Princeton Scraps Latin or Greek Requirement for Classics Majors to Add “New Perspectives” and Address “Systemic Racism”

Princeton University’s classics department is getting rid of its language requirement, meaning that classics majors will no longer need to learn Latin or ancient Greek to obtain their degree.

A Princeton Alumni Weekly article reports that the curriculum changes were approved in April. Not only was the Latin or Greek requirement eliminated, so was the “classics track,” an advanced concentration that asked interested majors to demonstrate an intermediate proficiency in either language.

Undergraduate studies director and classics professor Josh Billings claimed that these eliminations would enrich the community’s intellectual life, give more students an opportunity to become classics majors, and, yes, address “systemic racism.”

“We think that having new perspectives in the field will make the field better,” he said. “Having people who come in who might not have studied classics in high school and might not have had a previous exposure to Greek and Latin, we think that having those students in the department will make it a more vibrant intellectual community.”

Billings added that his department was discussing the changes before Princeton president Chris Eisgruber announced the university’s commitment to “address systemic racism,” but that the discussions “were given new urgency” by last summer’s race riots.

Despite the changes, the report notes that students are “still are encouraged to take either language if it is relevant to their interests in the department” and that “the breadth of offerings remains the same.”

Three Princeton alumni expressed their disagreement with the decision to eliminate the classics language requirements, writing brief letters to the Princeton Alumni Weekly in response to its article.

“Eliminating the language requirement is a deterioration of rigor rather than an improvement,” wrote Stephen William Foster. “It undermines Princeton’s mission as a standard-bearer of excellence in scholarly endeavor. Shame on the faculty for its shortsightedness.”

“‘Classics lite’ would be a good description of this major, but perhaps ‘classical civilization’ would do, in order to distinguish the ‘classics’ majors who are literate in both Greek and Latin,” said Mark Davies.

“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,” said J. David Garmon. “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.”

It was only a century or so ago that universities like Princeton required prospective students to demonstrate thorough knowledge of Latin and Greek on entrance exams. That is, they had to know the two languages before they could even be admitted. What a stark contrast to our present-day educational standards.