Faculty Q&A: Margaret Imber and Lisa Maurizio

Bates occasionally gets a two-for-one deal on professors. Assistant professors Margaret Imber and Lisa Maurizio hold a joint appointment in classics, as do Steve Hochstadt and Liz Tobin (history) and Lee Abrahamsen and Pam Baker ’69 (biology).

Maurizio and Imber (a former assistant U.S. attorney in California) earned tenure this year and talked with Bates Magazine shortly after hearing the good news.

Q: You’ve both made presentations at leadership alumni events. Does getting to know Bates alumni help you better understand Bates?

Maurizio: The alumni characterize the institution for me. I have a sense of where my students will be going — and it’s a good place to go. Also, as a faculty member you get a sense of shared custodianship of the institution.

Imber: Bates alumni are utterly unpompous. The people are just sort of …

Maurizio: …authentic….

Imber: …and they seem comfortable in their lives and in their accomplishments. There’s very little “point keeping” in exchanges with alumni: “Well, of course you’d be a Latin teacher! You enjoy that, while I enjoy running a corporation!” There’s an equivalency in the way they look at it that’s really refreshing.

Q: Cultural Heritage — a multidisciplinary survey course on Western culture — hasn’t been taught since the 1960s. But you still hear about it?

Imber: “Where’s Cultch?!” they ask. I tell them that I just got here — I didn’t hide it! Cultch still intellectually engages alumni to this day. But it’s hip and trendy and postmodern to heap scorn on basic survey courses like Cultch.

Maurizio: But learning a tradition does not mean endorsing its values. On the other hand, being ignorant of a tradition, good or bad, is just being ignorant.

Imber: Maybe a Cultch course today could teach students to understand the difference between the promise and the practice of a democracy. Call it “neo-Cultch”!

Q: What classics texts could alumni read that might give them an insight into the world today?

Imber: I would send people back to The Roman Revolution by…

Maurizio: Not Syme! [laughs hysterically]

Imber: Ronald Syme wrote in the ’30s, during Italy’s embrace of the Roman imperial past, and suggested that Augustus was the first fascist, who achieved order at the price of liberty. You look at America’s legitimate efforts to insist on international order today, and you might worry that the price may be civil liberties at home.

Maurizio: It’s enormously difficult to read. It’s like reading Joyce — you have to read it aloud. We also use I.F. Stone’s The Trial of Socrates, a great introduction to classical Athens.

Imber: Stone, a free-speech journalist, asks why democratic Athens put Socrates on trial, found him guilty, and then executed him for a free-speech crime. It’s a tragedy Stone wants to understand so a modern democracy won’t repeat it. He writes a great sentence, unlike many academics.

Q: NBC described its short-lived show AUSA as a “footloose legal comedy about idealistic but all-too-human Assistant United States Attorneys.” Was that your life before academics, Margaret?

Imber: A lot of people went to jail because of work I did, and I never laughed about it. Sometimes I was deeply pleased that somebody had gone to jail. Sometimes the person’s basic felony was being stupid and going to jail for it.

Q: What can the classics tell us about the fascination with TV reality shows?

Maurizio: The spectacle of reality shows is that they take nonprofessionals and make them the object of the spectacle. The closest comparison you get is Nero doing really perverse things to people, compelling people to fight in the arena who weren’t trained as gladiators.

Imber: The notion of these shows is that you can get your 15 minutes of fame and buy your reputation. But in the ancient world, reputation is exactly what you couldn’t buy. Your name, your reputation, is something you inherit and pass on. Your duty is to take really good care of it, enhance it, and not cheapen it.

Q: What drove you out of law?

Imber: Criminal law is fascinating. It addresses questions of life and death, and every day you’re trying to think, “What is just?” As a taxpayer I would want prosecutors who have a black-and-white vision of justice. I realized that I saw the grays. The things that make me a good teacher and scholar are the things that made me have to work hard to be a good prosecutor.