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

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

The Overall Health of the Field at Present

One important question that emerged concerns the relationship between the discontents of graduate education and those of the field as a whole. As Lowell Edmunds put it, if the profession is not ill, then presumably there is no reason to contemplate drastic changes in the way we train future classicists; but if it is ill, changing graduate schools will not necessarily solve all our problems.

There was no consensus on the state of the profession's health, or even on how to establish what it might be. Lowell Edmunds and Jim O'Donnell acknowledged the difficulty in getting reliable information about such basic questions as, How many new PhDs are graduated each year? and, How many new jobs are available each year? (For more on this topic, click here.) Lowell Edmunds admitted to a belief that the situation was not good, and that the profession's ill health is attested by widespread reports of declining enrollments, department closings, and so forth. Bernie Frischer on the other hand presented a case that the profession had arguably never been healthier: more work of more varied and interesting kinds was being produced by more classicists than at any other point in human history; and despite the troubled times some departments are experiencing, other departments, including UCLA, have in recent years seen enrollments and numbers of majors boom. Richard Thomas presented further anecdotal evidence of favorable enrollment trends at Harvard, including sizable enrollments in the most traditional kinds of language courses. He attributed these developments to a willingness constantly to reinvent the field, but expressed faith in its basic health.

Joe Farrell commented that there seemed to be two related but clearly distinguishable perspectives on the issue of health: (1) any problems that may exist can be addressed through marketing; classicists should not drastically revise what we do either in training graduate students or in other essential activities, but rather should find ways of boosting enrollments and creating a larger demand for new classics teachers; and we should not let an uninformed, defeatist attitude cause us to underestimate the potential market for classics courses; (2) there are significant intellectual problems in the discipline; classics is an insufficiently active and creative force in the modern academy; while the discipline does produce some dynamic scholars and charismatic teachers, it tends to drive away or to stultify creative minds in larger numbers; and these factors rather than market forces have brought the profession close to a crisis of survival. On the whole, participants seemed to feel that the problem was more one of marketing than of intellectual crisis, although some of the discussion addressed the intersection of these two perspectives. The point of intersection involves the question of how the field of classics develops in the future.