Department of Classics: Response to Trend Profile Data

1. Fit to mission

A high-quality, liberal arts education

Classics was the curriculum for European higher education from the founding of the first universities through the nineteenth century. Although the twentieth century has seen a proliferation of university offerings, the introduction, separation, or renaming of academic disciplines, Classics remains the core of a liberal education. Institutions without departments of Classics cannot dispense with Greco-Roman contributions to their curricula in art, European languages, history, law, literature, mathematics, political science, philosophy, religion, theatre. Yet those institutions may not have one person on the faculty who can access the ancient world in its own languages, although language, with its cultural baggage, is the essence of human thought. By analogy, what would we think of a German university where English literature was available only as a selection of works taught in German translation, where the person who taught Shakespeare could not read Shakespeare in English? [Disclaimer: we know of no German university where this situation actually obtains.]

The past, for better and worse, informs the present. The permeation of our society by Greco-Roman culture is so complete that we are unaware of it, just as the average person does not know the source or nature of the genetic information that she carries in her body. This person's physician (who will have taken the Hippocratic oath, in memory of the first scientific physicians in the western world) will request a medical history, the better to make diagnoses and prognoses. In the same way, we who are touched by western culture need to understand where we came from if we are to proceed not blindly toward the future. Our understanding of physics surpasses the ancients', yet Stephen Hawking writes of time's arrow because the Greeks and Romans could only conceive of time as a line. Western law grew out of Roman law. European literature would not exist as we know it without the influence of Greek and Latin classics. The idea of a united Europe is a legacy of the Roman empire. Democracy is both a Greek idea and a Greek word: if we removed all Greco-Roman elements from English, we would speak a limited dialect of German without the additions which modern German itself has taken from the Romans and Greeks.

The Department of Classics provides access to a cultural continuum spanning over three millennia. Our small faculty teaches 450-550 students a year; our curriculum includes the study of Greek and Latin language and literature, the history of Greece, Rome, the ancient Middle East, and an array of English-language courses in literature and civilization. Students who study Greek or Latin come mostly from the College of Arts and Sciences, while about a third of those in Classics courses are from other Colleges. Greek and Latin courses prepare students to read a unique body of literature in the original; those in fourth-semester Greek read serious quantities of Homer's Iliad. Language instruction has valuable side effects: our students learn, most for the first time, how their own language works and how to write more cogent English. Attention to detail and to logical structures enables them to succeed in mathematics. Imagining another world-view to grasp a thought first written down twenty-five hundred years ago teaches them to open their minds to different ways of thinking. Although some students who try foreign languages find them 'too hard', those who persist attain not only knowledge of the subject with its attendant benefits, but self-realization from the achievement of trying something they thought was beyond their grasp or perseverance, and succeeding. We spend many hours a week with language students outside of class, in individual tutorials or remedial sessions, doing extra reading with very good students who want to learn more, in advising sessions which become long and thoughtful conversations.

The department also serves well a large number of undergraduates who do not wish to expend the effort which Greek and Latin require. Most Classics courses are a combination of lecture and seminar, in which we emphasize writing in many forms: in addition to the obligatory research papers, tests and quizzes are always in essay format, carefully read and corrected by a faculty member, not a student reader or a machine. We offer students questions to ponder at a safe distance: Does civil war involve class war (and vice versa)? What is the comfort of an afterlife if heaven is a place where nothing ever happens? Why are 'cold war' and 'newspeak' very old concepts? Why and how did all of the Greeks except the Spartans practice birth control and why did Spartan law remove that decision from the parents' control? What makes comedy and satire funny? How can a politician who knows how to use language manipulate those who are not paying careful attention? To what extent did the ancients grasp atomic theory correctly, and how could they do it at all without technology? What lessons do tragedies hold for the modern world? Can there be such a thing as an 'economy' without economic theory to describe it? What is racism or any idea of otherness? What were the levels of air pollution during the height of the Roman empire? Why is an agrarian society of small freeholders inimical to irresponsible government? Why did some regard slavery as a path of upward mobility in the Roman empire? If you were a woman, would you rather have the franchise without power or power without the franchise, and how many women have or ever have had both? Is the unexamined life really not worth living?

We have a small graduate program offering two degrees, an MAT in Latin and an MA in Greek and Latin. MAT students, who are preparing to teach in secondary schools, complete half of their hours in Classics and half in the College of Education. We find placements for their internships with the area's most successful teachers, many of whom are our former students. Our concern for and interaction with Vermont schools is a central part of the department's mission. Most of those who have completed an MA in Greek and Latin come to UVM to learn the languages better before proceeding to PhD programs. All graduate students have an opportunity to engage in supervised teaching experiences in elementary language instruction, etymology, and/or mythology. We have given details of our graduate students' careers in reports for the Graduate College; the department's program received a high rating in the GTF study in 1996.

It may not be a stated part of the University's mission, but we believe it is important to let students find a home in an academic department, and to regard faculty as mentorsoeor temporary parentsoewhom they can seek out for advice or companionship. The faculty and students in Classics, majors and graduate students as well as non-majors, are like an extended family.


The various environmental programs at UVM have not shown much interest in the resources which our department can offer, perhaps because we have not been aggressive enough in bringing possibilities to their attention. Our faculty contains an expert on ancient agriculture and technology (Robert Rodgers), and the usual instructor of history courses (Barbara Rodgers) constantly incorporates information about agricultural practices (especially the detrimental effects of monocropping and agribusiness), deforestation and its causes, excessive hunting of animal species, mining, smelting, and other sources of pollution. Our emphasis is historical, but it is sobering for students to learn how, why, and for how long people have messed up their world: the ancients were no purer than we are, although they had less powerful tools and fewer poisons.


Our students engage in original research using primary resources. Jacques Bailly and Barbara Rodgers instruct students in computer technology, especially computerized texts and bibliographic search engines. Examples of students' professional work are a refereed paper at a Yale colloquium and a contribution to the Yale Pro Caelio Project CD-ROM.We have served as officers in local governments, or on school boards, or as advisers in various capacities for the local K-6 and 7-12 schools, e.g. as experts on panels or on search committees. Involvement of Classics faculty with Vermont schools includes (1) reading days for high school Latin teachers, (2) support for Latin programs and (3) for the Vermont Classical Languages Association, (4) introduction of computer applications in secondary instruction, (5) volunteer presentations (and in one case, formal teaching) at local public and private schools. Barbara Rodgers created an heirloom vegetable garden for the John Strong mansion. Robert Rodgers works with local historical societies (he is also editor of Vermont Genealogy). All five present members of the faculty have given presentations in history, mythology, music, art, the origins of writing, and etymology for high school and elementary school students. Philip Ambrose is a musician as well as the moving spirit behind Latin Day. Jacques Bailly performs multiple duties for the National Spelling Bee organization and appears several times a year on television in this capacity.

2. Quality of teaching and scholarship


All faculty in the department hold the highest degree in the discipline. Almost all Greek, Latin, and Classics courses (93-100%) are taught by tenure track faculty when no one is on leave; lecturers hired for sabbatical replacement also have PhDs in Classics. The most senior faculty are not only willing but eager to teach the most elementary courses. Philip Ambrose has been recognized for his teaching at UVM as Dean's Lecturer in the fall of 1992, and by the Classical Association of New England as the recipient of the Barlow-Beech Award in 1985. Innovations to our curriculum and methods of improving instruction and retention include (1) self-paced Greek (Greek 3) and Latin (Latin 3), an innovative learning initiative involving tutorial instruction and the highest minimum passing grades (90%) at UVM; (2) faculty tutorial help for students in regular language classes; (3) scheduling flexibility; (4) creation of new literature in translation courses, three at the 0-99 level, cross-listed with General Literature. Classicists were among the first academics to embrace computer technology (believe it or not) and we have not been slow to avail ourselves of these resources, both within the classroom and as research and study tools. We engage students through the activities of the Goodrich Classical Club, whose activities include field trips to museums in Boston (e.g. to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston last November) and elsewhere, formal lectures by visitors from outside campus (the last in conjunction with the TAP program), informal presentations by members of the faculty (the most recent being a demonstration of the techniques and value of epigraphical study, using the department's excellent collection of squeezes), and 'Cheese and Cheese' nights at least once a month.

Although the trend data cannot reflect students' evaluations of our teaching, the department keeps all evidence of this sort. Students consistently applaud the quality of instruction in and the content of our courses; majors who go on to PhD programs bring great credit to UVM because their preparation is superior to that of students from more prestigious schools (we can document this assertion). We are just as happy about the success of students who are non-majors, but who have been able to find their own best nature. In short, we love our students, and they know it.


Humanists do not usually attract the sort of funding from which their institution can profit, although members of the Classics department have received numerous individual research awards, including NEH fellowships, ACLS fellowships, a Guggenheim fellowship, Dumbarton Oaks fellowship, grants from the American Philosophical Society.

All members of the faculty are active scholars in their field, and at least two are also known for work outside of Classics: Philip Ambrose has completed the J.S. Bach web site, which major search engines have made a primary link for inquiries about Bach; Robert Rodgers, editor of and frequent contributor to Vermont Genealogy, has published the first tome of a multi-volume work on Middlesex County (MA) probate records for the New England Historical Genealogical Society. Other publications and presentations by our faculty in 1998 include an on-line book project, 5 print articles, 4 major book reviews, and invited lectures in Montreal (in French) and Augsburg (in German) as well as several others (in English) in the United States. We expand our knowledge as students (and set an example of life-long learning): Ambrose, Bailly, Rodgers and Saylor Rodgers have taken courses in Italian, advanced French and German, math, physics, geology, economics, statistics, computer science.

3. Trend data

Language classes

Enrollments in Greek and Latin language courses have never been high. Greek enrollments have stayed about the same over time. The de facto elimination of the language requirement in 1994 had a detrimental effect on Latin enrollments; we see gains here, however, with average class size up 32% this year over last. See section 2 above for details of strategies for increasing enrollments in the language classes and attracting majors. We have brought a number of students into the major through Greek 3 and Latin 3, especially self-paced Greek. This year for the first time since 1993-94 we scheduled two sections of Latin 1, one in the late afternoon. The chairs of the language departments are working together to create a new World Literature program. The classical literature courses are especially attractive both because they are not all at the 100-level and because they have specific content: each course title is more informative than "Greek Literature in Translation." Many students who have taken Classics 24 (Myths and Legends of the Trojan War) have subsequently enrolled in Greek or Latin (or both). If we could staff other 0-99 level courses consistently, we and the College would reap the double benefit of growing enrollments and the opportunity to attract more students to the languages. We also seek exposure to a wider student audience by participation in the IHP, JDHP, and TAP programs.

Errors in trend data

The trend data provided for Classics are egregiously misleading. The data supplied for this exercise do not include many of our well enrolled courses, e.g., History, General Literature, or others taught by Classics faculty or cross-listed with Classics courses. (For a list of these courses, see the Supplemental Trend Sheet). Take, for example, average class size, shown in the following table:

Percent. omitted

On the Department Profile I have corrected as many figures as was feasible, using the actual grade sheets for data. Some areas, e.g., Percent Service SCH to other Colleges, were too tedious to compute by hand. The missing courses are added on the Supplemental Trend Sheet (reproduced on my computer because the 5 spaces allotted are insufficient).

Our introduction of a greater variety of upper- and lower-division courses in translation (literature, civilization, history) has made Classics accessible to and useful for a much wider audience. The substantial student interest in Classics and ancient history courses counterbalances the lower interest in Greek and Latin. The average class size of a Classics course from 1992-1999 is 37, and this number includes the effects of limiting enrollment in TAP courses to 20 or fewer. Since average size of a Greek class for the same period is 6, and of Latin is 10, it is clear that the Classics courses compensate for the relative inefficiency of the Greek and Latin curriculum.

Adequate resources

For the last three years our average class size has remained about the same, although the FTE-S/FTE-F ratio has declined because I have stopped asking my faculty to teach 7 or 8 different, regularly scheduled courses each year (but whoever teaches one of the four 200-level Greek and Latin courses does so in addition to the standard College teaching load). The Classics department is small but viable; our efficiency, combined with the broadening of the curriculum through literature in translation, civilization, and history courses, allows us to support the languages so essential to the discipline. Yet our lack of faculty resources hinders our ability to return a much larger profit. Each new Classics faculty member would add 5 Classics courses (average class size 37), no Greek or Latin. Ancient history, and any course numbered 0-99 (except TAP courses), have the highest enrollments. We are not able to offer as many history courses as we need; to cover all of our history offerings below the 200-level each year would require the full-time effort of one person. To offer a reasonable slate of Classics and World Literature courses, to participate regularly in the John Dewey Honors Program or the Humanities Program, would require another person. A better way to run a business, if profit and efficiency are the issue, or a university, if academic excellence and a liberal education are at stake, is to support a department so central to these initiatives, whose merits and potential are worth recognition.