Graduate Education in Classics: A Continuing Conversation....

Classics as a Way of Life: Acculturating the Aspiring Classicist

March 18, 1995
University of Pennsylvania


Opening Statement of Matthew Santirocco, NYU (summary)

Matthew Santirocco identified four aspects of acculturaton or socialization that are being discussed not just in the field of classics, but across the academy. He called these the intellectual, pedagogical, communitarian, and professional aspects. He offered brief illustrations of each. Intellectual acculturation is the process of becoming by learning the ways of a specific discipline. One particular vehicle for this sort of acculturation is the graduate proseminar. Pedagogical acculturation is ideally an important part of intellectual acculturation. The relationship between the two needs to be stressed and fostered, especially as graduate students begin to teach classe of their own. Acculturation into the academic community involves making aspiring professionals aware of the place that their research and teaching activities fit into and shape projects that involve many different parts of their own and other institutions. One area in which communitarian activity is important is in the design of core curricula or similar initiatives that extend beyond, but should still involve, the research and teaching missions of an individual discipline. Finally, students need to be made aware of what constitutes professional behavior in other areas. Examples were cited (without names) of inapproriate complaints filed with the APA Committee on Professional Matters by recent PhDs who had not been made aware as graduate students of what behavior would expected of them as professionals or of what behavior they had a right to expect from others in matters involving job searches, paper submissions, et alia.

Opening Statement of Susan G. Cole, SUNY Buffalo (summary)

Susan Cole spoke to the issue of the graduate student life and how it has changed over the years, and the fear that "the survival of our profession depends on circumstances beyondour control." Her main point was that, while the process of "acculturation" implies an unequal relationship between two groups, one of which needs to be reformed on the model of the other, graduate students in the past enjoyed a culture of their own that sustained them during their arduous professional training; but the social conditions under which today's graduate students work has changed for the worse, and appears likely to worsen still. She contrasted the situation of the sixties particularly at large, public universities, where programs and funding were large and plentiful enough to allow graduate students to feel not unduly deprived and to enjoy a rich intellectual and social life among themselves. This situation was an important counterbalance to the relatively authoritarian style of the many immigrant professors then to be found in many American departments. The straitened circumstances of the contemporary academy have put more pressure on graduate students and inhibited the formation of sustaining communities; it is therefore up to the faculty to do more than their predecessors to create supportive environments. Models can be found in teaching cooperatives, in mentoring models that share responsibility among several professors instead of concentrating authority in the person of the thesis director, and in helping students to develop professional survival skills such as networking. She also spoke more specifically to the issues of curricular design and, especially, to the experience that her own department had in redesigning its proseminar, which has gone from being a series of introductory lectures on various subdiscipines to being more issues- and discussion-oriented. For example, the reading list now includes the APA's statement on professional ethics and responsibility. She expressed an interest in discussing these matters further with individuals or groups and in hearing about the experience of others.

Opening Statement of Judith P. Hallett, University of Maryland (summary; a full text is also available)

Judy Hallett discussed the nature of the relationship between teachers and students. She proposed a model of "parenting" both for its connotations of nurturing and cooperation and to make the point that sexual relationships between teachers and students are inappropriate and unprofessional. Like Susan Cole, she stressed the idea that mentoring graduate students and postdoctoral students should not be the job of a single, authoritarian figure, the thesis director, but should involve others, possibly even in routine formal arrangements extending beyond the walls of any single institution. She noted that most graduate students will not find employment at institutions like the one that granted their degrees, and that working relationships with faculty at other types of institutions would prove beneficial to their professional development. They should also be encouraged to develop the habit of developing these relationships on their own. In general, she advocated taking a more deliberate approach to introducing graduate students to the various dimensions of professional activity, and not simply reducing graduate education to a process of transferring research skills.

General Open Discussion (summary)

Several people expressed discomfort with the notion of the "great man" who anchored a department, directed many dissertations, and seemed to control virtually all aspects of their students' lives. It was generally agreed that the temperament of most faculty today is much less authoritarian; also that less general ageeement about what constitutes "classics" as a discipline or field has rendered the traditional proseminar something of a problem. It was noted that Penn's version of this course, normally taught by G. N. Knauer until his retirement, had not been taught since, but had not been replaced by anything, either, and both students and faculty had begun to feel the need for an updated course that would introduce incoming students to the profession.

Matthew Santirocco noted that several metaphors for the teacher/student relationship had been proposed, including mentoring, parenting, sisterhood, and communitarian models. He suggested exploring some of their implications. Bridget Murnaghan expressed approval of the idea that the relationship should involve both nurturing and advocacy on the part of the teacher toward the student, but expressed discomfort with the "parenting" metaphor, partly on the grounds that college and graduate school already seem artificially to prolong adolescence beyond reasonable limits. Kurt Raaflaub expressed sympathy with an expanded notion of what programs should do to introduce students to their discipline beyond inculcating research skills, but found in some of the previous discussion too much emphasis on the issue of sexual harrassment. Irad Malkin opined that this is an issue about which American academics are too sensitive; Israel, where he works, and in Europe, where many of his colleagues were trained, it is taken for granted that students and teachers will form romantic attachments, and in such an atmosphere few problems occur.

Matthew Santirocco voiced concern over Susan Cole's idea that "the survival of our profession depends on circumstances beyond our control"; but he offered some evidence to illustrate the problems that universities face. In terms of resource allocation, he said, the typical university's portfolio of businesses (in order of the sizeof its investment in each), (1) health care delivery (2) real estate management (3) operation of parking facilities (4) athletics, etc. Undergraduate education comes in at #29! These observations led to some hand-wringing over the defensive posture in which universities today typically find themselves. Kurt Raaflaub brought this thread of the discussion back to the main theme by observing that programs have a responsibility to make sure that graduate students understand these pressures and the effect they have now and are likely to have in the future on the way professors do their work. He mentioned some strategies tried at Brown, such as informal lunches at which a faculty member would discuss his or her work with the students and try to explain why they did what they did, the choices they had made in their careers, the contribution they hoped thay were making by their work, and so on. He also noted that more attention must be paid to the postgraduate years, when young faculty need time to continue developing their research and pedagogical skills, to become acclimated to a new collegeor university, and so forth. Not only are these years important for these reasons, but it has to be recognized that professional development does not end with the conferral of the PhD.

The end of conversation turned to measures that organizations like the APA might take to help these discussions move towards concrete recommendations and implementations. Some of the advantages and disadvantages of APA involvement were discussed. Several participants felt that the new five-year colloquium format might prove useful for carrying out this work. Members of the Committee on Professional Matters and the Education Committee suggested that these entities ought to be proactively involved in addressing many of the questions raised by the day's discussion. Some participants worried about the dfficulty of attempting to reach a productive outcome under APA auspices.

The meeting was adjourned.