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From Classics to Law: 40 Years with CNES

December 20, 2018

In 1977, George A. Sheets was hired as a professor in the University of Minnesota's Department of Classical Studies. Forty years later he would be the longest-serving member of what is now the Department of Classical and Near Eastern Studies, as well as an adjunct professor with the Law School. 

“I was hired as a specialist in the area of historical linguistics,” Sheets explains, “chiefly teaching courses on the histories of the Greek and Latin languages, such as Greek Dialects and ‘Vulgar’ (i.e., vernacular) Latin. But I had also been trained as a general classicist and welcomed the regular opportunity to teach Greek and Latin literature.” As the classics department began to shrink through the early ‘80s, “most of my teaching shifted from linguistic topics in the field of Classics to more literary and historical ones.”In the late 1980s, Classical Studies merged with another small unit to become the Department of Classical and  Near Eastern Studies. “As time went on,” Sheets explains, there were fewer opportunities to teach in my original area of specialization, and I became more of a general classicist in both my teaching and research.”

Exploring New Specialties

In shifting his research to new areas, Sheets “developed a strong interest in law and legal history.” He earned a juris doctor (JD) through the night school program at William Mitchell and began to incorporate legal perspectives into his work. This led to the creation of new and intriguing courses, such as a freshman seminar on famous trials and graduate seminars on topics like the Athenian law against hubris. “I had the opportunity to teach subjects that had always appealed to me intellectually,” he explains.

In addition to his development of new CNES courses, Sheets began serving as an adjunct professor with the Law School. His Introduction to Roman Law was cross-listed with the Law School and became a regular offering there.

A Professor to Remember

In May 2018, Dr. Sheets retired after a successful 40-year career. Today, he stays connected to CLA as a member of the retirees association. He continues to teach a course through the College of Continuing and Professional Studies, in their LearningLife series. His three-week courses are an offshoot of his widely loved freshman seminar on famous trials. Here students are able to focus on one trial over a shorter period of time.

Although no longer serving as a professor with CLA, Sheets believes that colleges and universities are “of profound importance in the life of our society and in the growth and development of our national cultures.” As Sheets has seen many things shift over his career, he believes institutions like the University must continually develop and refine new perspectives on the present and past and new directions for the future. Looking back on his years with CLA and CNES, he emphasizes that universities remain “central to a healthy society and a hopeful future.”

This story was written by an undergraduate student content creator in CLAgency. Meet the team.