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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Welcoming New Board Members

In consultation with the Graduate Student Committee and Committee on Contingent Faculty, the SCS Board of Directors has approved two new appointed board positions, with voice but without vote, for a graduate student and contingent faculty member-at-large. These appointments will become effective in January 2021. It is intended that these two seats will become elected positions with full voting rights, but this will most likely require changes to the method of SCS elections, which will in itself require a member vote for approval. 

We welcome, as the initial appointees, Del Maticic (co-chair of the Graduate Student Committee) and Chiara Sulprizio (junior co-chair and incoming chair of the Contingent Faculty Committee) to the board in 2021. Del and Chiara will join the following elected officers and directors, who will also begin their terms in January 2021: Kathryn Gutzwiller (Vice President for Publications and Research); Jinyu Liu (director-at-large); Dan-el Padilla Peralta (director-at-large); Matthew Santirocco (President-Elect); and Ruth Scodel (Vice President for Professional Matters).

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Wed, 10/07/2020 - 10:50am by Erik Shell.

The Ph.D./ M.A. Program in Classics at the Graduate Center, CUNY is pleased to announce our upcoming virtual conference, 'Honor and Shame in Classical Antiquity', to be held on Friday, October 23 from 9:30 AM- 7 PM (EST) via Zoom webinar. This conference includes three graduate student panels (Embodiment and Performance, Greek Poetics, and Rhetorical Deployment). Our keynote speaker is Professor Margaret Graver (Dartmouth College); her presentation will be "The Eyes of the Other: Honor and Epistemology in Plato and the Early Stoics." A full schedule and further information are available online at https://opencuny.org/classicsconference2020/

View full article. | Posted in Conferences, Lectures, and Meetings on Tue, 10/06/2020 - 1:51pm by Erik Shell.

CALL FOR CHAPTERS

Pseudo-Oppian’s Cynegetica ­­– On the Hunt for Ethics and Poetics

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Tue, 10/06/2020 - 8:41am by Erik Shell.

Netflix’s new Paralympic documentary, Rising Phoenix (written and directed by Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui), was released in August 2020. As with many Netflix docu-films, Phoenix uses interviews with various athletes and members of the Paralympic Committee to follow the history of the Paralympics. These interviews are intermixed with old footage from the sport events themselves as well as the the use of statues in the style of those granted to ancient Olympians and athletes. Focusing mainly on the games in Beijing, London, and Rio, Rising Phoenix tells the story not only of prominent athletes - Matt  Stutzman, Tatyana McFadden, Ellie Cole, Bebe Vio, Jonnie Peacock, Jean-Baptiste Alaize, Cui Zhe, Ryley Batt, and Ntando Mahlangu to name just a few - but also narrates the history of their disability along with their discovery of sport. In order to do so, Rising Phoenix draws on the imagery of classical statues in order to create a new perspective on disability in the modern world.

View full article. | Posted in on Mon, 10/05/2020 - 8:01am by .

10/4/2020

The SCS board of directors has endorsed a statement issued by the Middle East Studies Association on a proposed rule by DHS that would limit the duration of student visas. The proposed rule, if adopted, would mark the most sweeping change to student visa rules in decades. You can read the statement here:

https://mesana.org/advocacy/task-force-on-civil-and-human-rights/2020/09...

View full article. | Posted in Public Statements on Sun, 10/04/2020 - 8:52pm by Helen Cullyer.

Modern’ Women of the Past? Unearthing Gender and Antiquity

Online conference, March 2021.

Call for Papers

The AAIA, CCANESA, AWAWS, CCWM and the University of Sydney Departments of Archaeology and Classics & Ancient History warmly invite abstracts for our forthcoming conference on the reception of ancient women, to be held over 5-6 March 2021, ahead of International Women's Day, 8 March 2021.

Despite restrictions on their autonomy from the (mostly) patriarchal societies in which they lived, women of the past were astronomers, chemists, warriors, politicians, philosophers, and medical practitioners (to mention just a few examples). Women strove to understand the world around them, and through their observations and innovations, they demonstrated that gender provides no barrier to participating and excelling in a full range of human endeavours.

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Fri, 10/02/2020 - 10:43am by Erik Shell.

LETRA Seminario di traduzione letteraria (LaborLETT, CeASUm)

https://r1.unitn.it/laborlet/letra/

International conference

Translations of Aristotle’s Poetics ever since the XVI Century and the Forging of European Poetics

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Mon, 09/28/2020 - 1:19pm by Erik Shell.

Resident Fellowship - Center for Ballet and the Arts

The Resident Fellowship is our core offering for scholars and artists of all disciplines to develop projects that expand the way we think about the history, practice, and performance of dance. Past fellows have come from wide-ranging disciplines such as history, design, philosophy, visual arts, and more. Fellows are not required to be experts in ballet or dance, but must have an interest in engaging with the art.

The fellowship provides space, a stipend, and the time to pursue rigorous work. Fellows also gain new colleagues and a broad community of scholars and artists, two communities that do not often meet.

Fellowship timing and duration depend on individual fellow needs and project scopes. Prior residencies have run between four and sixteen weeks. The residency must occur during NYU’s academic year (September 2021 – May 2022).

Application Materials

Applications will be open from September 15, 2020 at 9:00am EST – November 2, 2020 at 9:00am EST

Click here for the application questions as they will appear on the platform.

View full article. | Posted in Awards and Fellowships on Mon, 09/28/2020 - 1:17pm by Erik Shell.

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.

View full article. | Posted in on Mon, 09/28/2020 - 8:20am by .

Now and Then: (In)equity and Marginalization in Ancient Mediterranean Studies

March 12th and 13th, 2021 (via Zoom)

The First Biennial Bryn Mawr College SPEAC Conference for Undergraduate and Graduate Research

Deadline for submission: December 1st, 2020

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Thu, 09/24/2020 - 12:24pm by Erik Shell.

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