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 and past annual meeting attendees,

Many thanks to all of you who filled out our recent virtual annual meeting survey. Based on your feedback, AIA and SCS have decided that it would be best to spread a virtual meeting over six days from January 5 -10, 2021. We plan on opening registration on or around October 1, 2020 and will publish registration rates by early September. We have begun work on a schedule and appreciate your patience as we continue to work on the logistics and program.

Helen Cullyer, Executive Director, SCS

Rebecca King, Executive Director, AIA

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Mon, 08/03/2020 - 10:35am by Helen Cullyer.

GREEK LITERARY TOPOGRAPHIES IN THE ROMAN IMPERIAL WORLD

The Pennsylvania State University, 16-18 April 2021

Workshop Organizers:

Anna Peterson, Penn State

Janet Downie, UNC-Chapel Hill

Keynote Speaker:

Jason König, University of St. Andrews

Confirmed Speakers:

Pavlos Avlamis

Artemis Brod

William Hutton

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Fri, 07/31/2020 - 7:27am by Erik Shell.

After many years of offering free language courses to students of popular modern languages such as French, Spanish, Chinese, and German, and to people interested in learning rather more obscure languages such as Esperanto, Klingon, High Valyrian, and Navajo, Duolingo added a Latin course. The course was prepared for Duolingo by the Paideia Institute and was road tested by a group of Duolingo learners before it was made available to the general public. For the past eleven months the Duolingo Latin course has been available for free across all iOS and Android apps as well as on the Duolingo website

View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 07/31/2020 - 7:06am by .

The Department of Latin Literature at the University of Basel, Switzerland, is pleased to invite applications for the second round of the Basel Fellowships in Latin Literature. The Visiting Fellowship programme offers an opportunity for early career researchers as well as established scholars to pursue their research in the framework of a fully funded visit of up to three months at the Department Altertumswissenschaften of the University of Basel. During their stay Visiting Fellows are entitled to make full use of the excellent resources of the University Library as well as the departmental library, Bibliothek Altertumswissenschaften, one of the world’s leading research libraries for the study of Ancient Mediterranean Civilizations and the Classics.

View full article. | Posted in Awards and Fellowships on Fri, 07/31/2020 - 6:29am by Erik Shell.

The National Humanities Alliance has been researching the field of undergraduate humanities recruitment for more than a year now, identifying compelling initiatives, effective strategies, and leaders in the field. The pandemic, severely strained budgets, and the national reckoning with racial injustice are changing the context in which colleges and universities grapple with strategies for recruiting students to the humanities. NHA has invited deans and humanities center directors to talk with them about how this new context affects their efforts to promote the value of studying the humanities to undergraduates. 

The View from the Dean's Office

Tuesday, July 28th, 1:00 pm, EDT

Deans from a range of institutions will share the recruitment strategies they’ve honed and how they intersect with the current moment. 

Panelists:

Jeffrey Cohen, Dean of Humanities, Arizona State University 

Lena Hill, Dean of the College, Washington and Lee University

Debra Moddelmog, Dean, College of Liberal Arts, University of Nevada, Reno 

Moderator: Scott Muir, Project Director, Study the Humanities, National Humanities Alliance

View full article. | Posted in Conferences, Lectures, and Meetings on Mon, 07/27/2020 - 1:16pm by Helen Cullyer.

Identity in Vergil: Ancient Representations, Global Receptions

Symposium Cumanum 2021

June 23-26, Villa Vergiliana, Cuma

Co-Directors: Tedd A. Wimperis (Elon University) and David J. Wright (Fordham University)

Vergil’s poetry has long offered fertile ground for scholars engaging questions of race, ethnicity, and national identity, owing especially to the momentous social changes to which his works respond (Syed 2005; Reed 2007; Fletcher 2014; Giusti 2018; Barchiesi forthcoming). The complexities of identity reflected in his corpus have afforded rich insights into the poems themselves and the era’s political milieu; beyond their Roman context, across the centuries his poetry has been co-opted in both racist and nationalist rhetoric, and, at the same time, inspired dynamic multicultural receptions among its many audiences, from Enoch Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” speech to Gwendolyn Brooks’ The Anniad (e.g. Thomas 2001; Laird 2010; Ronnick 2010; Torlone 2014; Pogorzelski 2016).

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Thu, 07/23/2020 - 12:02pm by Erik Shell.

The new 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. This post centers on two performances of ancient plays that were canceled when the pandemic put a halt to them last March.

View full article. | Posted in on Wed, 07/22/2020 - 12:03pm by .

"The American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) announced today that it will redirect the funding focus of the ACLS Fellowship Program to support early career, non-tenured scholars exclusively."

You can read more about the program here.

View full article. | Posted in Awards and Fellowships on Mon, 07/20/2020 - 1:40pm by Erik Shell.

Fighting racism, or any wicked, wrongheaded, or simply false idea, demands persuasion, person to person. All non-violent activism and efforts at social change depend on rhetoric. It is fashionable now to believe that persuasion—the political kind, anyway—is something of a mirage, that much of our thinking is “motivated,” driven primarily not by argument and evidence but by self-interest, tribal loyalties, enduring personality traits, and demographic facts. Identity comes first; the rationalizations that make us feel that we are correct in our prejudices hobble along after. This is the argument of Ezra Klein, for example, based on many psychological and political science studies, in Why We’re Polarized (2020). The role of rhetoric in this model is not to persuade, but rather to activate and weaponize identities and their powerful latent drives. Politics in this view is best understood not as reasoned civic dialogue but as a high-stakes all-in partisan combat. Persuasion exists, but as a dog tied to the cart of identity group competition—so say the studies.
 

View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 07/17/2020 - 7:19am by Christopher Francese.

Faculty, their administrations, and non-profit organizations, including SCS, around the country are engaging in the necessary work of addressing racism within their institutions. In recognition of this work and in support of it, the Executive Committee of SCS is reiterating the board statement of June 3, 2020:

https://classicalstudies.org/scs-news/statement-police-brutality-systemic-racism-and-death-george-floyd

View full article. | Posted in Public Statements on Mon, 07/13/2020 - 2:30pm by Helen Cullyer.

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