Posted on April 24, 2021

Students and Faculty Fight to Save Classics Department at Howard University

Lauren Lumpkin, Washington Post, April 20, 2021

When Camille Ross arrived at Howard University in the fall of 2019, she thought her passion was in computer engineering.

But after what she called a “scheduling fluke,” she ended up in Howard’s classics department, studying Latin. Ross loved the class and her professor so much she switched degree tracks, opting instead to pursue an interdisciplinary humanities degree with a specialization in ancient and modern history.

“I was really taken with the department,” Ross said about the classics division.

Ross said she was disappointed to learn recently that Howard is planning to dissolve the classics department. A handful of classes taught within the division will be absorbed into other liberal arts departments, university officials said.

The decision has left students and professors scrambling to save the department, saying Howard is the only historically Black university with a classics department. A spokeswoman for the university did not immediately confirm that.

The decision has frustrated those within the department, who argue that in a field dominated by White scholars, it is important to keep the stand-alone classics division at the school.

Classical history is also Black history, said Anika Prather, an adjunct professor in Howard’s classics department.

“In most college classics departments, they will read these texts and will skip right over the fact that they’re from Ethiopia. The world of the ancient times was a really integrated, diverse society,” Prather said. “If we lose it, we lose a piece of all of us.”

The decision to dissolve the department comes after a three-year review of Howard’s academic programs, said Alonda Thomas, a spokeswoman for the university. Officials determined the classics department, which does not offer a major, could be disbanded and its courses dispersed to other academic units, “which will allow the university to function more effectively and efficiently,” Thomas said.

Officials in a report also said that demand for the minors offered within the department — Greek, Latin and classical civilizations — has remained relatively flat. {snip}


Harvard University professor Cornel West, in an op-ed he co-wrote for The Washington Post, said that by removing the department, the university is “diminishing the light of wisdom and truth” that inspired freedom fighters such as Frederick Douglass and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.