Howard University recently announced plans to dissolve its classics department — the only such offering at a historically Black college or university (HBCU) in the country, according to the nonprofit Society for Classical Studies, a scholarly U.S. organization devoted to all aspects of Greek and Roman civilization.
Howard “is currently negotiating with the faculty of Classics and with other units in the College as to how they might best reposition and repurpose our programs and personnel. These discussions have been cordial, and the faculty remains hopeful that the department can be kept intact at some level, with its faculty and programs still in place,” according to an April 16 statement from the Society for Classical Studies’ Board of Directors, Inside Higher Education reported.
This all isn’t sitting well with Dr. Cornel West, a professor of the practice in public philosophy at Harvard University and professor emeritus at Princeton University. West spoke out about the dissolution of Howard’s classics department in a recently published op-ed in The Washington Post with Jeremy Tate, the founder and CEO of the Classic Learning Tes.,
West and Tate described Howard’s decision as a “spiritual catastrophe.”
In the op-ed, they discussed how the enslaved Frederick Douglass risked abuse, beating and even death to teach himself to read and study the classic works of Socrates, Cato, and Cicero.
“Long after Douglass’s encounters with these ancient thinkers, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. would be similarly galvanized by his reading in the classics as a young seminarian — he mentions Socrates three times in his 1963 ‘Letter From Birmingham Jail,’” West and Tate wrote.
They chastised Howard University, writing, “Yet today, one of America’s greatest Black institutions, Howard University, is diminishing the light of wisdom and truth that inspired Douglass, King, and countless other freedom fighters. Amid a move for educational ‘prioritization,’ Howard University is dissolving its classics department.”
Many of social media thought West should be fighting for “more important” things than the “white” classics.
“Get over it Cornel West. No one gives af about white ‘classics.’ We should have killed them long ago” Ghetto intellectual @kzshabazz tweeted.
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Dave Jackson@attydavejackson agreed: “Cornel has to take this position. Much of what he knows. The classics make him ‘special’ to wyt america. He won’t come to Howard & teach the classics or anything else. What have the classics done to advance our people? I’ll wait. F the classics. Much more important work to do.”
Ghetto Intellectual also made note of how West had dismissed HBCUs in the past. “Yeah. I recall him saying that HBCUs couldn’t pay him what he’s worth. SMH”
Igbo Mother of African Warriors @EmpressAdaeze tweeted an appeal to Dr. West: “You really don’t need to educate white ppl on the system they built. None of them are ignorant to it. Even the ‘poor’ ones. It’s a distraction, save all your teaching energy for us.”
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