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

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it!" Does Graduate Education in Classics Need Reform?

Opening Statement by Bernard Frischer, UCLA

I take it that the reason I and the other speakers have been asked to talk today is to be provocative and get some discussion going. That is probably why we've only been allotted 10 minutes: it's hard to imagine how anyone could deal with the vast topic at hand in that amount of time without being, willy nilly, provocative. On the other hand, in trying to frame some remarks this morning, I found myself chafing at the bit and not really want so much to talk today as to listen. I think there are three reasons for this:

* In my department, we have had endless discussions of our grad. program over the past 20 years. We have been through every imaginable cycle of reform, reaction , and staying the course. During my visit home last week for Thanksgiving I was horrified to learn that we're about to enter a new period of debating major reforms--this just three years after the results took effect of a 5-year process of overhauling the graduate program. So, my first reason for balking at speaking today is that I am frankly a little bored by the topic. I have seen too many people spend too much time debating how best to tinker with graduate requirements so as to reach nirvana. Obviously, it is always necessary to keep our requirements in line with our students' needs and abilities, but that is only a minor part of what I think we need to do to keep our field a live and well.

* Secondly, I feel it rather presumptuous of me to jump into a conversation that has been going on with so much energy and with so many participants for a year now. And I especially feel this way because, as I read over the e-mail record of that conversation yesterday, I found it difficult to get my bearings and to follow the flow of the mass of unedited, sometimes undated and unsigned material. I know there has been a lot of deeply probing thought going on, but I have to admit that I have had a hard time putting what I've read into some kind of over- all context. Looking back this morning at the original Gopher document put out by Ralph a year ago, it appears to me that not all the task forces originally envisioned have been set up; or, if they all exist, I haven't seen the documentation of their work. Yet, it seems pretty clear to me that since the proposed committees did pretty much cover the whole topic of analyzing and evaluating graduate education in Classics, it would be premature now for an outsider like me to say that your work to date has or has not made the case for reform. But that is probably not why I have been asked to speak in any case. I take it that those involved in the project hope that by inviting me and today's other speakers, they can achieve two important things for this stage of their work: first, and most important, they can get a sense of whether they should continue the project of reviewing our graduate programs; secondly, they can ideally rope in some new people.

* Finally, like Mettius Fufettius, I feel torn two ways by our topic. Does graduate education in Classics need to be reformed? "It depends," I would like to respond. But in doing so, I know I run the risk of not serving the useful purpose of being provocative and thereby making myself a target at which you can all take potshots. Well, so much for my wishy-washy preface. First, let me tell you why I do not think we are in a state of crisis: my impression (and I don't have the data here with me to prove it) is that our profession's vital signs are strong because:

(1) There is more interesting work is published each year than one scholar can keep up with--certainly those of us who labor under the illusion of the 19th century Totalit<ä>tsideal. In terms of Classical research, we may well be, not in an age of crisis but of gold.

(2) There are more bright students majoring in Classics; Classics majors continue to score the highest of all majors on the GRE; and (despite what one might have feared) the Classics major is especially appealing to the wave of Asian-American students who are more and more in evidence in our colleges and universities. At least, this is clearly the case at UCLA and at Penn.

(3) There are more worthy applicants for grad. programs than can be accepted and supported; and there are more in the pipeline than ever before thanks in part to the creation of the Post-Bac program at Penn and its imminent spread to at least one other school, UCLA.

(4) Average time to degree is getting shorter, though it is still too long.

All four of these bits of evidence indicate to me that our field is continuing to attract and give good training to highly intelligent and motivated students. But, notice that of my four bits of evidence, only two are directly concerned with graduate education. Yet the others are also clearly reflective of the healthy state of graduate education, at least indirectly. They relate to the stages just before and after graduate school, and if they are doing well, then I think it fair to infer that graduate education is, too.

On the other hand, if I consider the whole system of Classics today, from high school to the retirement home in Chapel Hill, then I can certainly imagine a dramatically different way of doing business. In my remaining time I will just throw out a couple of theses for your consideration. I want to note before I do so that what I am really talking about is not so much fixing something that is broken as moving Classics forward to a new, more dominant position in the academic landscape. Doing so will require, I think, at least four things: changes in attitude; perspective; work habits; and intellectual paradigm. I think these are all dialectically related, but I will not have time today even to mention the feedback loops.

Let me talk about attitude first. As I read over the e-mail communications of the last few months, I found the attitudes on the whole rather depressing. They range from those expressing complacency about business-as-usual, to those who seem highly dissatisfied and even angry, and finally to those who seem to be in a state of hand-wringing confusion about whether things are really broke and if so what to do about fixing them. What is absent, it seems to me, is a positive attitude toward the future, a vision of the future as a time when it will be desirable and possible to make Classics one of the central humanistic disciplines. Whatever we may feel about the present, we can, I hope, all agree that faith in the future is something we and must have, if we are to have a future.

Our perspective must be systemic: we should not try to understand the role of graduate education in isolation from the rest of the world of American Classics, from FLES programs to postdoctoral research centers.

Thirdly, we need to be willing to work harder. Professors of Classics should realize that for academic administrators, the allocation of resources is, largely , a numbers game. Divide your school's overall enrollments each year by the number of faculty times the average course load, and if at, say UCLA, you are not teaching 200 students per year, you are a drag on the local economy. If your entire department is averaging 100 enrollments per faculty FTE, then you are surviving on a massive welfare handout. Face this reality and do something about it. Get your enrollments up to 300 per FTE, and you can persuade your Provost to increase your faculty FTE by 50%--as happened at UCLA in the 1980s. Those of you who want to engage in this project of reforming graduate education should, in my opinion, first of all make a personal commitment to doing the most important thing that will improve not only Classics on the graduate level but on all levels: creating more jobs--jobs for high school teachers, TAs, and professors. At UCLA, for example, we not only increased faculty FTE from 10.0 to 15.0 in the 1980s but TA FTE also rose by 300% from 2.5 to 7.5. Needless to say, that did quite a lot to improve our graduate program: we could attract more and better students; and our students could earn their money doing Classics, not flipping hamburgers. If you are going to be allowed to engage in this conversation of improving graduate education, then I think you should be made to give the right answer to the following question: do you, or do you not, agree that the single best thing you can do to improve graduate education in Classics is to create the conditions in which the number of jobs for Classicists is likely to increase, not decrease? Finally, we need to consider development of a new intellectual paradigm for our field. The paradigm I would propose is multi-faceted, involving conceptualization of the field; the social organization of work in the field; and the relationship of the field to its own past.

By conceptualization I mean the kind of thing that Appleby, Jacobsen, and Hunt write about in the last chapter of their new book Telling the Truth About History--a book about an analogous crisis of confidence in the discipline of history. Identifying the roots of their crisis in the same ills that afflict us--relativism and skepticism--they argue for the salvation of their field through what Lynn Hunt calls a new positivism. New Positivism entails the same kind of methodological overtrumping of relativism and skepticism that for a century has made Statistics such a powerful intellectual tool in the natural and social sciences. Elsewhere I have sketched out how such a positivistic hermeneutics might look in our field. I cannot summarize it here, except to say that it is based on a descriptive semiotics of intersubjectivity, but I can at least tell you that many people think that some such reconceptualization might well be possible and desirable, if we are to improve our field's standing within and without the Academy.

Related to this hermeneutics of intersubjectivity, is a reorganization of our mode of work as students, teachers, and researchers. Up to now, we have trained ourselves as isolated individuals--taking tests, teaching courses, and publishing research as Lone Rangers, not as Team Players. This has tended to cause our professional interactions to take the form of competition instead of cooperation, and to make our typical mode quarreling and odium philologicum. I would argue that such forms of interaction have served to discredit Classics in the Academy; and they have stunted our growth, preventing us from bringing the kind of brain power to bear on a problem that is required in the modern world if great breakthroughs are to be achieved. We need to introduce the kinds of collaborative models of education and research found in the natural and social socials. As I just hinted, this would naturally follow adoption of a new paradigm of intersubjective hermeneutics.

Finally, such a reconceptualization of the field would of course mean that before re too long old-hands like ourselves would hardly recognize it any more. This brings me to my last point, which is that we should consider transforming Classics from a cumulative to a non-cumulative discipline. In the end, what keeps a field like ours alive is its ability to recruit large numbers of bright students. They are attracted, I would argue, when a field is vital and creative. Our field does show plenty of signs of vitality, as I said at the beginning. But that vitality is modest compared to what we find in really hot fields such as, say, CS, biotechnology and astrophysics. In those fields, you do not begin by spending years studying the history and techniques of the past before you feel qualified to jump into the latest research. Nor do professors tend to teach subjects totally divorced from their current research. Rather, by the third year in these and many other fields, students are already working (if only tangentially as lab assistants) at the frontiers of knowledge. In Classics, we do not permit ourselves to teach much of what we are actually spending most of our best creative hours thinking about, because we feel we would be somehow cheating our students. Likewise, we do not permit our students to reach the frontiers of knowledge until they arrive near the end of their graduate education. By then, arguably, it is too late. I would suggest that in effect we have created a filter which traps the most creative, restless young minds coming our way and that rigorously removes them from the stream of future Classicists. If we want to keep our field alive and well in the next century in a multicultural world that will no longer, for purely sentimental reasons, tolerate Classics as an academic welfare case, I would suggest that this is a problem we need to address and correct.

To conclude, I realize that much of what I have said will strike you as both not very germane to the concrete issues you have been discussing and as rather "over the top." I don't, however, mind playing the role of provocateur today because of my current research on why Renaissance humanism ended in Italy. This research has shown just how quickly things can change in the Academy, and how fields that do not periodically recreate themselves can find themselves marginalized or even eliminated in short order. For example, in the sixteenth century the University of Bologna boasted a glorious and unbroken chain of Classicists, including Beroaldi, Amasei, Robortelli, and Sigonio. In the early 1590s, the last in this illustrious series was the Portuguese humanist, Tomaso Correa. Correa was a charismatic teacher who attracted so many students that his lectures had to be scheduled in the Aula Magna, or Great Hall, of the law faculty-much to the law professors annoyance. When Correa died in the mid-1590s, he was replaced by Roberto Tizzi. Tizzi was a much less effective teacher, and his classes tended to enroll only a handful of students. When Tizzi moved to Pisa in 1606, the regents of the University tried hard to recruit a northern European superstar to replace him, but they failed. Instead, the one-and-only position of Classicist at Bologna remained unfilled for 13 years, so Classics as such no longer existed, and the field was not to recover its former greatness at Bologna for centuries. A similar story of woe can be told about Classics at Padua, Venice, and Pisa in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

For me, the history of our field in late Renaissance Italy is cautionary: if in Italy, one of the cradles of Classical culture, such a thing could happen during the Renaissance of all times; then it seems to me that *we are not wasting our time* by grappling with the issues raised by our Penn colleagues. To the contrary, we should be grateful to them for forcing us to deal with them while it still see possible to do so in a calm and deliberate way. Thank you.