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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Dear Members, 

As of Friday March 13, 2020, SCS staff will be working remotely until further notice. We have taken this step in order to comply with the current policies of NYU, our host institution. Fortunately, we expect there to be little disruption to our operations. You can still do the following online:

Renew your membership

Use the placement service

Make a submission for the 2021 meeting

Make a donation

- Access all portions of our website as usual

The best way to contact us during this period is at info@classicalstudies.org. We will respond promptly. To reach us by phone, please use 646 939 0435. We plan to check our physical mail on a regular basis but would prefer members to use online communication if possible at this time. 

View full article. | Posted in Public Statements on Thu, 03/12/2020 - 8:22pm by Helen Cullyer.

By Joel P. Christensen and Elton Barker

How does one (er, a pairing) write a collaborative book and how might we make sure that our work is accessible to students, teachers, and all those interested in Classics? Gather round for the biography of a new and freely available book, Homer’s Thebes: Epic Rivalries and the Appropriation of Mythical Pasts. 

View full article. | Posted in on Thu, 03/12/2020 - 1:56pm by Joel Perry Christensen.

"Techne Agathe: Ethics of Art and Technology from Antiquity to Our Times"

The Second International Conference of Hellenic Studies will take place in Budva (Montenegro), from 14 to 19 September 2020. The topic of the conference is "Techne Agathe: Ethics of Art and Technology from Antiquity to Our Times".

Deadline for submissions: 1 July 2020

Conference website: http://ichs.me

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Thu, 03/12/2020 - 10:46am by Erik Shell.

As the COVID-19 virus becomes more widespread in the US and in many other countries, the SCS office and the Board of Directors are making plans to deal effectively with disruptions to all our operations and programs.

Since many academic institutions are now placing restrictions on domestic travel, cancelling trips and programs abroad, and even teaching online due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the SCS Board of Directors has approved, effective 3/6/20, the deferred spending by award winners of short-term award and grant funds for travel, programs, and events. Winners of the Frank M. Snowden Jr. Scholarships (formerly the Undergraduate Minority Scholarships), Coffin Fellowship, Pedagogy Awards, Koenen Fellowship, and Classics Everywhere micro-grants will be allowed to postpone their awards until 2021, subject to terms that will be included in all award letters going forward. Detailed instructions will be included in all award letters. SCS will continue to receive applications for these programs in accordance with posted deadlines, and 2020 winners may use funds in 2020 if they are able to do so.

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View full article. | Posted in Public Statements on Sun, 03/08/2020 - 2:32pm by Helen Cullyer.

Our second interview in the Contingent Faculty Series is with Ryan C. Fowler, who is currently Visiting Assistant Professor of Classics at Franklin & Marshall College. Ryan teaches a wide variety of classes, including Ancient Medicine and Ancient Rhetoric and Persuasion. He has written a number of articles and books on Platonism in the early Roman Empire.  Ryan held a residential fellowship at the Center for Hellenic Studies in 2014, was Sunoikisis fellow for curricular development from 2012-2016, and has also taught at Grinnell College and Knox College.  He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from Rutgers University, an M.A. in Classical Greek from Columbia University, and an M.A. in philosophy from San Francisco State University.

How has working in a contingent position affected your work as a teacher? And do you think working in such a position has given you a different perspective on teaching or working at a college or university?

View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 03/06/2020 - 6:23am by Andrew G. Scott.
"Empty Theatre (almost)"by Kevin Jaako, licensed under CC BY 2.0

A Forum on Thornton Wilder's Alcestiad at Fordham University

The Dean's Office of Fordham College at Lincoln Center, the Fordham Theatre Program, and the Fordham Department of Classics will present A Forum on Thornton Wilder’s Alcestiad on March 6, 2020. This June, Fordham Artist-in-Residence and Artistic Director of Magis Theatre Company, George Drance S.J., will stage Thornton Wilder’s Alcestiad at Four Freedoms Park in New York City.  In anticipation of the production, a panel discussion of the script will be held on March 6, 2020 at 6:30pm. The event will be held at the Twelfth Floor Lounge at Fordham Lincoln Center. Panelists will include George Drance, S.J. (Fordham University and Magis Theatre Company), Elizabeth Scharffenberger (Columbia University) and Jerise Fogel (Montclair State University).  Actors from Magis Theatre will also present a few scenes from the upcoming production.  The event is free and open to the public.

View full article. | Posted in Performances on Thu, 03/05/2020 - 1:06pm by Erik Shell.

The 2020 SCS Election Slate and narrative report of the 2019-2020 Nominating Committee are now available on our website. 

Thank you to our Nominating Committee members and to all those who have agreed to stand in summer 2020.

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

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Thu, 03/05/2020 - 9:13am by Helen Cullyer.

As previously announced, Patrice Rankine and Sasha-Mae Eccleston will serve as guest editors of a future issue of TAPA with the theme of race, racism, and Classics (issue 153:1, to appear April 2023). Their detailed call for papers, along with instructions and deadlines for submission, follows.

Race and Racism: Beyond the Spectacular

…the “cultural logic” of lynching enables it to emerge and persist throughout the modern era because its violence “fit” within the broader, national cultural developments. This synchronicity captures why I refer to lynching as “spectacular”: the violence made certain cultural developments and tensions visible for Americans to confront.

Jacqueline Goldsby, A Spectacular Secret: Lynching in American Life and Literature


View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Wed, 03/04/2020 - 9:28am by Helen Cullyer.

The program submission system is now open and accepting proposals.

You can visit the main page at https://program.classicalstudies.org/

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

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Tue, 03/03/2020 - 8:29am by Erik Shell.

Workshop: Socratic eudaimonia and the care for others

An event sponsored by the International Society for Socratic Studies

Verona, April 8-9, 2020

Despite the appearances given by certain texts, the moral psychology of Socrates need not imply selfishness. On the contrary, a close look at passages in Plato and Xenophon (see Plato, Meno 77-78, Protagoras 358, Gorgias 466-468, Euthydemus 278, Lysis 219; Xenophon, Memorabilia 3.9.4-5) suggests that the egoist’s welfare depends upon the welfare of others (i.e. family or friends). Since the welfare of the egoist’s family and friends is part of the egoist’s own eudaimonia, the egoist has a direct and intrinsic motive to promote the welfare of these others.

View full article. | Posted in Conferences, Lectures, and Meetings on Mon, 03/02/2020 - 9:03am by Erik Shell.

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