Cornel West is certainly no conservative. But Howard University’s decision to do away with the study of classical literature has him sounding like Victor Davis Hanson.
Neglecting classical literature is a “terrible act [that] treat[s] Western civilization as either irrelevant and not worthy of prioritization or as harmful and worthy only of condemnation,” West and Classic Learning Test CEO Jeremy Tate wrote in an April 19 Washington Post op-ed.
Howard University announced on April 16 that its classics department would be dissolved and its faculty moved to other departments as part of “prioritization efforts.”
West argues that eliminating classical literature is uniquely harmful to black students, who become unable to find their own voices when they are not “grounded in tradition … in legacies … [and] in heritages.”
West is correct, but the university — not just this particular one, Howard, but the broadly defined university — is not listening to him. Since writing that op-ed, Harvard has forced him out and he has not gone quietly. Nor should he. I don’t know the particulars of his situation, but he’s undoubtedly a formidable scholar and a serious mind. He’s accusing Harvard of “spiritual rot” just as he accused Howard of “spiritual catastrophe” back in April.
“How sad it is to see our beloved Harvard Divinity School in such decline and decay,” he wrote in a letter dated June 30 and posted to his social media accounts Monday. “The disarray of a scattered curriculum, the disenchantment of talented yet deferential faculty, and the disorientation of precious students loom large.”
West said he sent the “candid letter of resignation” to his Harvard dean.
“I try to tell the unvarnished truth about the decadence in our market-driven universities!” he wrote on his Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts. “Let us bear witness against this spiritual rot!”
Is any part of that wrong?
Since West’s call for Howard to turn back, that university has hired the founder of the 1619 Project and given her tenure to teach journalism. Scholar out, charlatan in.
Nikole Hannah-Jones rode a momentary epiphany all the way to fame and fortune and now lifetime employment, where she will teach young people to do…what, exactly? She will be a professor of journalism. It didn’t matter that her key journalism project was fundamentally wrong and it doesn’t matter now.
I have many friends in academia and one of them justified her hire and tenure based on the savvy nature of it, and because of the corporate dollars that will follow.
That isn’t wrong. In fact, it’s entirely right. It also aligns with West’s description of the “spiritual rot” at work. The lack of fidelity to facts in Hannah-Jones’ signature work does not matter at all. It didn’t matter to the Times. It didn’t matter to the Pulitzer. It didn’t matter to Howard. It doesn’t matter.
It doesn’t matter to the Biden government, which is pushing the inaccurate-to-the-point-of-dishonest 1619 Project into our public schools, where it will be used to undermine the ideals upon which our country was founded.
Separately, another friend recently told me that the University of North Texas has done away with its graduate program in Texas history. The University of Texas did the same long ago. It’s part of a national trend of doing away with history and classical scholarship and watering down standards. Numerous public and private grade schools are doing away with gifted programs. Standardized tests may go extinct and be replaced by subjectivity and quotas (but those quotas will disadvantage Asian students).
Why? I’d venture that history isn’t where the corporate dollars flow unless some star’s name is attached to it now. Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) do pull in corporate dollars. STEM is important.
But if we lose our collective memory, the culture and history that brought us to this moment in time — to the closest thing to universal freedom and generally understood values in the vote and republican forms of governance — how long will it last?
Progress can flow backward. Rome fell. Technology was not the issue. Many of its roads and aqueducts are still with us. Its ideals fell to empire and it eventually fell apart.
I’m sure if Professor West and I sat together for coffee we would disagree quite a bit on particulars, politics, and details. But we would agree on each other’s humanity and we would know that we stand in benefit of the brave men and women who stood for human dignity and freedom long before we were born. We would both cite Frederick Douglass. We would both cite St. Paul and Plato, Thomas Aquinas, and Thomas Jefferson. We would have the basis on which to have a conversation.
Today’s left hates all of those figures and merely tolerates Douglass. It would do away with him too if it could.
Doing away the with classics and replacing real scholars with famous dollar-chasers isn’t just misguided on the part of the university. It’s a calculated plan to cause spiritual rot. It’s the less kinetic version of vandalizing and toppling statues. It’s canceling our whole culture.
It’s burning the Library at Alexandria, every day, and lighting another section of it and another library afire every time a classics or history or philosophy department gives way to corporate or left-wing political interests.
We arrived in the 21st century standing on the shoulders of many intellectual giants. Through their experiences and despite their flaws, they gave us a free world becoming freer by the day. We are in retrograde now. The university, which benefits the most from the vision and courage of the giants of the past, is now burning their work and spitting in their faces, while the great library of knowledge burns behind them. They’re nihilists like Joker, burning the intellectual currency of civilization to create chaos.
Ideas are more difficult to physically destroy now. But it’s easier to wall them off and make them forbidden via the stifling and overwhelming pressure in the culture.
But don’t think destruction is their endgame. It’s not.
Once the spiritual catastrophe they have knowingly caused has taken its course, once our history and the liberal values it has led to are swept away, they intend to remake the world in their illiberal image.