Trinity College’s Classics Department is in danger of being dissolved and replaced as an interdisciplinary program.
This process involves numerous steps, the first of which is the notification of Department Chair and Associate Professor of Classics Dr. Martha Risser by the Educational Policy Committee (EPC).
The EPC consists of various members of the Trinity Faculty, including the Dean of the Faculty, who serves as the chair but does not vote. There also are six elected tenured members of the faculty on the EPC, who must have been at Trinity for at least five years. These six members serve three-year, staggered terms on the EPC, and none of the members may serve consecutive terms.
There is at least one, but no more than three, representatives from the following departments: the natural sciences, the social sciences and the humanities/arts. The EPC also cannot have more than one member from any one department.
Now that the EPC has delivered a notification of its thoughts to Risser, a series of rigid steps will follow. Risser will first have to present a statement to the EPC, which she says “will vote on whether or not to bring a motion to the faculty, requesting permission to conduct an inquiry into the possibility of discontinuing the Classics Department and organizing an interdisciplinary program in its place.”
If the committee decides to bring a motion to the faculty, they will do so and wait for the faculty to vote. If the motion is approved, the EPC will conduct an inquiry and decide whether or not it is necessary to discontinue the Classics department. If they decide in the affirmative, they will allow the faculty to vote on the motion. If that motion is also passed than the ultimate decision lies with President James F. Jones, Jr.
“The questions concerning the role of a traditional classics department have been around for a great many years,” said Jones, “Several different solutions have been tried: from the Five-College Consortium model in Massachusetts to the IT classics network in the South sponsored by the Mellon Foundation. We here are trying to think of ways to increase the role of classics by extending traditional language (Greek and Latin) and literature offerings to classics studies. Some may wish for days of yesteryear where, at Trinity and elsewhere, Latin and Greek were required. But those days are never going to return, however much we might pine for them. The Dean is trying to think, with senior faculty here, of ways to extend our offerings rather than to have to justify tiny-enrolled courses for a very few.”
Jones also was sure to point out that his opinion was just one of many.
“I should state my own prejudices. I was a student at a military academy in the South where, if one were in the upper form, one had to read all the way through Ovid, Cicero, Livy, and Virgil. If I live long enough, I hope to end my career where I first started it: teaching Caesar, Cicero, Ovid, and Virgil in the morning and coaching soccer in the afternoon.”
The Classics Department was recently looked at by external reviewers who came to Trinity last spring and argued against the replacing of the department with a program. According to Risser, they recommended both of the vacant tenure-track positions be returned to the Classics Department and filled as soon as possible.
Risser also noted that the only NESCAC school without a Classics Department is Bates, where an interdisciplinary program is anchored by three tenured professors who specialize in Greek and Roman literature.
“Some have expressed concern about enrollments,” said Risser, “While it is true that some of our classes (e.g. Advanced Greek) are consistently small, others (e.g. Mythology, Ancient Warfare, Ancient Athletics) are large. Our average enrollments are equivalent to those of other departments.”
When asked about her own thoughts on the possible changes to the Classics Department, Risser expressed her uncertainty of the future.
“I really do not know what will happen, but I hope Classics will always be valued at Trinity. Classics has a long tradition of being an interdisciplinary field in which we examine the societies, cultures, values, laws, arts and ideas that form the core of the world in which we live. Through studying the ancient Greeks and Romans, our students become acquainted with the cultures that are at the very foundation of Modern Western and Middle Eastern civilizations, and gain understanding of the rich classical tradition that is still present in our lives today.”
A group in support of keeping the Classics Department has been created on Facebook by Trinity alumnus James Sickinger ’86, who majored in Classics while at the College. According to the Web site, the group is “intended to serve as a focal point for fostering support for the Classics Department at Trinity College, which is threatened with elimination. It will serve as a forum to provide information and foster communication.” At the time of press, the group had 340 members.
Facebook seems to be blocked where I am right now; I’ll post the site later or, if some intrepid soul has access, please post it in the comments.