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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CFP: "Transitions of Power" for SAGE Business Cases

The Ancient Leadership collection within SAGE Business Cases explores leadership in Classical history, mythology, philosophy, and material culture in a way that is engaging and useful for business students and instructors at the undergraduate and graduate level. This project is a chance for those of us who work in the ancient world to experiment with a very mainstream method of leadership pedagogy and hopefully to teach a wider audience about the central importance of the humanities for leadership study and training. We expect that each of the case studies will illustrate the ways in which the humanities makes important–if not unique–contributions to the study of leadership and the training of leaders:

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Thu, 01/16/2020 - 10:19am by Erik Shell.

The Theory and Practice of Cosmic Ascent: Comparative and Interdisciplinary Approaches

Trinity College, Dublin
19-20 June, 2020

Conference Sponsors: Trinity College Department of Classics, and The Centre for the Study of the Platonic Tradition, Trinity College, Dublin

Conference Organisers: Professor John Dillon (Emeritus, Trinity College, Dublin) and Nicholas Banner (Trinity College, Dublin) 

Date:  19-20 June, 2020
Submission Deadline:  13 March, 2020
Confirmation Date:  01 April, 2020

One of the most striking tropes in the history of western thought is the account of cosmic ascent; we find narratives of humans ascending to the stars and beyond in a vast array of sources from among the earliest written accounts of western literature, through antiquity, and up to (at least) the High Middle Ages. From the Hellenistic period onward, Mediterranean religions and philosophies (understood broadly) looked increasingly to a model of human ascent as a primary locus for spiritual achievement; however, the ways in which such ascent was conceptualized vary enormously from tradition to tradition (we might compare e.g. Jewish apocalyptic texts with the ascent-accounts of Platonist philosophers, or Hermetic with Sethian ascent-accounts), and even from thinker to thinker (we might contrast e.g. Plutarch with Plotinus or St Paul with Clement of Alexandria). 

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Tue, 01/14/2020 - 9:31am by Erik Shell.

Call for Papers
Sapiens Ubique Civis VIII – Szeged 2020
PhD Student and Young Scholar Conference on Classics and the Reception of Antiquity
Szeged, Hungary, September 2–4, 2020

The Department of Classical Philology and Neo-Latin Studies, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Szeged, Hungary is pleased to announce its International Conference Sapiens Ubique Civis VIII – Szeged 2020, for PhD Students, Young Scholars, as well as M.A. students aspiring to apply to a PhD program.

The aim of the conference is to bring together an international group of young scholars working in a variety of periods, places, languages, and fields. Papers on a wide range of subjects, including but not limited to the literature, history, philology, philosophy, linguistics and archaeology of Greece and Rome, Byzantinology, Neo-Latin studies, and reception of the classics, as well as papers dealing with theatre studies, comparative literature, contemporary literature, and fine arts related to the Antiquity are welcome.

Lectures: The language of the conference is English. Thematic sessions and plenary lectures will be scheduled. The time limit for each lecture is 20 minutes, followed by discussion. It is not possible to present via Skype.

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Tue, 01/14/2020 - 9:26am by Erik Shell.

Our second interview in the Women in Classics series is with Shelley Haley, Edward North Chair of Classics and Professor of Africana Studies at Hamilton College. This is the second of a two-part interview with Prof. Haley, which picks up at the point when she decided to apply to graduate school to study Classics.

CC: How did you decide to apply to graduate school?  

This was a very turbulent time in American history. I was fed up with the United States of America, absolutely fed up. I remember the conversations we used to have about the women’s movement. This was back in the dark ages. There were three or four white women on my floor in college having a deep discussion, wringing their hands and saying, “But how, how, how are we going to have a family and a career? How?” In my head I was just frustrated. My mother, my grandmother, her mother before her, all of them always had to work, and always had family. It can be done. I think that was my first introduction to black feminism, and to the line that divides it from white feminism. I had had enough.

View full article. | Posted in on Mon, 01/13/2020 - 6:24am by Claire Catenaccio.

Our second interview in the Women in Classics series is with Shelley Haley, Edward North Chair of Classics and Professor of Africana Studies at Hamilton College. She was born in upstate New York and earned her B.A. from Syracuse University in 1972. She received her M.A. in 1975 and her Ph.D. in 1977, both from the University of Michigan. An expert on the figure of Cleopatra, Dr. Haley has discussed the subject on both the BBC and the Learning Channel. Her publications include Fanny Jackson Coppin’s Reminiscences of School Life, and Hints on Teaching (1995) and numerous articles on the role of women in the ancient world and on race in the discipline of Classics.

View full article. | Posted in on Thu, 01/09/2020 - 4:47pm by Claire Catenaccio.
First USA Cicero Awayday
 
Saturday April 18, 2020, 8am-5.45pm
University of Virginia
Gibson Room, First floor Cocke Hall

8:00 am

Light breakfast and coffee in Gibson Room

8:50 - 9:00 am

Welcome and introduction

First session (Chair TBD)

9:00 - 9:45 am

Ben Watson (University of Oklahoma): "A New Commentary on Cicero’s Divinatio in Caecilium"

9:45 - 10:30 am

Gina White (University of Kansas): "Emulation and Moral Development in the De Officiis"

10:30-10:45 am

Coffee

Second session (Chair TBD)

10:45 - 11:30 am

Amanda Wilcox (Williams College): "Cicero on Paternal Authority and the Domus"

11:30 - 12:15 pm

Peter White (University of Chicago): "The Mirage of the Tirocinium Fori"

12:15-1:30 pm

Lunch (in Gibson Room)

Third session (Chair TBD)

1:30 - 2:15 pm

Francesca Martelli (UCLA): "Historical Irony in the Ordination of Cicero Ad familiares 10-12"

2:15 - 3:00 pm

Spencer Cole (University of Minnesota): "Cicero and Populism, Then and Now"

3:00 - 3:45 pm

View full article. | Posted in Conferences, Lectures, and Meetings on Thu, 01/09/2020 - 9:32am by Erik Shell.

“Whose Heritage is it Anyway?”: Local Responses to Cultural Heritage Preservation in the Age of UNESCO

UT Antiquities Action 2020 Annual Symposium
Keynote speaker: Yvonne Therese Holden, Director of Operations, Whitney Plantation

UT Antiquities Action invites the submission of abstracts for its 5th annual symposium, to be held on Saturday, the 4th of April, 2020 at the University of Texas at Austin. 

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Thu, 01/09/2020 - 9:23am by Erik Shell.

Homer in Sicily: An Academic Conference and Tour of Ancient Sites

Exedra Mediterranean Center
Syracuse, Sicily, 12-15 January, 2021
With a post-conference tour of Greek Sicily, 16-18 January

Homeric Thrinacia – our Sicily – is the legendary home of the Cattle of the Sun, the Cyclops, the Laestrygonians, Aeolus, and close neighbor of Skylla and Charybdis. Samuel Butler, in the nineteenth century, memorably theorized that the Odyssey’s author was a young Sicilian woman, glimpsed in the figure of Nausicaa. Otherwise, surprisingly few scholars have explored Sicily’s association with the Homeric epics, the Odyssey in particular. The goal of this conference is to bring scholars from a variety of disciplines to Siracusa to discuss Homer’s epic vision and to visit the archaeological traces of the mythic places and beings of the Odyssey.

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Thu, 01/09/2020 - 9:00am by Erik Shell.
"Empty Theatre (almost)"by Kevin Jaako, licensed under CC BY 2.0

Joan and Mason Brock Theatre, Susan S. Goode Fine and Performing Arts Center, 5817 Wesleyan Drive, Virginia Beach, VA

Fri 2/7/20 7:30pm to 9:30pm

View full article. | Posted in Performances on Thu, 01/09/2020 - 8:30am by Erik Shell.

The SCS Board of Directors has endorsed the following statement developed by the American Anthroplogical Association in collaboration with a number of other societies and associations:

Targeting Cultural Sites is a War Crime

On behalf of more than 50,000 scholars and researchers in the humanities and social sciences, our scholarly and professional societies call upon people throughout the US and, indeed, around the world to remind the President of the United States that targeting cultural sites for military activity is a war crime except under the narrowest of circumstances, and cannot be justified under any circumstances.

View full article. | Posted in Public Statements on Tue, 01/07/2020 - 10:21am by Helen Cullyer.

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