Howard University is America’s only Historically Black College and University with a Classics Department. Citing budget cuts, however, Howard administrators recently announced that the university would be closing the Department, which has been part of the institution since its founding in 1867, as part of its “prioritization efforts”—a decision that’s been widely condemned.
Writing in the Washington Post last month, Cornel West and Jeremy Tate condemned the move as a “spiritual catastrophe” that reflects the broader de-prioritization of the humanities within American education. This week, two Howard professors, Brandon Hogan and Jeremy Tate, responded in the New York Times by defending the administration’s decision, arguing that the university’s limited endowment makes the decision difficult but essential. But there is a solution out of this impasse that has yet to be broached in the debate — one that would save the academic program at no additional expense to the university. Congress can, and should, simply fund Howard’s Classics Department.
The government does not typically provide direct funding for university expenses. But thanks to its unique role in the founding of Howard, Congress could easily step in and save the Classics Department from the budgetary chopping block. This solution stems from the political context in which the university was founded. In 1865, at the end of the Civil War, Radical Republicans in Congress sought to support the education and health of newly emancipated African Americans by establishing the Freedman’s Bureau, which provided schooling, hospitals, and other social services across the US.