History of the Classics Dept.
by Thomas J. Sienkewicz
Classics has had a significant presence in the curriculum since Monmouth College was founded in 1853 with one of its objectives being the training of Presbyterian ministers and teachers. For many decades there were two Classicists on the faculty, a professor of Latin and a Professor of Greek, and most, if not all students, studied at least one of the two ancient languages. Until 1937 the study of Latin or Greek was required for graduation.
Until the collegeís ties with the Presbyterian Church began to loosen in the mid-twentieth century, koine Greek was taught on a regular basis for students planning to go into seminary. By the mid-1980's such students were a rarity.
The Classics Dept. maintained a faculty of two until the death of Harold J. Ralston, Professor of Greek in 1971. The next two decades were particularly challenging ones financially for the college and no permanent replacement was provided for Prof. Ralston. Until her retirement in 1981 Prof. Bernice L. Fox struggled to offer a full Classics program by herself. She taught all levels of Latin language and literature, plus Classical Mythology and Word Elements and occasionally added Elementary Greek as an overload. She still managed to produce a number of outstanding graduates, several of whom made the teaching of Latin their careers and at least two earned Ph.D. degrees in Classics or fields related to Classics. She was also very active in the Illinois Classical Conference, the state organization for Latin teacher.
The Monmouth College Gamma Omicron Chapter of Eta Sigma Phi, the National Classics Honorary Society was founded in 1956 by Professors Fox and Ralston. The chapter has been very active both on campus and nationally. It has hosted several national conventions, seen several of its members elected to national office, and holds the record for the most national conventions
In the early 1980's the college received a challenge grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to establish an endowed chair in Classics. The purpose of this chair was not to enhance the Classics curriculum but to ensure its long-term survival. Thanks to a generous gift by Mr. Keith Capron in honor of his mother Minnie Billings Capron, the endowed chair in Classics became a reality a few years later.
In 1984 the college hired Thomas J. Sienkewicz as professor of Classics and offered him the endowed chair the following year. When he was interviewed, Sienkewicz was encouraged by both President Haywood and Dean Amy to develop ways to make the Classics more central to the Monmouth College curriculum and more attractive to more students. It was understood that the emphasis of the new Classics curriculum would be on exposing large numbers of students to the Classics rather than producing large numbers of majors or minors, although the college still wanted to keep those options open to those students who desired them.
In 1985 Sienkewicz radically changed the emphasis of the Classics curriculum from a traditional language-based program to a more flexible one incorporating the study of the Latin and Greek languages into Classics courses taught in translation. The core of this curriculum is the triad course, taught for Classics, Latin, or Greek credit, based upon the individual studentís skill and interest. This type of course brings into the same classroom students who have varying degrees of language skills with students who can only read the material in English. All share their own unique perspectives on the material. One advantage of the triad course, which has since been adapted at several other small liberal arts colleges, is that a small faculty can maintain core courses in language and literature for majors and minors while still offering courses in translation for the general student body. As a result nearly every course taught by the Classics Dept. fulfills some requirement in the general education curriculum at Monmouth College.
In 1987 Mr. Capron provided some additional funds to provide a dedicated classroom for the teaching of Classics, with state-of -the-art equipment and appropriate interior decorations. In 1998 the college updated this classroom with the addition of computer-projection capabilities.
The triad course generally works well although Sienkewicz has regularly had to teach at or above the official full-time load in order to meet student needs. The system seemed to work especially well under the term-system which Monmouth used until the late 1980's but it also works well under the present semester-system.