Interdisciplinary Programs Needed for Greek Studies

By Rev. Dr. Stanley S. Harakas
Hellenic News of America

In back-to-back issues of The National Herald this past July, Professor Dan Georgakas described a serious developing problem with Modern Greek Studies programs in American higher education. He sounds an alarm distinctly for Modern Greek Studies, noting a series of emerging difficulties for these programs: their isolation; lack of community support; low enrollment (most of whom are "heritage students"); inactive faculty; esoteric subject interests of Modern Greek Studies faculty, and especially lack of concern with Greek America, coupled with changing attitudes in universities and colleges regarding "ethnic" programs in light of the financial limitations higher education is facing today.

Professor Georgakas' pessimism may be over-drawn for the moment, but his assessment is clearly based on an honest, if disconcerting, reading of the signs of the times. As I read the two viewpoint articles, "A Crisis is Brewing for Modern Greek Studies" (July 8 edition, page 9) and "Publish or Perish: The Journal of Modern Greek Studies" (July 15 edition, page 9), I could not help but be struck by an alternative approach to Greek Studies which seems to address nearly all of the problem areas Professor Georgakas describes.

For several years now, I have participated in a peripheral way in the work and vision of a University of South Florida-based organization functioning under the name, American Foundation of Greek Language & Culture (AFGLC), which has addressed precisely the issue of incorporating Hellenic values into American higher education, while seeking to do so in an economical, practical and integrated manner which also addresses the interests, goals and dynamics of our nation's academic establishment.

Spearheaded for years by USF Distinguished University Professor and renowned mathematician Chris Tsokos, and recently retired USF Medical School Professor John Balis and other USF Faculty members, they have come up with an intriguing plan which is presently working efficiently and successfully in two university settings. It is called "Interdisciplinary Centers for Hellenic Studies (ICHS)," and the basic premise is that it be an organized program which draws on as many university departments as possible in a given university or college to make a wide range of Greek-content courses possible.

It does this by means of a modest central office which coordinates courses about the whole 7,000 year history of Hellenism, in all its expressions, included in five inter-connected Endowed Professorships: Greek Language, Greek History, Greek Philosophy, Byzantine Civilization & Orthodox Christian Religion, and Greek Culture. These five centers of learning are integrated with the larger university curriculum, allowing students to either major in Hellenic Studies, or, as is more often the case for students with other majors (even technical majors), to fulfill some of their degree requirements with ICHS courses, thus spreading knowledge of Hellenism's enormous influence wider than is otherwise possible with isolated courses in isolated departments.

The ICHS approach serves university interests, since each component of the inter-disciplinary center is endowed with a relatively modest amount of money, while giving visibility and status to Greek Studies throughout the faculty structure as part of numerous already-existing departments.

For instance, an Archeology Department might have an ICHS member who not only teaches regular courses in the field, but who also offers specific courses in Greek Archeology. Or a member of an English Department, as an ICHS Professor, could teach Modern Greek literature in English, or in conjunction with the Greek language courses in the Modern Languages department. The inter-disciplinary approach allows for the insertion of Hellenic Studies in a great many of university departments, while still supporting a centralized administration of courses through the ICHS office.

Each of the named endowed professors AFGLC has established - ten in number - are legally contracted with the universities in perpetuity. The ICHS are also legally structured with the university in perpetuity.

Most of the issues raised by Professor Georgakas are at least partly addressed by shifting from a self-confining Modern Greek Studies approach to the broader interdisciplinary ICHS structure. He speaks, for example, about the fact that "the politics of Greek America are largely based on the cultural continuity of Modern Greece to the ancients, mainly via the culture of the Byzantines. But many academics subscribe to the idea of Modern Greek culture as being mainly formed by the Ottoman experience."

Without denying the influence of Tourkokratia on contemporary Greeks, is there not something artificial about the presupposition that Ancient and Byzantine Hellenism are ignored in the academic discipline of Greek Studies in higher education? Is it not interesting to note that, at USF, enrollment in the Modern Greek Language classes of Professor Ippokrates Kantzios has risen from a handful of students, to 70 or so in conjunction with the implementation of ICHS at USF? Is it not also interesting that, at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, where ICHS Director Fred Mench and Associate Director Tom Papadernetriou, inspired by now-retired Distinguished Professor Rev. Demetrios Constantelos, routinely offer well-attended Greek-themed programs which attract both academics and the general public, including Greek Americans?

As an outsider looking in, it seems to me that those in Modern Greek Studies should at least investigate the AFGLC approach to developing networks of ICHS. This approach just might address issues such as dwindling enrollments, financial limitations, academic politics, curriculum battles and isolation from (the spheres of both academic and community life).

I wonder, also, would it not be a wise step if the Hellenic Republic should also investigate this approach so as to make a greater impact on the American scene with a modest investment of precious funds?

The Executive Director of the Interdisciplinary Center of Hellenic Studies at the University of South Florida is Distinguished University Professor James Strange, a former Dean of USF's College of Arts & Sciences. He can be reached at University of South Florida, Cooper Hall 107, 4202 E. Fowler Avenue, Tampa, FL 33620-5700, or you can contact the American Foundation of Greek Language & Culture at 1202 Parrilla de Avila, Tampa, FL 33613. More detailed information concerning the educational mission of AFGLC and ICHS can be found on the web at www.afglc.org.

The Rev. Dr. Harakas is pastor of Christ the Savior Church in Brooksville, Florida and a former professor of Ethics at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology.



(Posting date 24 October 2006; Revised 08 November 2006)

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