Using race-based preferences to admit students with qualifications vastly inferior to those admitted without the need for such preferences creates all sorts of problems and dislocations. One of them is the erosion of standards within various departments, especially ones that teach hard stuff. I wrote about one example — eliminating econometrics as a required course for graduating from a major school of public policy — here.
Now comes word, via Brittany Bernstein at NRO, that Classics majors at Princeton University will no longer be required to learn Greek or Latin. An intermediate proficiency in Greek or Latin won’t be required to enter the concentration and the requirement that students to take Greek or Latin will also be dropped.
At least Princeton’s French majors will still be required to know French and its Math majors to know calculus. For now, at least.
Josh Billings, director of undergraduate studies and professor of classics, claims that having students who don’t know Latin and Greek in the department “will make it a more vibrant intellectual community.” It will do so, allegedly, by “ensur[ing] that a broad range of perspectives and experiences inform our study of the ancient Greek and Roman past.”
What is the Black perspective, if any, on ancient Greece and Rome? That the Greeks and Romans were white supremacists? I doubt that this perspective is (1) relevant to studying the classics and (2) absent from the department as currently constituted. Indeed, as discussed below, Princeton’s classics department is already obsessed with “systemic racism.”
It’s fair to ask why Blacks who view ancient Greece and Rome as bastions of white supremacy would want to major in Classics. Why study the scribblings of a bunch of racists? How much passion can one muster for that enterprise?
And what will these students do with their major? It’s unlikely they will be able to teach Greek or Latin. Even if they choose belatedly to study it, they will be far behind. It seems unlikely that, lacking strong proficiency in the languages, these students will be able to continue their study of Classics in graduate schools worth their salt.
I suspect that to the extent Princeton’s relaxation of requirements attracts new students who don’t know Greek or Latin, these students won’t find it fulfilling to be in a department populated with actual scholars of Greek and Latin. They will probably take their “vibrancy” elsewhere.
It seems clear from Bernstein’s account that Princeton’s decision isn’t about vibrancy and fresh perspectives. It’s about feelings of guilt and the desire for atonement.
The Department states:
Our department is housed in a building named after Moses Taylor Pyne, the University benefactor whose family wealth was directly tied to the misery of enslaved laborers on Cuban sugar plantations,. This same wealth underwrote the acquisition of the Roman inscriptions that the department owns and that are currently installed on the third floor of Firestone Library. Standing only a few meters from our offices and facing towards Firestone is a statue of John Witherspoon, the University’s slave-owning sixth president and a stalwart anti-abolitionist, leaning on a stack of books, one of which sports the name ‘Cicero.’. . .
We condemn and reject in the strongest possible terms the racism that has made our department and our field inhospitable to Black and non-Black scholars of color, and we affirm that Black Lives Matter.
Okay. But how is it racist to require Classics majors to know Greek and Latin?
It isn’t. If anything, it seems racist to assume that Blacks need to be excused from learning Latin and Greek. If they are serious about Classics, why wouldn’t they learn the languages?
The Department completes its virtue signaling by stating:
The actions we take to promote equity and inclusion will not suffice to protect members of our community from discrimination and the effects of systemic racism – particularly anti-Black racism. For that reason, we end by expressing our solidarity with efforts to achieve equity in our nation and our world.
In reality, the actions the department takes will reinforce racial stereotypes and diminish the value of completing the Classics major at Princeton, while probably having a negligible effect on minority completion of the major.
But this doesn’t seem to matter to Princeton, where it’s all about making the right gestures and reciting woke pieties.