Response from Graduate Students

The SCS has received a response from a group of graduate students to Professor Joy Connolly’s blog post Working Towards a Just and Inclusive Future for Classics. This repsonse is posted below.

The student authors are anonymous and neither SCS staff nor Officers know their identities. As agreed with the Communications Committee, this piece is not appearing on the SCS blog, since the current policy is not to publish anonymous submissions on the blog. However, the Communications Committee and SCS staff agree that it is important to give students a voice and publish their contributions to debates about the future. The SCS leadership recognizes that there are circumstances under which anonymity can protect younger and more vulnerable members of the profession (see the dialogue following the board statement on ad hominem anonymous attacks), and shares the hope of the students, expressed in their final paragraph, that we can move towards a future where the protection of anonymity will no longer be necessary. 

The SCS office requested just one edit, on placement service data, to the submission. The post has not been otherwise edited or revised.

Working Toward a Just and Inclusive Future for Classics: A Response

by Classicus Proletarius

In her recent blog post on the website of the Society for Classical Studies, “Working Toward a Just and Inclusive Future for Classics,” Prof. Joy Connolly (hereafter C) makes a powerful call to action in the wake of the events that transpired at the recent Annual Meeting of the SCS. We agree that young scholars should be encouraged and rewarded for articulating new and positive visions for the field and for striving to make it more inclusive. Above all, we agree that the Classics community needs to address what Dan-el Padilla Peralta here calls “the collective pathology of a field that lacks the courage to acknowledge its historical and ongoing inability to value scholars from underrepresented groups.” However, as graduate students who have been moved by C’s call to action, we are concerned by the potential outcomes and the limited scope of these proposals.

C’s recommendations concern two groups of the Classics community that are in very different positions: (1) faculty members with tenure, and (2) graduate students, adjuncts, postdocs, lecturers, contingent faculty, and other early-career scholars who are not protected by tenure. While we commend the recommendations directed towards tenured faculty, we are concerned that the suggestions listed under the heading “For departments undertaking searches” would compel graduate students and early-career scholars to express opinions in an environment that does not offer them true freedom of expression. In the course of their employment as teaching assistants and instructors at universities, graduate students lack the protections to question the ethics of teaching undergraduate courses in Classics that promote, in the words of the SCS Board of Directors, “a view of the Classical world as the unique inheritance of a falsely-imagined and narrowly-conceived western civilization.” We must use the course descriptions, syllabi, and textbooks that we are given and often have little say in shaping the narratives we are asked to impart to undergraduates. To pose a strenuous objection to these narratives on ethical or political grounds risks both our job security as graduate instructors and our reputation in the context of an ever-shrinking academic job market (more on this below). This is a worrying prospect for all graduate students and early-career scholars, but it is most troubling for those who have been historically marginalized and who are attempting to develop new narratives and extended political awareness within the field. It is neither just nor realistic to compel applicants and employees to express political positions in an environment that has never offered them institutional protection to do so.

There are also material obstacles that must be overcome in order to achieve a just and inclusive future. The participation statistics from the AIA/SCS’s placement service tell a straightforward but brutal story: while the number of jobs listed has decreased only slightly between 2003 and 2018 (the total number of postings declined by 12.7%), the number of participants in the placement service grew steadily, increasing by 58.1% from 370 applicants in 2003-2004 to 585 in 2017-2018. Furthermore, there has been a steep increase in the number of contingent faculty positions over the last fifteen years. The percentage of tenured or tenure-track jobs out of the total number of jobs posted dropped from 59.6% in 2003 to 36% in 2018. Whereas roughly one in four participants in the placement service could get a tenured or tenure-track job in 2003, less than one in ten could land such a job in 2018. While we understand that the number of people enrolled in the SCS/AIA placement service is not necessarily a direct reflection of the number of applicants, the overall trend is discouraging. Although the statistical realities of the academic job market are rarely addressed in a direct and public way, they pose a fundamental challenge to any efforts to make the field more inclusive, especially given that many graduate students make large personal and financial sacrifices in order to pursue advanced degrees in Classics. And while choosing to pursue a job outside of academia is nothing to be ashamed of, most PhD students in Classics are given no guidance about how to navigate the non-academic job market. If the hiring rate for newly-credentialed K-12 teachers fell to less than 10 percent, it is hard to imagine that this would not be regarded as a major crisis that warranted immediate political action and structural reform.

The numbers speak for themselves: the chances of gaining stable employment as a tenure-track professor in Classics or an affiliated department has gone from bad to abysmal over the last several decades, and there is no indication that this will change in the near future. Meanwhile, contingent and temporary academic positions relegate many highly qualified scholars with PhDs to the ranks of what has been called the academic precariat, as the university moves toward a model inspired in part by the “gig economy.” This is, of course, part of a much wider problem in humanities departments and academia as a whole, and we are well aware that this problem begins with the university administration and not with the academic faculty. Yet we also believe that this problem demands a response from tenured faculty: the only people with the institutional protection to advocate for real change through political action.

Without the prospect of an economically stable future, we fear that none but the most privileged students will feel encouraged to join and advance in the field. This exclusion will disproportionately affect groups who are already underrepresented in the Classics community.  We worry that under these conditions, it will be ethically problematic to encourage students without independent wealth or an economic safety net to join the Classics community. As Carmen Machado wrote in a powerful reflection on adjunct teaching: “I want teaching to be a career, something that I can afford to keep doing. The irony of this setup has not escaped me: the adjuncts who teach well despite the low pay and the lack of professional support may inspire in their students a similar passion—prompting them to be financially taken advantage of in turn. It strikes me as a grim perversion of the power of teaching. A key lesson in higher education is that few things matter more than good questions—and, if we don’t speak up, students will never know what to ask.”

We are aware that this is a multifaceted problem that will require continued discussion from all members of the Classics community, which means including graduate students and contingent faculty. We end this response with a set of actionable proposals that we believe address some of the institutional and material realities that underpin discrimination and inequality. We propose that the 2020 Annual Meeting of the SCS hosts an action-focused meeting that addresses the issues we have raised above and creates a collective bargaining body, such as a faculty union, that seeks membership, negotiates with university administrations, and works toward the following goals:

  1. Change the name of the field and advocate for the study of ancient Mediterranean languages, history, and culture within the humanities without invoking an oversimplified and problematic notion of “Western Civilization.”
  2. Secure funds for undergraduate scholarships for students from underrepresented groups, including students of color, first-generation college students, and students from low-income families.
  3. Institute a form of affirmative action directed toward populations that are most underrepresented in the faculty and grad student body.
  4. Join the SEIU Faculty Forward Movement and work with the AAUP in order to advocate for a living wage for all professors and contingent faculty.
  5. Support graduate student unions and advocate for a living wage for all graduate student workers. This should include health insurance for graduate student workers and their families.
  6. Obtain paid maternity and paternity leave for all university employees.
  7. Encourage a reasonable retirement age for professors (i.e., 65).
  8. Establish university-wide general education requirements for undergraduates that include the study of the humanities and the humanistic social sciences, including literature, philosophy, history, art, and archaeology.

Finally, we want to address the anonymity of this statement. We are aware of the SCS’ recent board statement condemning “anonymous online attacks,” as well as the response defending anonymous speech as a valid method of communication in an environment characterized by stark imbalances of power. We believe that anonymity has allowed us to express ourselves more freely than would otherwise be possible. We hope that the Classics community can move toward a future where the protections of anonymity will no longer be necessary in order for all community members to engage in productive debates about the discipline.


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In his history of the long and costly war between Athens and Sparta, the historian Thucydides explained that he had written his narrative to be “a possession for all time” and to be of assistance to those of future generations “who want to see things clearly as they were and, given human nature, as they will one day be again, more or less."1 Thucydides was a shrewd observer and analyst of human behavior, and his work has frequently been cited in times of crisis by those who see patterns in history.  At the famous ceremony dedicating the battlefield cemetery at Gettysburg in 1863 at which Lincoln also spoke, former Secretary of State Edward Everett delivered a eulogy

View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 04/03/2020 - 8:10am by .

As we all contend with the unprecedented challenges presented by the COVID-19 Coronavirus, I want to start by highlighting a gratifying fact: the indispensable expert and voice of reason, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, majored in Classics as an undergraduate at Holy Cross!  This is a timely and inspiring reminder that Classics majors go on to distinguish themselves in many different careers and to perform many kinds of vital service.

I also want to emphasize that, despite the ongoing crisis, the SCS is fully up-and-running. Our three fulltime staff members, Helen Cullyer, Cherane Ali, and Erik Shell, have made a seamless transition to working remotely, thanks to careful advance planning on their part. They are maintaining regular business hours even as they work remotely, and are available to help our members however they can.

View full article. | Posted in Presidential Letters on Sun, 03/29/2020 - 2:22pm by Helen Cullyer.

­­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. 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. In this post we focus on projects that bring creativity and science into the Classics classrooms of secondary schools from California to Louisiana, New Jersey, and New York.

View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 03/27/2020 - 6:25am by .

The SCS Board of Directors has endorsed a statement by the American Sociological Association on faculty review and reappointment during COVID-19.

Read the statement and full list of signatories at this link

https://www.asanet.org/news-events/asa-news/asa-statement-regarding-faculty-review-and-reappointment-processes-during-covid-19-crisis

View full article. | Posted in Public Statements on Mon, 03/23/2020 - 4:26pm by Helen Cullyer.

As the pandemic known as COVID-19 grips the globe, thousands of instructors in the United States and elsewhere have been asked to transition their courses online for the remainder of the semester. To some instructors, such as the superb Classics professors at the Open University, distance learning has become a normalized pedagogy. To many others facing teaching online: this is uncharted territory.

View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 03/20/2020 - 8:43am by Sarah E. Bond.

Please see the following on access to digital resources during COVID-19:

1. The digital Classical Loeb Library recently announced that it is making its subscription free to all schools and universities affected by COVID-19 until June 30, 2020. Librarians should email loebclassics_sales@harvard.edu for more details. In addition, SCS members can access the library for free until June 30, 2020 via the For Members Only page of our website. Log on to https://classicalstudies.org and access the For Members only page via our Membership menu. 

2. Johns Hopkins University Press and a number of publishers that contribute content to Project Muse are making books and journals freely accessible for several months. JHUP journals include AJP, TAPA, and CW. 

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Thu, 03/19/2020 - 9:03am by Helen Cullyer.

Results and materials from the Classics tuning project we've mentioned in prior newsletters are now available publicly. See the below press release from the project's authors for full details:

THE ACM CLASSICS TUNING PROJECT: REPOSITORY OF MATERIALS

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Wed, 03/18/2020 - 11:02am by Erik Shell.

We're proud to announce the digital publication of "Careers for Classicists: Undergraduate Edition." This work is a completely new version of our previous "Careers for Classicists" pamphlet, providing the latest insights on how undergraduate classics majors can best prepare for jobs in a variety of fields.

You can read this newest publication in our online book format here: https://classicalstudies.org/careers-classicists-undergraduate-edition

We'd like to thank Adriana Brook, Eric Dugdale, and John Gruber-Miller for doing so much work in putting this volume together. The print version of "Careers" will be available in a few months, and will be one of several benefit choices for departmental membership.

And, in case you missed it, you can read the Graduate Student version of this publication here: https://classicalstudies.org/careers-classicists-graduate-student-edition

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Mon, 03/16/2020 - 12:51pm by Erik Shell.
We realize that this is a time of unprecedented turmoil, disruption, and challenge in all our personal and professional lives. SCS is delaying deadlines for 2021 annual meeting program submission in the hope that some extra time will be helpful to anyone planning to submit. The new deadlines are:
 
- April 21 (by 11.59pm EDT) for all submissions other than individual abstracts and lightning talks
- April 28 (by 11.59pm EDT) for all individual abstracts and lightning talks
 
As circumstances change, we will continue to adapt. While it is too early to say what effect COVID-19 will have on our annual meeting in January 2021, we will adjust as necessary and provide an annual meeting in some form. 
 
View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Sun, 03/15/2020 - 4:26pm by Helen Cullyer.

Here is a modest aggregation of some helpful links and resources that link out to other resources. Thanks to all who have shared their wisdom online:

https://classicalstudies.org/about/so-you-have-teach-online-now

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Sun, 03/15/2020 - 9:51am by Helen Cullyer.

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