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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Congratulations to the three winners of the 2020 Charles J. Goodwin Award of Merit. The award recognizes outstanding achievement in classical scholarship. You can read the full award citations by clicking on the names of the winners below:

Paul J. Kosmin

Kelly Shannon-Henderson

Steven D. Smith

Paul J. Kosmin, Time and its Adversaries in the Seleucid Empire (Harvard University Press, 2018)

View full article. | Posted in Awards and Fellowships on Wed, 09/09/2020 - 12:02pm by Helen Cullyer.

Unattainable wishes for the present or past may be entirely reasonable.

– Smyth’s Greek Grammar, “Wishes” §2156.5

Picture the heroine in the sand, wind-lashed and desperate, cursing the hero who left her behind. She’s Medea, she’s Ariadne, she’s Dido. Each of the three make a similar wish:

 

If only that ship had never reached my shores

If only that ship had never sailed

If only that ship had never even been built.

View full article. | Posted in on Mon, 09/07/2020 - 10:40am by Hilary Lehmann.

Call for Application and Nominations for Editor of TAPA (2022-2025)

The current TAPA Editor Andromache Karanika will end her term of service with volume 151 (2021). Therefore, we are now opening a search for the next TAPA Editor, to cover volumes 152-155 (2022-2025), and inviting applications and nominations for the position.

TAPA is the only journal published by the Society for Classical Studies. Though founded as a philological journal, TAPA is now expected to reflect a broad spectrum of topics, sub-fields, and theoretical and methodological approaches within Greek and Roman Studies.

Qualifications:

The Editor must be a member in good standing of the SCS.

Candidates should have some experience and understanding of the journal publication process, but prior journal editing experience is not necessary.

Responsibilities:

View full article. | Posted in General Announcements on Tue, 09/01/2020 - 12:00pm by Erik Shell.

The Classics program at Austin Peay State University is pleased to invite submissions for the fifth volume of Philomathes: An Online Journal of Undergraduate Research in Classics.  This refereed on-line journal publishes original research projects carried out by undergraduate students in any area of Classics.  Submissions are welcome from current undergraduates and those who have recently completed their undergraduate education (within one year of graduation).  The deadline for submissions for the next issue is Monday, November 16, 2020 with an online publication date scheduled for May 2020. 

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Tue, 09/01/2020 - 7:48am 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.

How can we continue to encourage engagement with the ancient world as many transition to an online existence? Three Classics Everywhere projects have found creative and innovative ways to continue their work through the obstacles the COVID-19 pandemic has produced: a feminist adaptation of the Odyssey in the form of a chamber opera; an after-school Latin program in New York City’s Morningside Heights; and the launch of a new site and social media campaign aimed to inspire passion for ancient studies.

View full article. | Posted in on Mon, 08/31/2020 - 4:07pm by .

America and the Classical Past: Trends in Greco-Roman Reception

September 11, 2020, 11 am to 5:30 pm EST

 

View full article. | Posted in Conferences, Lectures, and Meetings on Thu, 08/20/2020 - 5:19pm by Erik Shell.

William Robert Nethercut, 84, passed away on August 14, 2020. He was born to the late Robert and Constance Nethercut in Rockford, Illinois on January 11, 1936. At the time of his death, William was Professor of Classics at the University of Texas at Austin, a position he held since 1975. Before coming to UT, he taught at Columbia University as Instructor, then Assistant Professor of Classics from 1961-1967 and at the University of Georgia as Associate Professor of Classics from 1967-1972, then Professor of Classics from 1972-1975. William earned his AB magna cum laude in Greek from Harvard in 1958 and his PhD from Columbia in 1963, writing a dissertation on the Roman poet Propertius.

View full article. | Posted in on Mon, 08/17/2020 - 7:17am by .

Classical Memories Modern Identities Series

Editors, Richard Armstrong and Paul Allen Miller

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Mon, 08/10/2020 - 1:34pm by Erik Shell.

Residential Fellowships 2021-22

Call for Applications

The National Humanities Center invites applications for academic-year or one-semester residential fellowships. Mid-career, senior, and emerging scholars with a strong record of peer-reviewed work from all areas of the humanities are encouraged to apply.

Scholars from all parts of the globe are eligible; stipends and travel expenses are provided. Fellowship applicants must have a PhD or equivalent scholarly credentials. Fellowships are supported by the Center’s own endowment, private foundation grants, contributions from alumni and friends, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Located in the vibrant Research Triangle region of North Carolina, the Center affords access to the rich cultural and intellectual communities supported by the area’s research institutes, universities, and dynamic arts scene. Fellows enjoy private studies, in-house dining, and superb library services that deliver all research materials.

Applications are due by 11:59 p.m. ET, October 8, 2020. For more information and to apply, please visit the link below.

View full article. | Posted in Awards and Fellowships on Mon, 08/10/2020 - 1:24pm by Erik Shell.

In support of racial justice, the SCS Executive Committee has approved donations to the National Bailout Collective and African American Policy Forum. Many thanks to SCS members who suggested these organizations. The SCS Executive Committee has also approved a donation to the William Sanders Scarborough Fellowship Fund of the American School of Classical Studies in Athens.

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Tue, 08/04/2020 - 11:35am by Helen Cullyer.

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