Chair’s Annual Letter
As will come as no surprise to anyone who follows developments affecting the University of North Carolina or indeed higher education in general, this academic year has brought more challenges to the Department of Classics. Despite the ongoing goodwill of the College administration, who support us as best as they’re able, we continue to struggle with significant budgetary pressures and a graduate decline in faculty numbers. I am pleased to report, however, that we are actively addressing those challenges with great energy and ingenuity, and that in many respects we are continuing to thrive and indeed to develop in new and exciting ways.
The end of this academic year will sadly also mark the end of an era, since Bill Race, who joined our faculty twenty years ago as Paddison Professor of Classics, will be retiring. I will not try to enumerate all that he has done for the department during his time here, but will simply note his many important contributions to scholarship, including his Loeb editions of Pindar and Apollonius; his outstanding record as a rigorous and inspiring teacher and mentor; and his extensive service, including terms as Chair and Director of Graduate Studies. On a more personal note, Bill has been an extremely generous privy counsellor to me during my time as Chair, and I have greatly benefited from his experience and good judgement. Fortunately, he will not be leaving Chapel Hill, and indeed will continue to be on campus regularly as he continues his research. I can therefore look forward to continuing to benefit from his guidance in the future.
On the plus side, we are already benefiting from the energy and creativity of the junior members of our faculty, including the two newest members, Al Duncan and Hérica Valladares, who have now successfully reached the end of their first year at Carolina. Since they are writing to introduce themselves elsewhere in this issue, I will say no more here than how delighted we are to have them as colleagues. Not all the junior members of the faculty are remaining junior, however. I am glad to report that Luca Grillo has recently received official notification that the Board of Trustees has confirmed his promotion to the rank of Associate Professor with tenure. In other good news, Jennifer Gates-Foster has been awarded a semester’s fellowship at the University’s Institute for the Arts and Humanities for the coming fall, and Sharon James has been awarded a Senior Faculty Research Leave for spring 2017. Honors such as these are especially valuable, since they bring much needed time for research and writing. There are other honors, in contrast, that bring more rather than less work, but that are nevertheless welcome markers of recognition by peers in the field. In this connection I may note that Jim O’Hara has been named President-Elect of the Vergilian Society and Jennifer Gates-Foster has been appointed an Academic Trustee of the Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in Jerusalem. Members of the department have been active as usual in presenting their research at other universities and academic conferences, and here I want to single out Emily Baragwanath, who last fall presented the keynote lecture at the annual meeting of the Australasian Society for Classical Studies in Melbourne.
In addition to research and teaching, our faculty have been devoting their time and thoughtfulness to making improvements to our programs. For example, over the past two years we have made several small changes to our graduate program: we instituted diagnostic language exams for all incoming students, established a system of academic advisors for first-year students, organized a comprehensive assessment of progress for students in their third semesters, and adjusted the schedule of graduate exams. None of these changes is dramatic, but we hope that cumulatively they will allow us to provide more effective guidance to our students and to streamline their progress through our program.
Although our goal is constantly to improve our program, the successes of our advanced graduate students suggest that we are already doing a good job of training and supporting them. Cicek Beeby has won a Tanner Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching by Graduate Teaching Assistants and more recently the AIA’s Anna C. and Oliver C. Colburn Fellowship, which will provide her with some funds to do dissertation research at the American School for Classical Studies in Athens in the spring. She will there join Catharine Judson, who has followed up this year’s Emily Townsend Vermeule Fellowship with one of seven Advanced Fellowships, which will allow her to spend another year at the School pursuing dissertation research. Three other students have won competitive dissertation awards from the Graduate School: Tedd Wimperis and Jessica Wise year-long fellowships, and Emma Buckingham an Off-Campus Research Fellowship for the fall. As usual, our students, faculty, and alumni were a notable presence at professional meetings (see the list of participants here); particular kudos goes to Katie De Boer Simons, who won this year’s Presidential Award for Outstanding Graduate Student paper at the annual meeting of the Classical Association of the Middle West and South.
Two other events this year showcased our graduate students. Our second annual joint graduate colloquium with the Classics Department of King’s College London took place early in the fall semester. As a balance to the initial colloquium last year, which was held in Chapel Hill and focused on archaeological work, this year’s conference in London focused on language and literature. You can read more about it in Tedd Wimperis’ report here. Planning is already well underway for our third colloquium, which will take place again here in Chapel Hill in early September around the theme of ‘Borders’. The beginning of April saw the 27th annual graduate colloquium which our students jointly organize with their counterparts in the Classics Department at Duke. The theme this year was ‘Controversiae Docendae: Teaching Sensitive Topics from the Classical World’, and you can read more about it in the report by Sarah Hilker, the lead colloquium organizer on the UNC side.
One of the challenges we face as a department, together with many of our allied departments, is the large-scale shift in undergraduate numbers away from the humanities and qualitative social sciences and into STEM subjects. We have begun to respond by taking more active measures to promote our program and highlight its benefits. Some of these are as simple as adding signs at the two side entrances to Murphey Hall and a bulletin board with information about our program in the lobby. Given the numbers of tour groups and undergraduates who pass through the building, even these simple measures should do much to advertise our presence. In the fall we also launched a new undergraduate event to publicize our course offerings, majors and minors, and other activities. This April we again hosted the annual state convention of the North Carolina Junior Classical League, which brings several hundred very enthusiastic middle and high school Latin students to our campus. This year for the first time I gave a presentation about studying Classics at the college level, with of course special reference to our program here at Carolina. It was fairly well attended, with a total of some 50 students, although I couldn’t compete with Luca Grillo’s presentation on gladiators, which drew over twice that number. Lastly, our second annual t-shirt competition went well, drawing 52 entries from students in the first three semesters of our undergraduate Latin program; you can read more about it here.
While we hope to attract more students to our courses and majors, the students that we already have continue to do outstanding work. Philip Wilson was one of this year’s winners of the Classical Association of the Midwest and South’s Manson Stewart award, one of the most prestigious awards for undergraduates. Allison Ditmore, one of last year’s Manson Stewart winners and this year’s president of our local chapter of Eta Sigma Phi, did an excellent job organizing the 4th annual undergraduate conference, which you can read more about here. Allison completed her Honors thesis under the direction of Sharon James, and will be heading off in the fall to the PhD program in Classics at Washington University. There will be a real UNC presence at Washington University over the next couple of years, since joining Allison will be Amanda Kubic, who also completed her Honors thesis with Sharon James this year and will be in the MA program, and Alex Caprara (BA 2014), who like Allison will be starting the PhD.
Last but far from least are some very welcome improvements to our physical facilities. Thanks to Paul Lamontagne, our much-valued IT staffer, we have installed a video-conferencing system in the Ullman Library Seminar Room, complete with a large-screen computer monitor and an audio system. I have already successfully used this new system to Skype in visiting speakers for my undergraduate seminar, and it will in the future prove highly useful for interviews and dissertation defenses, especially given how common it now is for students to have one or two committee members from other institutions. Likewise, the Archaeology Seminar Room has greatly benefited from a complete overhaul of its technology, with a new screen, a new digital projector, and a much smaller and simpler control station. The latter is the most obvious improvement, since it frees up much-needed space in the room, but the new technology is even more important, since it is not only updated but, for the first time ever, completely under our direct control. We are grateful to the College of Arts and Sciences and the Summer School for providing much of the funding needed to make this happen.
In closing, I must thank all the people who have contributed to our ongoing success. First and foremost are my faculty colleagues in the department, who never cease to amaze me with with their willingness to step up to the bat; it is their initiative, energy, and creativity that keeps us moving in the right direction. I am grateful as well for the support of our Senior Associate Dean, Terry Rhodes, and the new Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Kevin Guskiewicz, who in his first four months has already done much to prove himself a stalwart advocate of the liberal arts. Our students, of course, are our fundamental raison d’être, and they are essential to our success not only through their excellence as students but, as should be clear from my letter, for their many contributions to the life of the department. As always, the true sine qua non is our office staff, Cinnamon Weaver, Kim Miles, and L.E. Alexander, who keep us all in line and make sure that things get done correctly and on time. I must thank L.E. in particular, since she is the person primarily responsible for this issue of Tabulae. L.E. received a baptism by fire by beginning her position as our new department secretary during the first week of classes, and she has amazed me ever since by her coolness under pressure. Lastly, I am as always very grateful to our many friends and supporters from outside the department. It is thanks to their generosity that we have the resources we need to make good our potential. As the various reports both here and elsewhere in this newsletter make clear, we continue to do just that, and we are deeply appreciative to all those who make possible our ongoing success.