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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Given the rapidly changing situation in the present moment, a conference in January 2021 looks a long way off. But planning for our 152nd annual meeting in Chicago has already begun, and it will intensify in the months between now and then. Indeed we are making both plans and contingency plans, because the SCS will hold its annual meeting in some form. It may resemble past meetings, or it may involve remote participation; it is impossible to predict what circumstances will require. But the process of compiling the academic portion of the program will proceed (almost) as usual, with a (remote) Program Committee meeting in June in which the committee discusses the abstracts and proposals submitted through the online submission system. Only after the panels and papers have been selected and arranged can planning begin for the rest of the program: the committee meetings, the business meetings for affiliated groups, the interviews, the receptions, and all of the other meeting events

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Tue, 04/07/2020 - 2:42pm by Helen Cullyer.

In his history of the long and costly war between Athens and Sparta, the historian Thucydides explained that he had written his narrative to be “a possession for all time” and to be of assistance to those of future generations “who want to see things clearly as they were and, given human nature, as they will one day be again, more or less."1 Thucydides was a shrewd observer and analyst of human behavior, and his work has frequently been cited in times of crisis by those who see patterns in history.  At the famous ceremony dedicating the battlefield cemetery at Gettysburg in 1863 at which Lincoln also spoke, former Secretary of State Edward Everett delivered a eulogy

View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 04/03/2020 - 8:10am by .

As we all contend with the unprecedented challenges presented by the COVID-19 Coronavirus, I want to start by highlighting a gratifying fact: the indispensable expert and voice of reason, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, majored in Classics as an undergraduate at Holy Cross!  This is a timely and inspiring reminder that Classics majors go on to distinguish themselves in many different careers and to perform many kinds of vital service.

I also want to emphasize that, despite the ongoing crisis, the SCS is fully up-and-running. Our three fulltime staff members, Helen Cullyer, Cherane Ali, and Erik Shell, have made a seamless transition to working remotely, thanks to careful advance planning on their part. They are maintaining regular business hours even as they work remotely, and are available to help our members however they can.

View full article. | Posted in Presidential Letters on Sun, 03/29/2020 - 2:22pm by Helen Cullyer.

­­The Classics Everywhere initiative, launched by the SCS in 2019, supports projects that seek to engage communities worldwide with the study 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 reading groups comparing ancient to modern leadership practices to collaborations with artists in theater, music, and dance. In this post we focus on projects that bring creativity and science into the Classics classrooms of secondary schools from California to Louisiana, New Jersey, and New York.

View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 03/27/2020 - 6:25am by .

The SCS Board of Directors has endorsed a statement by the American Sociological Association on faculty review and reappointment during COVID-19.

Read the statement and full list of signatories at this link

https://www.asanet.org/news-events/asa-news/asa-statement-regarding-faculty-review-and-reappointment-processes-during-covid-19-crisis

View full article. | Posted in Public Statements on Mon, 03/23/2020 - 4:26pm by Helen Cullyer.

As the pandemic known as COVID-19 grips the globe, thousands of instructors in the United States and elsewhere have been asked to transition their courses online for the remainder of the semester. To some instructors, such as the superb Classics professors at the Open University, distance learning has become a normalized pedagogy. To many others facing teaching online: this is uncharted territory.

View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 03/20/2020 - 8:43am by Sarah E. Bond.

Please see the following on access to digital resources during COVID-19:

1. The digital Classical Loeb Library recently announced that it is making its subscription free to all schools and universities affected by COVID-19 until June 30, 2020. Librarians should email loebclassics_sales@harvard.edu for more details. In addition, SCS members can access the library for free until June 30, 2020 via the For Members Only page of our website. Log on to https://classicalstudies.org and access the For Members only page via our Membership menu. 

2. Johns Hopkins University Press and a number of publishers that contribute content to Project Muse are making books and journals freely accessible for several months. JHUP journals include AJP, TAPA, and CW. 

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Thu, 03/19/2020 - 9:03am by Helen Cullyer.

Results and materials from the Classics tuning project we've mentioned in prior newsletters are now available publicly. See the below press release from the project's authors for full details:

THE ACM CLASSICS TUNING PROJECT: REPOSITORY OF MATERIALS

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Wed, 03/18/2020 - 11:02am by Erik Shell.

We're proud to announce the digital publication of "Careers for Classicists: Undergraduate Edition." This work is a completely new version of our previous "Careers for Classicists" pamphlet, providing the latest insights on how undergraduate classics majors can best prepare for jobs in a variety of fields.

You can read this newest publication in our online book format here: https://classicalstudies.org/careers-classicists-undergraduate-edition

We'd like to thank Adriana Brook, Eric Dugdale, and John Gruber-Miller for doing so much work in putting this volume together. The print version of "Careers" will be available in a few months, and will be one of several benefit choices for departmental membership.

And, in case you missed it, you can read the Graduate Student version of this publication here: https://classicalstudies.org/careers-classicists-graduate-student-edition

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Mon, 03/16/2020 - 12:51pm by Erik Shell.
We realize that this is a time of unprecedented turmoil, disruption, and challenge in all our personal and professional lives. SCS is delaying deadlines for 2021 annual meeting program submission in the hope that some extra time will be helpful to anyone planning to submit. The new deadlines are:
 
- April 21 (by 11.59pm EDT) for all submissions other than individual abstracts and lightning talks
- April 28 (by 11.59pm EDT) for all individual abstracts and lightning talks
 
As circumstances change, we will continue to adapt. While it is too early to say what effect COVID-19 will have on our annual meeting in January 2021, we will adjust as necessary and provide an annual meeting in some form. 
 
View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Sun, 03/15/2020 - 4:26pm by Helen Cullyer.

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