Cornel West and his co-author made a standard mistake after they wrote a current essay in The Washington Submit chastising Howard College for eliminating its classics division. Lowering the choice to a “religious disaster,” they missed a deeper and extra pressing downside: the monetary constraints dealing with traditionally Black schools and universities, and the inequality that underlies them.
Our method to this difficulty is predicated in our perspective as philosophy professors at Howard who’ve reverence for the classics. Our division gives 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 query that, in a really perfect world, Howard would have a big, thriving classics division.
However departments aren’t free.
The choice to remove the division was the results of an intensive effort to find out the right way to finest allocate the college’s restricted sources. Departments had been assessed primarily based on scholar curiosity, value and profit, and total match with the college’s mission. Nobody needed to remove any packages, and none of us cheer the lack of the division, however this modification was needed. Anthony Ok. Wutoh, the college’s provost and chief educational officer, has defined why that’s, however we’d like to supply further perception.
Pronouncements from the ivory towers of predominately white establishments about what Black schools ought to do could rating political factors and draw public consideration. However solely these of us who analysis and train at traditionally Black schools and universities, generally known as H.B.C.U.s — not like Dr. West, who has primarily labored at establishments with enormous endowments — have the type of understanding that comes from expertise.
To place issues in perspective: Harvard’s endowment is $42 billion, Yale’s is $31 billion, and Princeton’s is $27 billion. Howard’s is just $712 million. There are causes for this discrepancy. Nearly all Ivy League establishments had been based earlier than the Revolutionary Warfare, whereas H.B.C.U.s didn’t get into full swing till effectively after the Civil Warfare.
These establishments had been established to educate Black People, most of whom, earlier than 1865, couldn’t a lot as dream of receiving any formal schooling. America’s oldest universities had been in a position to start to construct wealth a lot sooner than that. And because the historian Craig Steven Wilder has documented, a lot of America’s most storied predominantly white establishments instantly 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. Simply this yr, Maryland reached a settlement settlement in a federal lawsuit that accused the state of discriminating towards and underfunding its 4 H.B.C.U.s.
Thankfully, Howard is doing comparatively effectively for an H.B.C.U., however not so effectively that it doesn’t must make laborious selections. Whereas the college did remove the classics division, it didn’t intestine the humanities. Howard not too long ago designated philosophy, English and historical past as “core funding” departments that “represent the muse of each nice college.” 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. College students will proceed to learn Shakespeare and Walt Whitman alongside Toni Morrison and James Baldwin. In brief, 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. Fairly 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 remove the classics division, nevertheless it additionally began majors in interdisciplinary humanities (which contains classical research programs), bioethics, worldwide affairs, and environmental research.
Whereas the highest predominantly white establishments hardly ever want to contemplate eliminating departments, the highest H.B.C.U.s battle to do the whole lot that they want to do for his or her college students. That is the actual religious disaster.
Brandon Hogan is the director of undergraduate research and Jacoby Adeshei Carter is the chairman of the philosophy division at Howard College. They’re each H.B.C.U. graduates.
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