President's Letter for March 2013: STEM Subjects Are Not the Only Essential Ones

There has been a lot of talk in the US recently about the importance of encouraging the study of the so-called STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics).  In the UK, the civil service has long been advocating such an emphasis on STEM, although it is revealing that in the US people still tend to focus on whether this or that education is a good “investment” for the individual, whereas in Britain the government agencies are more concerned with which education is best for society as a whole (on “investment” as the wrong metaphor in the first place, see Bob Connor’s recent post).

In response to this new wave of pressure, there have been a number of excellent defenses of the value of studying non-STEM subjects, and I do not want to rehearse that case here; let me just refer you to the fine column in the Washington Post by Danielle Allen, for example, and to the new AHA website I recently recommended on making the case for the value of the Humanities and Social Sciences.  But I just want to comment on the background of the lawmakers who are the most recent ones to advocate strongly for specific practical steps to foster STEM.

The Economist recently had a leader on US immigration reform, in which they applauded in particular an initiative from a bipartisan group of eight Senators which would allow foreign nationals who go to US universities to remain in the country after graduation: “They would…give an automatic green card to anyone gaining a master’s degree or a doctorate in science, technology, engineering or maths from an American university” (February 2nd, 2013, p.10).

This is a very controversial proposal in various ways, as is a similar proposal to give six-year visas to up to 300,000 foreign high-tech workers a year (see the New York TimesOp Ed piece on this subject last month by Ross Eisenbrey).  But it’s interesting that no one appears to be advocating giving an automatic green card to anyone gaining an advanced degree in the humanities or social sciences, although even at a crassly utilitarian level it might look like a good idea to increase the number of US residents who, for example, have an intimate knowledge of other languages and cultures.  I’m not necessarily arguing for such a green card policy myself, but the assumption that it is self-evidently “useful” to foster certain subjects and not others is worth pushing back against before it becomes completely automatic.

If you look at the educational background of the eight Senators, it’s even more interesting that they appear not to see value in retaining as a member of US society someone with a degree in humanities or social sciences.  Only one of the group (Lindsey Graham, R-SC) has an undergraduate major in a science subject (Psychology).  The others have undergraduate degrees in History (Michael Bennet, D-CO); International Relations (Dick Durbin, D-IL; Jeff Flake, R-AZ; Marco Rubio, R-FL); Political Science (Bob Menendez, D-NJ); and Government (Chuck Schumer, D-NY).  John McCain (R-AZ) attended the Naval Academy at Annapolis, and so wasn’t in the business of choosing majors, but he preferred literary and historical subjects, reporting in his 1999 memoir Faith of My Fathers: “Unfortunately, the curriculum at the Academy was weighted preponderantly toward math and the sciences” (p.134).

In their choices of major, these Senators are fairly representative of their colleagues in Congress.  In the 112th Congress, apart from the 26 Members of the House and the single Senator who had no more than a high school diploma, government and the humanities accounted for 55.7% of the undergraduate majors; 13.7% had degrees in Business and Accounting, with 8.4% in Economics.  24 members had a medical degree.  Only 11.5% of the members of the 112th Congress had an undergraduate major in Science and Technology (for these figures, see Mark J. Perry’s post).

I can’t help wondering if Messrs. Bennet, Durbin, Flake, Menendez, Rubio and Schumer actually believe that the subjects they majored in are useless and that their undergraduate education did not provide them with skills and perspectives that the country has benefitted from. 

Let me be clear: I am enthusiastically in favor of the study of STEM subjects, not least because I believe that science and mathematics are a vital part of a liberal arts education.  I’d be very happy to see more highly trained scientists and engineers in government (it may seem redundant to state this, but one can be easily misunderstood in these debates).  But the value of a general education in the liberal arts, including science, mathematics, the humanities and social sciences, is something we must keep affirming in the face of the consensus one can sense developing. 

I would like to imagine the day when a President gives a State of the Union address to Congress in which he or she quotes the wisdom of George Washington in the first ever State of the Union address, on January 8, 1790: “Nor am I less persuaded, that you will agree with me in opinion, that there is nothing which can better deserve your patronage, than the promotion of Science and Literature.  Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of publick happiness.”  Even if we update the spelling and take away the Gothic “k” from “publick”, it is hard to imagine a President today writing those words, with their firm understanding of the value of the whole domain of knowledge.

Denis Feeney
President

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Romans across the city this week remembered the anniversary of the rastrellamento within the Jewish ghetto in Rome on October 16, 1943 carried out by 365 Nazi officers at the order of SS Captain Theodor Dannecker. Italians often refer to it as 'la spietata caccia agli ebrei' (“the ruthless hunting down of the Jews”). During the raid, 1,022 Jewish Romans were gathered and sent to the Collegio Militare in Palazzo Salviati in Trastevere, just a few hundred meters from Vatican city and the papal residence. Most of these Romans were sent to Auschwitz on sealed trains that left from Tiburtina station. Most would die in the gas chambers there. Only 15 men and 1 woman survived the camps and returned back to Italy alive.




Figure 1: Archival photo of the deportation of Jews from the city of Rome on October 16, 1943 near the Porticus Octaviae. (Photo in the Public Domain).

View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 10/18/2019 - 6:34am by Sarah E. Bond.

ANCHORING TECHNOLOGY IN GRECO-ROMAN ANTIQUITY

An interdisciplinary conference
Soeterbeeck (Radboud University), 10-13 December 2020

‘Anchoring Innovation’ is a Dutch research program in Classics that studies how people deal with ‘the new’ (http://www.ru.nl/oikos/anchoring-innovation/). We want to understand the multifarious ways in which relevant social groups connect what they perceive as new to what they feel is already familiar (‘anchoring’). In this conference, our focus will be on technological innovations in classical antiquity, and the ways in which these became acceptable, were adopted, and spread – or died an unceremonious death.

Technology is here understood in the widest sense of the word: it includes building materials and techniques, technical procedures and products, but also information technologies such as writing and calculating, coinage, medicine and military technology. Greco-Roman antiquity offers an ideal testing ground for understanding technological change in a complex, yet non-modern society: it is richly documented (both in the written record and in material remains), and the ‘sources’ are complex but also well-disclosed, which enables us to tackle complex research questions.

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Thu, 10/17/2019 - 8:31am by Erik Shell.

On October 13, 2019, the SCS Board of Directors approved the following letter addressed to the Board of Directors of the Paideia Institute for Humanistic Study, Inc.

"The Society for Classical Studies joins the American Classical League in expressing deep concern in response to recent public statements regarding the Paideia Institute. Some of those statements are authored by individuals who have been closely associated with Paideia in various capacities and who have now resigned from the Institute.  Some of the published allegations are more generally about the Institute’s cultural climate, while others concern specific incidents. All the allegations are serious.

Accordingly, the SCS board of directors has approved a temporary hiatus on new funding for Paideia programs, including but not limited to support via the SCS Minority Scholarships, Coffin Fellowships, and Classics Everywhere micro-grants.

View full article. | Posted in Public Statements on Mon, 10/14/2019 - 12:59pm by Helen Cullyer.

Years of restoration work on the Palatine Hill and in the Roman Forum which—together with the Colosseum—now make up the Parco Archeologico del Colosseo has been coming to fruition over the last few years. After decades of sporadic work, rusting scaffolding, and locked gates, a fabulous flurry of activity has yielded an ever greater number of visitable sites.

Many of these are accessible as part of the SUPER ticket, which provides access to the Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum (but not the Colosseum), and includes access to eight excellent “bonus” sites: Santa Maria Antiqua, Temple of Romulus, Palatine Museum, the Neronian Cryptoporticus, the Aula Isiaca and Loggia Mattei, the Houses of Augustus and Livia, and—most recently—the Domus Transitoria.

View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 10/11/2019 - 12:13am by Agnes Crawford.

Departmental memberships for 2020 are now available. This year's departmental membership includes new publication options as well as the ability to purchase membership for students and contingent faculty.

You can download the form here, then send it to the SCS office through fax or via email at info@classicalstudies.org

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

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Thu, 10/10/2019 - 10:38am by Erik Shell.

"Space and Governance: Towards a New Topography of Roman Administration"

Conference, 3-4 April 2020, Royal Academy of Spain at Rome (Real Academia de España en Roma)

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Thu, 10/10/2019 - 8:53am by Erik Shell.

Call for Volunteers

The Society for Classical Studies seeks graduate, undergraduate, and contingent faculty volunteers for the 151th Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., which will take place this coming January.  Assignments will include working in the registration area and assisting staff with some sessions and special events.

You can sign up to volunteer here.

In exchange for six hours of service (either in one continuous or in segmented assignments), volunteers receive a waiver of their annual meeting registration fees.  It is not necessary to be an SCS member to volunteer.

For more information about the meeting itself, visit our Annual Meeting page.

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

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Mon, 10/07/2019 - 10:25am by Erik Shell.

In response to problems and needs, some long-term and others exposed by events at San Diego, the SCS Board of Directors has voted to add an Equity Adviser to the SCS board as an advisory member, with voice but without vote. This will be a three-year appointment made by the President, upon approval of the directors. The position will replace on the board, as of January 5, 2020, the current chair of the Strategic Development Committee, who currently serves as an ex officio board member with voice but without vote. The Strategic Development Committee itself is being wound down as part of an attempt to rationalize our governance structure. This change will not affect the 16 elected board positions.

The main roles of the Equity Adviser (hereafter EA) will be to promote diversity, inclusion, and equity in all SCS activities, looking especially at elections, governance, publications, and the annual meeting.  The EA will consult with the Committee on Professional Matters to obtain an accurate understanding of topics and data relating to diversity, inclusion, and equity across the organization. This would be particularly important in the first year of an EA’s appointment, as the adviser assesses historical trends in diversity relating to:

1) our Board of Directors and our committees;

2) the program of our annual meeting, and its actual realization; and

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Fri, 10/04/2019 - 2:35pm by Erik Shell.

ANCHORING TECHNOLOGY IN GRECO-ROMAN ANTIQUITY

An interdisciplinary conference
Soeterbeeck (Radboud University), 10-13 December 2020

‘Anchoring Innovation’ is a Dutch research program in Classics that studies how people deal with ‘the new’ (http://www.ru.nl/oikos/anchoring-innovation/). We want to understand the multifarious ways in which relevant social groups connect what they perceive as new to what they feel is already familiar (‘anchoring’). In this conference, our focus will be on technological innovations in classical antiquity, and the ways in which these became acceptable, were adopted, and spread – or died an unceremonious death.

Technology is here understood in the widest sense of the word: it includes building materials and techniques, technical procedures and products, but also information technologies such as writing and calculating, coinage, medicine and military technology. Greco-Roman antiquity offers an ideal testing ground for understanding technological change in a complex, yet non-modern society: it is richly documented (both in the written record and in material remains), and the ‘sources’ are complex but also well-disclosed, which enables us to tackle complex research questions.

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Fri, 10/04/2019 - 1:24pm by Erik Shell.

In the past year, the Society for Classical Studies website has published a number of pieces catalyzed by the blatant racism on display at the most recent annual meeting. Professor Joy Connolly wrote a piece called “Working Toward a Just and Inclusive Future for Classics,” which then generated a response by an anonymous graduate student group, which in turn led to further comment by the SCS, Professor Connolly, and the newly formed SCS Graduate Student Committee. These various pieces pointed to ways Classics could progress and thrive for generations to come. 

What became lost in this series of posts was a focus on racial diversity and inclusivity, as the conversation increasingly broadened to include all manner of injustice found in academic work conditions. The act of racism that started the conversation became overshadowed by much more general discussion about problems that affect the whole of academia, e.g., the increasing precarity of academic labor.

View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 10/04/2019 - 6:33am by Joy Reeber.

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