Second Letter to the provost

April 24, 2009

Dear Provost Krauss,

Yesterday I mailed off a physical letter voicing my concerns over the proposed readjustment of the Classics Department. After attending the forum yesterday to hear CARS members discuss what is proposed and to respond to concerns, I felt compelled to write again. At the risk of redundancy, I first want to press home some lingering concerns, specifically ones brought up at the forum and not addressed, or not addressed satisfactorily. Second, I want to voice a concern over the manner in which Dean Jaffe addressed some of the concerns, as well as his demeanor.

The forum members brought to light many convincing arguments and examples in which American Studies and Afro-African American Studies are taught as interdepartmental programs across the country. One of the members was an American Studies professor and it was a convincing display. The same could not be said of Classics. When suggested that this was breaking up a department that functions well together, quite possibly putting it into a department that does not cooperate in the same fashion, the response was that Classics would make them get along. I felt that this flippant response did not address the issue that the move is breaking up a department that functions.

The only response to concerns over external funding reduction based on the status of the Classics Department, and the ability to draw students was: “we considered that.” Such a response does not address the concern, nor does it enlighten the people concerned. Further, the reduction of Classics sends the wrong message to other departments because if Classics is doing everything right and is still in danger, then what does that do for less successful programs.

Lastly on this point, there was a lot of talk about raising the prestige of the recipient departments, but not about the prestige of Classics or of the Humanities at a whole. In my physical letter I outlined a suggestion to make Classics the hub of the Humanities. Would it not be possible to associate many outside faculty and even some new hires with Classics? In this way the Brandeis Classics department could keep the core group of four people, but have a much higher profile through multiple associated faculty. Without changing any course offerings, such a system could associate Professors Visvardi, Kapelle, Levy, Meyer and perhaps a few others.

I did not attend the first forum and was a few minutes late to the one yesterday, so I do not know all of what transpired, but I felt genuinely insulted by the manner in which Dean Jaffe responded to some of the questions about Classics and in particular from the UDR Alex Smith. I felt that he was callous and unresponsive to answering legitimate questions about the department and the current structure, but instead simply offered flippant responses. Perhaps the concerns had been addressed elsewhere, before, or with other people, but as someone who had not been to the first event, I had not heard the answers. For a university that claims such diversity and is proud of its progressive and active student body, I was immensely disappointed to walk away from the meeting feeling that it was nothing more than a sham, a way to placate the students by appearing to listen to their concerns, yet not really offering answers or explanations. If the questions had already been answered sufficiently, then no question would be repeated.

I, and many other alumni, feel that if Brandeis would like to remain a premier Liberal Arts University, it must retain a Classics Department. I understand that times are tough, but at present “The Arts” do not seem to be a priority when it comes to the College of Arts and Sciences. As someone who was quite proud of the education I received in the Humanities, this is a true disappointment.


First letter to Administrative staff

April 21, 2009

Dear Dean Jaffe and whomever else it may concern,

While my experience at Brandeis was a mixed bag, it was largely good; the brightest spot for me was the Classics Department. Most of what I learned at Brandeis stems from that department and to a person I have them to thank, for their efforts, encouragement and support, that I shall be attending graduate school in the same field this coming fall.

Yesterday I learned disturbing news. This department to which I owe so much is on the ropes once more. The last time this occurred I was but a freshman and taking courses based solely on interest; the major came later, but it was possible because the department survived.

What made the Classics Department unique and what fostered such a great atmosphere stems from the professors. As the CARS report states, each of these educators works overtime, teaches a range of subjects and are always available for student support. The department as a whole puts forth so much, with lecture series’, fellowships, events and opportunities for student research to be presented. Overall, these efforts create a community unlike anything else I have seen at Brandeis. Academics are the primary goal, but the department is so much more than just that, which ultimately creates the active, open citizens that Brandeis both desires and prides itself upon.

By and large I agree with the findings of the CARS report, but then the only negative finding is that the structure is imperfect. I shall not proceed along the findings point-by-point, but rather focus on the two that I disagree with. First, it is not irony that prompts the decision to reduce the faculty, but hypocrisy. Second, and stemming directly from the first, three USEMs from four professors is outstanding and nothing I have heard of suggests that other departments do likewise. These professors have put everything they have and then some into making Brandeis a better place and ensuring that the students receive the best education possible.

Further, a high portion of the Classical Studies majors produce senior research theses and the professors in question unerringly support them in their production. Just in my graduating year, 2008, two of the students produced theses, two were Eunice M Lebowitz-Cohen Fellows, two worked in the CLARC research center as fellows and one more ran an independent study in that same artifact collection. Each of these projects, as well as an abandoned thesis was overseen by a faculty member in the Classics Department. As stated in the CARS report,the reward for activity and fostering an air of learning is disbandment and staff reduction.

I do understand that in this time of economic hardship action must be taken, and therefore have come up with an alternative: make the Classics Department the focal point of the humanities at Brandeis. Let this department remain and instead of shipping off the faculty members to other departments, associate other faculty with it. The CARS report suggests expanding Classics as a field; this sounds wonderful, but instead of simply ‘Ancient Studies,’ keep it Classics, but offer a language and literature track, a history track, an art and archeology track, a culture track, et cetera. Let Classics serve as a hub for the other majors, a place where the study of Plato will serve as a literature course, a politics course, and a culture course. By associating other departments with Classics, you will not only fulfill the mission statement of the department itself, but also make it more interdisciplinary and raise the class sizes by making the humanities and some social sciences more closely knit. The converse, a merge and scattering of the faculty virtually ensures that this diverse field will fade away and instead of more Classics majors and students, there will be fewer.

To close, I was honored to be a Eunice M Lebowitz-Cohen fellow of 2007-8. Since having that unique opportunity to research and design a class on a field that I was unable to study at Brandeis, I have wanted nothing more than to return the favor. My goal is to give back to the Brandeis Classics Department in some tangible way, ideally through the creation of a fellowship or lecture series to give interested students a chance to research or learn about a topic they would not otherwise learn of. I may only have begun my life after school, but down the road I would repay the considerable debt I feel towards the department. If the department ceases to exist, I will regretfully be unable to fulfill my goal of giving back to Brandeis Classics, wherein I feel my obligation to the university lies.

Regretfully yours,

CARS Report

Despite a glowing report, the academic review board at Brandeis University has decided that Classics is not important enough to justify a full department, nor enough to keep the faculty level even if divided among other departments. The text of the report follows.

“Classical Studies (Classics) is a vibrant, small department that consists of four full-time faculty members who each teach a variety of courses, including frequent overloads. They offer a wide range of courses in languages, literature, art, archaeology, philosophy, history, religion, and mythology. Classics has developed initiatives with Theater Arts, Fine Arts, Anthropology and other departments.

The prize winning faculty of Classics (all four members of the department have been honored, whether by the profession at large or at Brandeis for teaching) are interdisciplinary at the core, much like NEJS, AMST, and AAAS, but their overarching focus is to, in the words of one of its members, “preserve and study the roots of western civilization.” Unlike those other departments, however, each of the members of the department is interdisciplinary and teaches in several of these different areas. At the last BOT meeting in March a new, revenue-generating MA in Greek and Roman Studies was approved; this will target teachers of Latin and Greek in the Boston area. They already mount a successful outreach program, as well as a certificate program.

Classics offers some courses with high enrollments. They graduate approximately 8 majors per year. They teach over 300 students per year. Thus the small classes are compensated for by some larger ones. They have offered approximately three USEMs per year.

This department satisfies, amply and with distinction, most all of criteria that CARS has sought to apply to its deliberations. Classics contributes to multiple missions, to the undergraduate experience, to the general excellence of the university. Moreover, its discipline is essential to a university of our caliber. Its programs are distinctive and synergistic. However, it is clear to the committee that its organizational structure is not optimal, since a separate department of four is exceedingly small, and some important decisions must be made with committees that are enlarged by the Dean.

We therefore suggest that the Classics faculty, while keeping its excellent majors and minors intact, join another department or departments. Its major would continue to exist, although CARS suggests that it could become an even more broadly conceived program in Classical and Ancient Studies. Although no such move can be perfect, we could imagine them joining, together or individually, NEJS, ROMS, GRALL, Philosophy or Anthropology, or some other
department(s) of their choice. This decision should be made by the members of department in consultation with the Dean and with relevant faculty in other departments. We also recommend
that, over time, the faculty devoted to Classics be reduced from 4 to 3. We believe that their previous, heroic, USEM contribution of 3 courses per year in fact shows that they could continue to mount their distinctive program with one fewer faculty member. The committee recognizes the irony of this reward for a sterling contribution. But with a genuine need to reduce faculty, we are forced to come to this recommendation. We hope this reduction will occur either through
retirement or departure.

– Transform Classics from a department to an interdepartmental program and assign the
faculty to another department or departments
– Admit students to the new MA program
– Consider broadening the major still further with a possible new name such as Classical and Ancient Studies
– Reduce faculty from 4 to 3 over time with carefully managed retirements and departures”

Racial Superiority

Ethnic superiority is a funny thing. Not ha-ha funny, but rather a queer sort of temperament, world view and modus operandi. Many nations and, especially in places where the population is largely heterogeneous, extreme nationalism devolves into ethnic superiority.1 Perhaps this ethnic superiority is most infamous in the case of the German Third Reich, wherein there was a state sanctioned ethnic ideal to the exclusion of all others, and ultimately the Final Solution.

In retrospect, and even to those who saw the horrors first hand, there was no excuse for it and the ethnic superiority in this case (and, as should be noted, in the case of Japan during the same period), resulted in among the greatest evils that humans have ever inflicted upon each other. Yet when viewing Germans, the ethnic superiority is something associated with Hitler, something associated with the Nazi regime. This is misleading.

After reading the Dr. Faustus of Thomas Mann, <Twilight of the Idols and The Antichrist of Friedrich Nietzsche and most of Mein Kampf, plus a number of works on the German Empire created by Bismark through its end under Wilhelm II, I am struck by the overwhelming arrogance, and surety each of these works contains. While evident in the other works, Nietzsche is the most glaring example of this.

I am not going to analyze the philosophy, if for no other reason than I am tired and not properly suited to relate it back to any audience, however Nietzsche is convinced of his own superiority and that of the German Race. I do not imagine that Nietzsche would have liked the Nazis, let alone Hitler, but it would be interesting to think of what he would have said about him since their ideal ethnicity was one and the same, just as Wilhelm and Hitler shared the ideal of a powerful Germany, for which reason Hitler sent flowers to Wilhelm’s funeral.

By and large it is not that these men simply looked down upon other races or actively scorned them, but there is a seemingly natural underlying assumption that Germans were superior; this is not a moralistic judgment that many of the authors care to explain, it is simply so.

1 Not that ethnic superiority cannot create nationalism in heterogeneous areas and what is to follow could be said to be of this sort; my own view is that there is a symbiotic relationship between the two and I chose to start with nationalism because there is an unswerving loyalty that a nation is capable of creating even in ethnically diverse countries.

Gunboat Diplomacy

Gunboat diplomacy is rarely the answer, even to piracy. I am not so naive as to say that asking the pirates nicely to stop would be sufficient, nor do I believe that piracy in the immediate generation is a problem that has peaceful solutions; the ultimate solution is peaceful, the final solution is to raise the economic and social conditions within the countries where piracy is common to sufficient levels wherein piracy is a dangerous and less-than-profitable alternative.

The threat of force is necessary to instill that there is a lethal drawback to piracy, however if conditions in regions of the world that foster piracy and religious fanaticism are not altered, force will be be insufficient. Force in the past was only effective wherein there was an organized aspect to the piracy which stood to suffer significant losses if the threat of force was ignored.

Stephen Decatur Jr
was one of the grand heroes of early American naval history, and rightly so. He was a leading figure in the War of 1812 and later in the Second Barbary War, but is best known for the First Barbary War, in which he was comparatively low rank. Most notable amongst his exploits, Decatur captained the USS Intrepid into the harbor of Tripoli, seized control of the USS Philadelphia, which had previously run aground, captured and subsequently re-floated by the Tripolitans. For fear of a US frigate in the hands of the enemy, Decatur volunteered to fire it, and successfully did so. Admiral Nelson lauded this act as “the most bold and daring act of the age.”

Less well known, but Decatur also led American crews on Neapolitan gunboats into the harbor of Tripoli, while the USS Constitution and other large ships slowly worked their way into the harbor to bombard the citadel. Decatur captured two gunboats and led both out of the harbor during this action, the second with a reduced crew after finding out that a gunboat had pretended to surrender and subsequently killed the captain–Decatur’s brother.

During the Second Barbary War, Decatur simply sailed to the Mediterranean with a powerful squadron to enforce upon the Barbary Powers that the United States would not pay any tribute. William Bainbridge followed up with visits from his own squadron. These visits were not negotiation; Decatur and Bainbridge arrived with overwhelming force and gave the choice between ending piracy and utter destruction. European powers later followed up with their own actions and the grip of North African, State-sponsored piracy largely came to a halt. The reason this worked was two-fold.

First, there was an organized, stationary head to the operation who was the political leader for the region. This provided a target without whom the piracy would collapse into individual operations which would be less deadly, but tougher to root out. Second, with these men who wanted nothing more than to stay in power, fleets capable of destroying them utterly arrived and gave them the choice of death or peace. Self-preservationist as most leaders tend to be, each Barbary power chose peace and piracy ended.

In certain situations Gunboat diplomacy works. Rooting out individual pirate groups is not one of these situations; what is considered here is not diplomacy. The nearest comparison is that this is a police action, whereas diplomacy is between states. Further, any unilateral action taken by the United States or another Western power to smother the piracy would be declared an intrusion into middle east affairs, especially in Yemen and Somalia. In short, the countries that wittingly or unwittingly harbor pirates must be convinced, trained and supported in destroying piracy, especially in situations where it is another facet of organized crime. This is both economic and military, and where asked for military aid, it should be provided, but not before. The common denominator is that military power and threat to livelihood is necessary to end piracy, but without fundamental changes to head off the supply of rank-and-file pirates, nothing will change. There needs to be suitable alternative and suitable disincentive if the problem is to be addressed.

The Common Sense Theory of History

According to this theory, the essential things in history are memory and authority. If an event or a state of things is to be historically known, first of all some one must be acquainted with it; then he must remember it; then he must state his recollection of it in terms intelligible to another; and finally that other must accept the statement as true. History is thus the believing some one else when he says that he remembers something. The believer is the Historian; the person believed is called his authority.

This doctrine implies historical truth, so far as it is at all accessible to the historian, is accessible to him only because it exists ready made in the ready-made statements of his authorities. These statements are to him a sacred text, whose value depends wholly on the unbrokenness of the tradition they represent. He must therefore on no account tamper with them. He must not mutilate them; he must not add to them; and, above all, he must not contradict them. For if he takes it upon himself to pick and choose, to decide that some of his authority’s statements are important and other not, he is going behind his authority’s back and appealing to some other criterion; and this, on the theory, is exactly what he cannot do. if he adds to them, interpolating in them constructions of his own devising, and accepting these constructions as additions to his knowledge, he is believing something for a reason other than the fact that his authority has said it; and this again he has no right to do. Worst of all, if he contradicts them, presuming to decide that his authority has misrepresented the facts, and rejecting his statements as incredible, he is believing the opposite of what he has been told, and committing the worst possible offence against the rules of his craft. The authority may be garrulous, discursive, a gossip and a scandal-monger; he may have overlooked or forgotten or omitted facts; he may have ignorantly or wilfully mis-stated them; but against these defects the historian has no remedy. For him, on the theory, what his authorities tell him is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

These consequences of the common-sense theory have only to be stated in order to be repudiated. Every historian is aware that on occasion he does tamper in all these three ways with what he finds in his authorities. He selects from them what he thinks important, and omits the rest; he interpolates in them things which they do not explicitly say; and he criticizes them by rejecting or amending what he regards as due to misinformation or mendacity. But I ma not sure whether we historians always realize the consequences of what we are doing. In general, when we reflect on our own work, we seem to accept what I have called the common-sense theory, while claiming our own rights of selection, construction, and criticism. No doubt these rights are inconsistent with the theory; but we attempt to soften the contradiction by minimizing the extend to which they are exercised, thinking them of as emergency measures, a kind of revolt into which the historian may be driven at times by the exceptional incompetence of his authorities, but which does not fundamentally disturb the normal peaceful regime in which he placidly believes what he is told because he is told to believe it. Yet these things, however seldom they are done, are either historical crimes or facts fatal to the theory: for on the theory they ought to be done, not rarely, but never. And in fact they are neither criminal nor exceptional…

…no historian, not even the worst, merely copies out his authorities; even if he puts in nothing of his own (which is never really possible), he is always leaving out things which, for one reason or another, he decides that his own work does not need or cannot use. It is he, therefore, and not his authority, that is responsible for what goes in. On that question he is his own master: his thought is to that extent autonomous.
~R.G. Collingwood, The Idea of History

The common sense is that we may only know of things that have gone by by people talking about it–purely historical in nature, though, discounting archeology and art. Nonetheless sources may be flawed and incomplete, so archeology, anthropology and other fields of knowledge supplement to create a complete picture within the historian’s mind.

And of course the unreliability of sources makes assumption that they are authorities problematic. It is an all or nothing proposition. Making a judgment that one source is valid and another is not is not acceptable; if one source is and another isn’t then the historian is already doing his job and making judgments, but in doing so should not take for granted that any source is entirely accurate. Each is a source and in collecting and synthesizing and recreating history in the mind, a historian may recount and explain the subject in a new manner.

For this reason it amused me as entirely impossible to use sources as authorities, they are inherently flawed and must be viewed with suspicion.

The Definition of History

If I am understanding The Idea of History by R.G. Collingwood in the slightest, then history is not how it is defined in the dictionary (as provided in the link1). Given by the dictionary, the history is merely “the chronological record of significant events” or things that have happened in the past. In laymans’ terms, perhaps.

The conclusion to two hundred grueling pages of philosophical thought on history, as documented from Herodotus and Thucydides, up through Kant, Marx and Toynbee, and to Croce and Bergson, is that history cannot exist in the future as it deals explicitly with events that have happened already,3 but neither is history simply the past. History is all of human experience to date, recreated and relived in the mind of the contemporary historian. Each experience is unique and individual, but arranged temporally they create one continuous and complete experience.4

The object of the historian is not to observe the past as there can be no such thing as empirical history (and any such claim is not recording history, but rather current developments). A historian for certain events may have empirical evidence for some of their work, but once they are regarding it through historical lenses they, too, are reliving the events.

Further, there is no such thing as an objective observer of history. Because history is alive in the mind of the historian and those who study his (or her) work, there will be inevitable judgments and evaluations, but then that is the literal job of the historian. Instead they are to become their subject, relive with the best information possible and then examine why and how events came to pass. Knowledge of cultures, events, people, and the like supplement and enrich this realization, but do not replace it. In this way Anthropology, natural sciences, psychology, philosophy, archeology and other disciplines supplement history, but are intrinsically different.

1 I would have provided the OED definition, but a subscription is required, so I figured Merriam-Webster would suffice.2
2 Getting information on how to do footnotes in html might be the single most dangerous thing that I have done recently. I *love* footnotes.
3 This was a response partly to idealists such as Marx and friends who saw the logical conclusion of history as some future utopia.
4 Beyond that it was not the term used, I shy away from the word ‘present’ on the grounds that what is the present this moment will, in the next, be the past, whereas ‘contemporary’ implies a sameness in present time that continues on with the individual.

Sweden takes the next step

As reported on the BBC, Sweden has taken the next step onward in the journey towards sexuality-blind equality, and voted to legalize same-sex marriages, religious or civil. According to the article, the Lutheran Church has offered to recognize partnerships, but not look favourably on marriage.

On one hand I personally believe that marriage and partnership (civil) rights should be made mutually exclusive, marriage being a religious issue and government benefits being civil. It seems ludicrous that the government refuses benefits to ‘partners’ based on a religious judgment, when partners may be of all shapes and sizes, including siblings, parents, grandparents, homosexual couples, heterosexual couples, etc. If the divide between marriage and civil benefits were actually a divide, then the government could better serve its citizens by guaranteeing rights–even just the basic ones such as adoption, custody of children and inheritance.

But I digress. What I like about the Swedish law is that it does not force the Lutheran church or any other to carry out the marriages, and the Lutheran church has decided to let individual pastors refuse, but it has stated that homosexual couples wed in religious ceremonies have equal protection to those of civil ceremonies. This is what states may do for religion–recognize the binding power of the ceremony–not lay down religious doctrine; this also is a civil decision, not one made because they church favored it, limiting the interconnectedness in the other direction, too.