It was with disappointment that I read Josh Billings, director of undergraduate studies and professor of classics, announce intermediate proficiency in Greek or Latin has been eliminated for classics majors (On the Campus, May issue). Professor Billings explains, “… we think having those students [without a proficiency in Greek or Latin] in the department will make it a more vibrant intellectual community.”
Undoubtedly, the humanities have faced increasing challenges over the years attracting students; and the rigors of even intermediate proficiency in Latin or Greek are well known to anyone who has attempted it. However, for the classics department to abandon the foundation of its discipline is like an engineering department abandoning mathematics and physics — two notoriously rigorous areas of study — in hopes of creating a “more vibrant intellectual community.”
A truly vibrant and intellectually honest community must always demand rigor and integrity in its self-examination, which in this case would require acknowledging, however heartbreaking it might be, that the classics department is no longer able to attract the intellectual horsepower it once did and that it is dumbing down its curriculum in keeping with the current tastes of undergraduates. Evading a clear statement of this difficult reality is a departure from the values of integrity and honesty that are the bedrock of any intellectual endeavor and is a disservice to the community of scholars who dedicate their lives to the pursuit of truth.