- From Chiron to Charon: Crossing over to the Dark Side*
election to the presidency of the society for classical studies was both a great honor for me and quite a surprise. This year in fact held a number of surprises, stemming not so much from within the SCS as from the changing cultural context in which we find ourselves and public perceptions—or misperceptions—about Classics. The SCS, like other scholarly associations, exists primarily to serve the needs of our members. Increasingly, it seems, one of those needs is for a public voice, to speak on behalf of and even to advocate for our profession. It was during the tenure of my predecessor, Roger Bagnall, that the Society first developed a policy on public statements. And, as this year developed, we issued several public statements, some of them in concert with colleagues in other learned societies. Some issues of concern to us as scholars seem, unfortunately, to be perennials—such as threatened defunding of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). But little could I have imagined that I would issue a presidential letter in response to one of our members receiving death threats for publishing an article on the polychrome nature of classical sculpture. Nor did I anticipate the threat to [End Page 227] the very existence of advanced study in our disciplines by a proposal to tax graduate student stipends.
These are not the kinds of issues that my own graduate training prepared me for. But they are quite familiar kinds of issues to a college president. And that brings me back to the honor of being elected president of this Society. I was completely surprised when the Nominating Committee contacted me. And even more shocked upon learning that I had been elected. The reason for my reactions—as you will guess—is related to the topic of this address.
We all know what the phrase, “crossing over to the dark side” means in the context of the academy. And, yes, when I told a colleague that I was leaving Brown to become assistant to the president of Princeton, he did immediately offer me condolences, since I’d obviously “crossed over to the dark side.” (This was not—I hasten to add—one of my colleagues in the Classics department.)
But the pattern is clear. One day you’re a faculty member, valued for your knowledge and teaching—perhaps even for a bit of wisdom. You’re a Chiron. But the next day, should you accept a role in managing and guiding an academic institution, you’re suddenly transformed. Like an unsavory denizen of the underworld, plying his necessary but distasteful work: you’re a Charon. For thirteen years, I was a full-time faculty member. But I have been an academic administrator for the last twenty-seven years, eleven of them as a college president. Hence my surprise in being elected to leadership of the SCS. In fact, I consulted the Oracle (at least, the Oracle on SCS and APA history), Ward Briggs, and Ward informed me that only two college presidents previously served as presidents of the APA: Arthur Stanley Pease in 1939 and, before him, Asahel Clark Kendrick in 1872. It’s been a while.
And that unusual collocation—of college presidency and the presidency of this society—means that this address may be a little unconventional. I am not offering, for example, the fruits of my latest research, because my latest research and writing hasn’t been on Vergil or Lucan or Tacitus. It’s been on innovation in liberal arts colleges. Instead, the presidency of the SCS has prompted me to reflect more on this strange, “under-worldly” role of being an administrator in academe. One of the better books on the topic is the memoir by William Chase entitled, 100 Semesters: My Adventures as Student, Professor, and University President, and What I Learned Along the Way. Chace was an English professor at Stanford, who became president, first, of Wesleyan University and then of Emory. It’s no surprise that the chapter in which he describes first being tapped to become an associate dean at Stanford is entitled, “Why Join...