic Studies, “The Classics Major and Liberal Education,” Liberal Education [published by the AAC&U] 95.2.

3.Dan Curley, CC 395: The Classics Major and Beyond, Skidmore College.

4. George Kuh, High-Impact Educational Practices: What They Are, Who Has Access to Them, and Why They Matter (Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities, 2008) (summary).]

Categories

Follow SCS News for information about the SCS and all things classical.

Use this field to search SCS News
Select a category from this list to limit the content on this page.

The American Academy in Berlin invites applications for its residential fellowships for the academic year 2020/21.

The Academy seeks to enrich transatlantic dialogue in the arts, humanities, and public policy through the development and communication of projects of the highest scholarly merit. Past recipients include anthropologists, art historians, literary scholars, philosophers, historians, musicologists, journalists, writers of fiction and nonfiction, filmmakers, sociologists, legal scholars, economists, and public policy experts.

Approximately twenty Berlin Prizes are conferred annually. Fellowships are typically awarded for an academic semester, but shorter stays of six to eight weeks are also possible. Benefits include round-trip airfare, partial board, a $5,000 monthly stipend, and accommodations at the Academy’s lakeside Hans Arnhold Center, in the Wannsee district of Berlin. 

For 2020/21, the Academy will also award three specially designated fellowships: two Andrew W. Mellon Fellowships in the Humanities, for work that demonstrates an interest in the topics of migration and social integration, race in comparative perspective, or exile and return. In addition, in memory of its founder, the Academy will name a Richard C. Holbrooke Fellow for a project that looks at diplomatic approaches to resolving major global issues, from armed conflicts to environmental challenges to the impact of new technologies.

View full article. | Posted in Awards and Fellowships on Fri, 06/14/2019 - 10:00am by Erik Shell.

Congratulations to Davina C. Lopez (Eckerd College) and Pamela Zinn (Texas Tech) for their 2019 ACLS Development Grants!

You can read the full list of 2019 recipients on the ACLS website.

---

(Photo: "library" by Viva Vivanista, licensed under CC BY 2.0)

View full article. | Posted in Awards and Fellowships on Thu, 06/13/2019 - 10:21am by Erik Shell.
The Sphinx of Naxos. Archaeological Museum of Delphi. Picture by Yoandy Cabrera

This month, we spotlight the graduate research of Dr. Yoandy Cabrera Ortega, who recently defended his dissertation on the portrayal of human emotions in ancient Greek myths and in modern literature from Spain and Latin America. 

My dissertation was an interdisciplinary one, intertwining different approaches and fields such as classical reception, queer studies, affect theory, and Hispanic studies.

View full article. | Posted in on Thu, 06/13/2019 - 8:46am by Yoandy Cabrera Ortega.

Can a computer understand the hendecasyllables of Catullus, the declamations of Seneca, or the letters of Pliny? Not yet, and maybe never in any conventional sense of this word. No one has succeeded so far in teaching a computer to comprehend language – that is, to reason about, generate, act upon and, importantly, communicate intentions through symbolic speech – let alone to appreciate texts written in a dead language with a sophisticated literary tradition. (Embodied cognitive science claims, in fact, that without a human body no computer can ever hope to achieve human understanding). But it is possible to represent the meanings of the Latin language in a way that can be manipulated and analysed by computers. The idea of training machines in these meanings forms the basis for the field of natural language understanding, which is a specialized kind of natural language processing (NLP) focused on modelling linguistic semantics.

View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 06/07/2019 - 6:48am by William M. Short.

CALL FOR ARTICLE PROPOSALS

Elementary-level foreign language instruction: from theory to practice

Editor: Ekaterina (Katya) Nemtchinova, Seattle Pacific University, katya@spu.edu

The articles in this volume will:

  • focus on adult learners in a formal classroom setting (e.g. college or university classes);
  • address facilitation of linguistic, communicative, and cultural competence in the framework of reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills;
  • describe successful instructional strategies and collaborative projects;
  • discuss empirical research findings and their implications for classroom teaching;
  • present innovative materials and techniques that enhance teaching and learning;
  • offer practical teaching suggestions that would work in any adult elementary-level language classroom.

The book will consist of the following tentative sections: 

  • Grammar and vocabulary
  • Speaking and listening
  • Reading and writing
  • Intercultural competence
  • Assessment and evaluation
  • Teaching with technology

Your Article Proposal should include

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Wed, 06/05/2019 - 2:14pm by Erik Shell.

The Ancient Philosophy Society was established to provide a forum for diverse scholarship on ancient Greek and Roman texts. Honoring the richness of the American and European philosophical traditions, the APS supports phenomenological, postmodern, Anglo-American, Straussian, Tübingen School, hermeneutic, psychoanalytic, queer, and feminist interpretations of ancient Greek and Roman philosophical and literary works.       

THEME: Although papers on all topics relating to the continental interpretation of ancient philosophy are welcome, this year’s conference organizers are especially interested in assembling one or two panels relating to the themes of xenia or ‘hospitality’ and the xenos or the ‘foreigner, stranger,’ thereby bringing the ancients into the urgent contemporary conversation about social/political issues such as immigration, national identities, and border policy. 

Submissions cannot exceed 3000 words in length (not including notes) and must be prepared for blind review.

Send to:  APS2020@depaul.edu

The conference hosts at DePaul University this year are Michael Naas, Sean D. Kirkland, and William McNeill.

Deadline November 22nd, 2019.

For more information visit: http://www.ancientphilosophysociety.org

---

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Mon, 06/03/2019 - 11:02am by Erik Shell.

ELEATICA 2019 - PROGRAM

The eleventh edition of ELEATICA - International Session on Ancient Philosophy, will be held on September 18-21, 2019 at the Fondazione Alario per Elea-Velia Impresa Sociale (Ascea Marina, Salerno, Italy, in the vicinity of the archeological area of ancient Elea). This time the main lectures will be given by Prof. Richard McKirahan (Pomona College, Claremont, Los Angeles, President of the International Association for Presocratic Studies).
Here is the conference programme:

Eleatica 2019
ARISTOTELE E GLI ELEATI

Wednesday, September 18

14:15 Courtyard of Palazzo Alario: Welcome and Registration

15:15 Palazzo Alario, Sala Francesco Alario: Opening Ceremony
Marcello D’Aiuto (President of the Fondazione Alario per Elea-Velia impresa sociale).
Francesca Gambetti (Scientific Direction of Eleatica – Univ. Roma Tre - SFI)

15:30 ‘I nostri libri’
Stefania Giombini (Scientific Direction of Eleatica – Univ. Autònoma de Barcelona, Univ. Girona)

16:00 1st Lecture: ‘Un Parmenide aristotelico’, Richard McKirahan
Chair: Bernardo Berruecos Frank (UNAM)
Discussant: Massimo Pulpito (Scientific Committee of Eleatica - Cátedra Unesco Archai)

17:30 Debate

Thursday, September 19

08:00 Visit to Paestum (with tastings of local gastronomy)

Friday, September 20

View full article. | Posted in Conferences, Lectures, and Meetings on Mon, 06/03/2019 - 8:24am by Erik Shell.

Call for Abstracts

The Second Annual St Andrews Graduate Conference in Ancient Philosophy

The Soul in Ancient Philosophy

11-12 October 2019

 We are delighted to announce our upcoming graduate conference on ‘The Soul in Ancient Philosophy’ taking place at the University of St Andrews, Scotland on the 11th and 12th of October 2019.

The keynote lectures will be delivered by Professor Dorothea Frede (Hamburg) and Professor Hendrik Lorenz (Princeton).

The soul has been of central importance in the ancient philosophical tradition, from the earliest Greek thinkers to the Neoplatonists. For ancient philosophers, the soul helps to account not only for various kinds of life on earth, such as human, animal, or even plant-life, but also the heavenly movements of the stars and planets. While the soul is often viewed as a principle of motion, in humans it is associated with a wide range of important phenomena, such as cognition, love, death, reason, emotions, and feelings. Moreover, the soul is sometimes seen to have a life of its own apart from the body, so that a distinction can be drawn between embodied and disembodied existence and experience. In this way, the soul naturally brings together a range of different philosophical concerns, including epistemology, ethics, psychology, the natural sciences, cosmology, and eschatology. 

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Mon, 06/03/2019 - 8:18am by Erik Shell.

From time to time, T.H.M. Gellar-Goad will be checking in with a member of the discipline to see how they conceptualize or define “productivity” in their own work and in the profession. We’ll ask them the same set of five questions and share their responses, plus perhaps a photo or two from their experiences. These Perspectives on Productivity will present views from a diverse cross-section of our field, people from all sorts of backgrounds, working in all sorts of areas, and at all stages in their Classics-related journeys. Today we hear from Erik Shell, the Communications and Services Coordinator at the Society for Classical Studies. 

What does "productivity" mean to you as a member of the discipline?

I expect it means something different to me than the academically engaged portion of the Classics community. I do not research in Classics anymore nor do I intend to start up my old research; I do not teach nor do I have an opportunity to start teaching again. With that in mind I see productivity as the process of working toward two different goals: legacy and yield.

View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 05/31/2019 - 7:50am by Erik Shell.

Friends, Romans, Countrymen, I want to talk about domestic violence and Game of Thrones.

View full article. | Posted in on Mon, 05/27/2019 - 6:44am by Serena S Witzke.

Pages

Latest Stories

SCS Announcements
Here are a few important deadlines coming up at the end of this month:
Conferences, Lectures, and Meetings
Please join us for the 37th Classical Association of New E
Conferences, Lectures, and Meetings

© 2019, Society for Classical Studies Privacy Policy