Opinion | There’s No Classics ‘Catastrophe’ at Howard University

Cornel West and his co-author made a standard mistake after they wrote a recent essay in The Washington Post chastising Howard University for eliminating its classics division. Reducing the choice to a “spiritual catastrophe,” they neglected a deeper and extra pressing drawback: the monetary constraints dealing with traditionally Black faculties and universities, and the inequality that underlies them.

Our strategy to this challenge is predicated in our perspective as philosophy professors at Howard who’ve reverence for the classics. Our division affords seminars on Plato and Aristotle alongside obligatory programs on the historical past of Africana philosophy. Classical texts have left an indelible mark on fashionable philosophy and there’s no question that, in a perfect world, Howard would have a big, thriving classics division.

But departments aren’t free.

The determination to eradicate the division was the results of an intensive effort to find out learn how to greatest allocate the college’s restricted resources. Departments have been assessed primarily based on pupil curiosity, value and profit, and total match with the college’s mission. No one needed to eradicate any packages, and none of us cheer the lack of the division, however this transformation was obligatory. Anthony Okay. Wutoh, the college’s provost and chief tutorial officer, has defined why that’s, however we’d like to supply extra perception.

Pronouncements from the ivory towers of predominately white establishments about what Black faculties ought to do might rating political factors and draw public consideration. But solely these of us who analysis and train at traditionally Black faculties and universities, often called H.B.C.U.s — in contrast to Dr. West, who has primarily labored at establishments with enormous endowments — have the form of understanding that comes from expertise.

To put issues in perspective: Harvard’s endowment is $42 billion, Yale’s is $31 billion, and Princeton’s is $27 billion. Howard’s is simply $712 million. There are causes for this discrepancy. Almost all Ivy League establishments have been based earlier than the Revolutionary War, whereas H.B.C.U.s didn’t get into full swing till well after the Civil War.

These establishments have been established to educate Black Americans, most of whom, earlier than 1865, couldn’t a lot as dream of receiving any formal schooling. America’s oldest universities have been in a position to start to build wealth a lot sooner than that. And because the historian Craig Steven Wilder has documented, lots of America’s most storied predominantly white establishments straight or not directly profited from slave labor.

Unsurprisingly, private and non-private H.B.C.U.s stay underfunded relative to their predominately white counterparts. Just this year, Maryland reached a settlement agreement in a federal lawsuit that accused the state of discriminating towards and underfunding its 4 H.B.C.U.s.

Fortunately, Howard is doing comparatively properly for an H.B.C.U., however not so properly that it doesn’t must make onerous selections. While the college did eradicate the classics division, it didn’t intestine the humanities. Howard recently designated philosophy, English and historical past as “core investment” departments that “constitute the foundation of every great university.” The college acknowledges the worth of humanistic inquiry.

Let’s be clear: Howard college students are studying Parmenides, John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau together with Angela Davis, Charles Mills and Frantz Fanon. Students will proceed to learn Shakespeare and Walt Whitman alongside Toni Morrison and James Baldwin. In quick, Howard college students learn the texts required at predominantly white establishments plus the Black stuff.

There isn’t any religious disaster unfolding on Howard’s campus. Quite on the contrary, our campus, college students and school are within the midst of a Renaissance replete with all of the accompanying religious and mental affirmations. The administration determined to eradicate the classics division, nevertheless it additionally began majors in interdisciplinary humanities (which includes classical research programs), bioethics, worldwide affairs, and environmental research.

While the highest predominantly white establishments not often want to contemplate eliminating departments, the highest H.B.C.U.s wrestle to do the whole lot that they want to do for his or her college students. That is the true religious disaster.

Brandon Hogan is the director of undergraduate research and Jacoby Adeshei Carter is the chairman of the philosophy division at Howard University. They are each H.B.C.U. graduates.

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