June 17, 2012

On The Obscurity of Classics

There’s an instructive if depressing article on the termination of the Teresa Sullivan, until very recently the President of University of Virginia, in the Washington Post. Here are couple of snippets:

Leaders of the University of Virginia’s governing board ousted President Teresa Sullivan last week largely because of her unwillingness to consider dramatic program cuts in the face of dwindling resources and for her perceived reluctance to approach the school with the bottom-line mentality of a corporate chief executive.

[...]

The campaign to remove Sullivan began around October, the sources said. The Dragas group coalesced around a consensus that Sullivan was moving too slowly. Besides broad philosophical differences, they had at least one specific quibble: They felt Sullivan lacked the mettle to trim or shut down programs that couldn’t sustain themselves financially, such as obscure academic departments in classics and German. [emphasis added]

David Meadows of rogueclassicism.com had this to say about the “obscure” classics department at the University of Virginia,

Obscure???? They’ve got more than ten faculty there, many of whom seem to be in endowed positions (to say nothing of one member being Director of Undergraduate studies and another being Director of Graduate Studies) … whatever the case, it seems like a messy situation and probably should be a heads up for the Classics department at U-Va and, of course, all of us folks who will be rising to defend it …

Perhaps the best defender of classics at the University of Virginia is its founder Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson wrote this to Joseph Priestley on January 27, 1800.

In my letter of the 18th, I omitted to say anything of the languages as part of our proposed university. It was not that I think, as some do, that they are useless. I am of a very different opinion. I do not think them essential to the obtaining eminent degrees of science; but I think them very useful towards it. I suppose there is a portion of life during which our faculties are ripe enough for this, & for nothing more useful. I think the Greeks & Romans have left us the present models which exist of fine composition, whether we examine them as works of reason, or of style & fancy; and to them we probably owe these characteristics of modern composition. I know of no composition of any other antient people, which merits the least regard as a model for it's matter or style. To all this I add, that to read the Latin & Greek authors in their original, is a sublime luxury; and I deem luxury in science to be at least as justifiable as in architecture, painting, gardening, or the other arts.

Jefferson’s whole letter continues to be worthy of our attention.

This whole thing is a mess and clearly part of a ultimately destructive trend to corporatize our educational system from top to bottom.

Posted by Duane Smith at June 17, 2012 9:58 AM | Read more on Current Events |

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