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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“Koinonia” in Plato’s Philosophy

March 8-12, 2021
Pontifical Catholic University of Peru
Lima, Peru

Plato uses the term “Koinonia” in a wide variety of important ways.  It signifies the relation of the forms with each other as well as the relation we can have with them, but also both relations between individual people and between individuals and the community as a whole.  Although this term has been the object of intense scholarly scrutiny, many issues remain to be explored.  We will consider abstracts on any aspect of the subject, including the metaphysical, epistemological, social, and ethical dimensions of koinonia.

Submission guidelines:

1. Please submit titles and abstracts of 500 words (maximum), double-spaced, 12 point type, formatted for anonymous review

2. Name, Paper Title, Affiliation, Postal Address, Email Address included as an attachment in the email to which the abstract is sent

3. Abstracts can be in any of the IPS’s official languages: English, Spanish, German, Italian, French

4. Abstracts Submission Deadline: July 31, 2020.

5. All abstracts must be sent with the subject "IPS Mid-Term Meeting" to the following address: cef@pucp.edu.pe

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Fri, 01/31/2020 - 8:58am by Erik Shell.

On January 5, 2020, the SCS Board of Directors approved a name change for the Minority Scholarship in Classics and Classics Archaeology. The scholarships will now be known as the Frank M. Snowden Jr. Undergraduate Scholarships. The name change was recommended by President-Elect Shelley P. Haley and the SCS Committee on Diversity in the Profession.

The new name honors Frank M. Snowden Jr., the renowned black classicist, chair for many years of the Howard Classics Department, and author of Blacks in Antiquity, which won the Charles J. Goodwin Award of Merit in 1973. Prof. Snowden was also a recipient of the National Humanities Medal and was elected by the SCS (then APA) membership to the position of second Vice President, serving in that role in 1983-84. According to the cursus honorum at the time, Prof. Snowden should have become President in 1986. However, he had to step down owing to poor health, which was a huge loss to the organization and the profession. You can read a full biography of Professor Snowden here.   

View full article. | Posted in Awards and Fellowships on Thu, 01/30/2020 - 9:49am by Helen Cullyer.

The tale of Orpheus and Eurydice has long been a popular myth in music, drama, literature, and film. Anais Mitchell’s recent musical sensation Hadestown (which was workshopped from 2006 and had an off-Broadway debut during the 2017-18 season) is but one example of the reworking of the legendary love story. Although Mitchell’s musical is broadly defined as a folk opera, it is just the latest instance amongst many pop culture reinterpretations of the Orpheus myth across different musical genres. The tragic tale of a famed musician who traveled to the underworld to retrieve his love from the grips of death has inspired several musicians during the 1990s and the 2000s. Many of these retellings have engaged with one of the most important themes of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth: the power of music and art to provide salvation.

View full article. | Posted in on Thu, 01/30/2020 - 9:29am by .

Please see our 2021 Annual Meeting page for a number of calls for abstracts from our affiliated groups, organizers of organizer-refereed panels, the Committee on Ancient and Modern Performance, and the Committee on Translations of Classical Authors.

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(Photo: "Handwritten" by A. Birkan, licensed under CC BY 2.0)

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Mon, 01/27/2020 - 5:45pm by Helen Cullyer.

Call for Abstracts: Greco-Roman Antiquity and White Supremacy

Society for Classical Studies Annual Meeting, Jan 7–10, 2021

Curtis Dozier, director of Pharos: Doing Justice to the Classics (pharosclassics.vassar.edu), invites the submission of abstracts on any aspect of the relationship of Greco-Roman Antiquity and White Supremacy. Selected abstracts will form a proposal for a panel on the topic to be held at the 2021 Society for Classical Studies annual meeting in Chicago, IL (Jan 7–10, 2021). If the SCS Program committee accepts our proposed panel, the Vassar College Department of Greek and Roman Studies will offer panelists who do not have tenured or tenure-track positions a $500 stipend toward the cost of attending the conference. Pharos is also offering a research service for those interested in preparing abstracts but who prefer not to visit White Supremacist websites (on which see below).

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Mon, 01/27/2020 - 11:46am by Erik Shell.

Flavian Sicily: An Academic Conference and Tour of Ancient Sites

Organizers: Antony Augoustakis and Joy Littlewood

Exedra Mediterranean Center
Syracuse, Sicily, 22-27 October 2020

Southern Italy and Sicily (including nearby islands) are featured in Flavian literature, most prominently Silius Italicus’ Punica among others, as places with a rich Greco-Roman history, exceptional fertility, and idyllic landscapes. This conference builds on many recent conferences on Flavian literature and published volumes (e.g., Campania in the Flavian Poetic Imagination, Oxford 2019) and aims to explore the representation and significance of the region in the literature of the period (69-96 CE). The goal of this conference is to bring scholars to Siracusa to discuss these works of literature and visit the sites mentioned and celebrated in our sources. Our conference will take place at the Exedra Mediterranean Center, adjacent to the Piazza Duomo on Ortigia. It will include academic presentations as well as visits to the archeological park and museum and various other sites in the city. We will also enjoy traditional Sicilian hospitality, with group dinners and catered lunches featuring local specialties.  At the conclusion of the conference, an optional tour of relevant sites will include Enna and Piazza Armerina, Agrigento, and Selinunte.

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Mon, 01/27/2020 - 8:39am by Erik Shell.

In addition to presenting the latest research on Greco-Roman antiquity and the ancient Mediterranean, attendees at the SCS annual meeting have increasingly had the opportunity to discuss other important issues such as the history of Classics as a field; systemic concerns and directions for the future; and ways to make the field more accessible to people from a variety of backgrounds and experiences. The SCS has recently also incorporated into the annual meeting lectures by influential artists and writers whose work draws on, adapts, and interprets ancient Greek and Roman texts for the broad public. Luis Alfaro, the Chicano playwright and performance artist, spoke about his adaptations of Greek tragedy during the 2019 annual meeting in San Diego, while this year in Washington, D.C., Madeline Miller, writer of best-selling novels Circe (2018) and Song of Achilles (2012), discussed imaginative takes on Homer’s epics. Their contributions to the field indicate the value in seeking out conversations with those who engage with the Greek and Roman worlds outside the Classics classroom.

View full article. | Posted in on Thu, 01/23/2020 - 11:00pm by .
The Greek Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs is launching a partnership with the Institute for International Education. This is part of a broader effort to boost the extroversion of the Greek education system and Greek universities specifically.
 
The partnership aims at bringing a delegation from selected US institutions to visit Greece for a week at the end of March to meet Greek rectors and visit Greek universities. The purpose of the partnership is to establish contact between US institutions and their Greek counterparts. 
 
More information and the application form can be found at:

View full article. | Posted in Classics in the News on Thu, 01/23/2020 - 2:13pm by Erik Shell.

ROMAN DAILY LIFE IN PETRONIUS AND POMPEII

An NEH Summer Seminar for Pre-Collegiate Teachers (July 13-31, 2020) 

In the summer of 2020 (July 13-31), there will be an NEH Summer Seminar for pre-collegiate teachers (K-12) on the topic of Roman Daily Life. This seminar is an opportunity to read Petronius and graffiti in Latin and look at Pompeian archaeology for various topics of Roman daily life. The Petronius reading forms a central core of the seminar, and thus an intermediate level of Latin proficiency (1 year of college level Latin) is required. The seminar will be held in St. Peter, Minnesota (1 hour from Minneapolis) on the campus of Gustavus Adolphus College. The NEH pays each person $2700 to participate, which will more than cover the living and food expenses (approximately $1500) – each participant is responsible for their own travel expenses. The seminar has been organized by Matthew Panciera (Gustavus Adolphus) and will be co-taught by him, Beth Severy-Hoven (Macalester), Jeremy Hartnett (Wabash), and Rebecca Benefiel (Washington and Lee).

View full article. | Posted in Conferences, Lectures, and Meetings on Thu, 01/23/2020 - 9:57am by Erik Shell.

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) invites applications for the 2020 round of the Public Scholars program, which supports the creation of well-researched nonfiction books in the humanities written for the broad public. The program welcomes projects in all areas of the humanities, regardless of geographic or chronological focus. The resulting books might present a narrative history, tell the stories of important individuals, analyze significant texts, provide a synthesis of ideas, revive interest in a neglected subject, or examine the latest thinking on a topic. Books supported by this program must be written in a readily accessible style, must clearly explain specialized terms and concepts, and must frame their topics to have wide appeal. They should also be carefully researched and authoritative, making appropriate use of primary and/or secondary sources and showing appropriate familiarity with relevant existing publications or scholarship. Applications to write books directed primarily to professional scholars are not suitable.

View full article. | Posted in Calls for Papers on Tue, 01/21/2020 - 9:01am by Erik Shell.

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