John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and other manifestations of human frailty. Comments welcome. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to jemcintyre@gmail.com, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. Back 2009-2012 at the original site, http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/mcintyre/blog/ and now at www.baltimoresun.com/news/language-blog/.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Michigan State, how could you even think of it?

An urgent e-mail from my daughter says that the provost at Michigan State University, my alma mater, has proposed eliminating the major in classical studies as an economy move. Alice provided this link to a petition opposing the measure, which I have signed and which I commend to your attention.

When I presented my transcript to my advisor in 1973 to get his approval for my graduation, he looked over it with a practiced eye, looked at it again, and looked up at me and said, “You appear to have gotten a liberal education. How did you do that here?”

“I sneaked around,” I told him.

Whether or not you have studied Latin and Greek, the opportunity to pursue classical studies remains an indispensable component of a liberal education, and it was once thought that universities exist to uphold, at least in theory, the values of a liberal education. That the provost of Michigan State should even propose eliminating the major in classics is reprehensible. If the university should approve this measure, it would be a scandal. Perhaps the provost could then submit a proposal to change the name to Michigan State Trade School.

12 comments:

  1. Next it will be the arts.

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  2. I signed the petition; thank you for bringing it to our attention. I was a Classics major at the University of Florida in the mid-80s and my liberal education has served me well.

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  3. Agreed and signed.

    While I wound up a few credits short of an actual classics minor, the Christian Brother, Augustinian, and Jesuit Institutions that were my high school, undergraduate university, and first graduate school saw that I certainly received a liberal education. I do believe that as someone in his early thirties, it is not a stretch to say that I am one of the very few of my generation to have studied both Latin and Greek, and I am richer in mind and spirit for having done so.

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  4. I'm not an apologist (quite the opposite) but it is very bleak to think that there are only a handful of academics out there who have the baseline knowledge required to teach these courses. I can't imagine how difficult it must be to hang onto them in today's day and age.

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  5. John, do you happen to know how many classics majors the university graduated (on average) every year?

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  6. No, I don't know how many majors there are in clasics at MSU, but I'll bet the provost does.

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  7. Indeed "...State Trade School" would be truth in advertizing for many universities today.

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  8. I too have signed the petition, adding a few well-chosen words to the Ostrogoths at MSU. This dilution of the Liberal Arts curriculum is not new: universities have been at it since the 1970s,removing requirements, (We don't want to have to take anything we don't want to take..)adding courses and majors whose academic antecedents reach back at least to the 1960s, (various minority studies, usually taught as propaganda from the perspective of the oppressed victims of the world)vulgar expansion of Schools of Education,( which is nothing less than a grab for $$$$) while the core of the Liberal Arts curriculum is far less vigorous and varied. I wasn't a Classics Major, but I took Latin from 9th grade through Graduate School.(One of the most riveting accounts of Crime Does Not Pay was "Murder at Larinum", which Agatha Christie and P.D.James would have loved.) For students who still value the possibility of a real Liberal Arts education, with a Classical component, there are still some choices. You just have to look for them, and when you actually get your foot (and your tuition check) in the door, demand them. Addendum: I write this watching a replay of a Syracuse University Basketball game. Where is it written you can't be both a scholar and support your local team with equal vigor?)

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  9. With the fading of widespread knowledge of the Greek and Latin Classics, much English literature of past centuries, and literatures of other modern languages, too, are becoming inaccessible to younger generations. Appreciating Milton, for example, depends on a foundation of Latin--not just a basic knowledge of classical mythology, but a detailed knowledge of Greek and Latin literature and some actual competence in the Latin language itself--and he himself is essential to understanding many English poets who followed him. Classics departments would do well to offer crash courses in Greek and Latin for students studying modern literatures, and especially English.

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  10. Perhaps changing the name of Michigan State University back to the original would be appropriate: "Agricultural College of the State of Michigan"

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  11. A College of Agriculture which does a good job of it, is more useful and necessary than a diluted, emasculated Liberal Arts program, which is no program at all.

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  12. It's nice to be able to debate it. During my time at Guilford College, the classics department retired.

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