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"the Latin diploma needs to go" (NYT Opinion Piece)

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"the Latin diploma needs to go" (NYT Opinion Piece)

Postby edonnelly » Fri May 15, 2009 10:36 pm

I came upon this opinion piece in the New York Times and thought some of our regulars might enjoy reading it (a link to the full story appears at the bottom of the post):

CHRISTOPHER A. FRANCESE, New York TImes, May 14, 2009 wrote:

Carlisle, Pa.

CONGRATULATIONS. You are graduating this month with a Baccalaureatus Scientiae in Compertis ad Salutem Pertinentibus Administrandis. It sounds impressive, but what does it have to do with your degree in health information management? Almost no one knows, and that’s why the Latin diploma needs to go.

Latin is a beautiful language and a relief from the incessant novelty and informality of the modern age. But when it’s used on diplomas, the effect is to obfuscate, not edify; its function is to overawe, not delight. The goal of education is the creation and transmission of knowledge — not the creation and transmission of prestige. Why, then, celebrate that education with a document that prizes grandiosity over communication?


Full Story
The lists:
G'Oogle and the Internet Pharrchive - 1100 or so free Latin and Greek books.
DownLOEBables - Free books from the Loeb Classical Library
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Re: "the Latin diploma needs to go" (NYT Opinion Piece)

Postby Lucus Eques » Sat May 16, 2009 12:47 pm

Wow.

Allow me to paraphrase what I imagine Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel from The Simpsons would say upon receiving his first driver's permit:

****

Image

Cletus: "Huh? What this say? 'Dee-scrip-see-yone of app-lick-ant as state-ted on app-lick-ate-eye-on' ...?

Image

Patty Bouvier: "It's what you look like."

Cletus: "Then wha don't it juz say dat? Wha aw da fuss? An' what's this say? 'Rez-eye-dance...?'

Selma Bouvier: "That's where you live."

Cletus: "Wha? But it ain't got 'Springfield' spelled right! It's S-P-I-N-G-F-E-E-, uh, -E-L-D. I know where I do live. Now is you is o' is you ain't gonna fix that fo' me?"

****

Just because you don't know the language, Mr. Francese, doesn't mean it should be dumbed down for you. You claim to be a Latinist, and your education I have no inclination to doubt; it's your follow-through that was lacking when it was your job to make sure a few Latin words that would be on every diploma were spelled correctly, and yet you failed at your only task? That's obscene. The $4,000 rightly should have come from your paycheck.

And "Robur gregi in lupo, robur lupo in grege" for “The strength of the wolf is in the pack, the strength of the pack is in the wolf” ? Why obfuscate, as you say, a clear phrase with an unnecessarily uncatchy and unclear use of Latin? And why "robur" with its ungainly dative of possession, and why the phrases reversed? Why not: "A grege vis lupi, a lupo vis gregis," or "vis lupi a grege, a lupo gregis vis," etc.

I have a headline for you: "NYT OPINION COLUMNIST HAS TO GO."
Last edited by Lucus Eques on Sat May 16, 2009 1:06 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: "the Latin diploma needs to go" (NYT Opinion Piece)

Postby paulusnb » Sat May 16, 2009 12:50 pm

[


The guy is a classics teacher. However, I do not agree with his reasons. They sound a little pedestrian to me. Sounds like someone is regretting taking Latin in High School instead of Shop.


Diplomas are supposed to be about grandiosity rather than communication. By Magister Francese's logic, we should put all diplomas in Times New Roman.


I actually also completely disagree with the author's opinion about education not transmitting prestige. Sure it does. And why not? Jesus' apostles mentioned their education at Jesus' feet whenever they could. Socrates' students all wrote about him incessantly. What is wrong with prestige? When you look at your doctor's diploma on the wall, do you want to see a community college or an Ivy League? (sure, doctor's go to med school but the point still stands). IT IS ABOUT PRESTIGE. IT IS A DIPLOMA. Transcripts, Resumes, and Curriculum Vitae get to the communication of knowledge. Thus, they are not in Latin and written in Times New Roman.


Should we change BA, a Latin phrase meant to overawe, to knows his Sh@#? How about cum laude? Should this become smart a**?
Last edited by paulusnb on Sat May 16, 2009 2:21 pm, edited 8 times in total.
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Re: "the Latin diploma needs to go" (NYT Opinion Piece)

Postby Lucus Eques » Sat May 16, 2009 1:07 pm

Yes, agree with you, Paul; I amended my previous comments after having read the full article. Go ahead and change that quote of my post if you feel inclined. :)
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Re: "the Latin diploma needs to go" (NYT Opinion Piece)

Postby Chris Weimer » Sat May 16, 2009 7:34 pm

Why have a diploma at all? Why not just a piece of paper with a signature and a stamp? Why commencement? What purpose does commencement serve except grandiosity? What next? The university itself?
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Re: "the Latin diploma needs to go" (NYT Opinion Piece)

Postby thesaurus » Sat May 16, 2009 8:51 pm

I don't think diplomas should be in Latin, just as I don't think people should get their "Keep on Rockin" or "I love you mom" tattoo in Latin because it somehow seems cooler. This is also for the same reason that Latin isn't the language of universities anymore, and that you no longer have to pass Latin and Greek examinations to even get into a university. Of course, we cannot and should not do away with all forms of ceremony, but there is little reason to keep diplomas in Latin (other than "this is just the way it's done...") and good reasons to change them to the vernacular language (everyone can read them). Why not use elegant English prose instead of Latin?

I don't like trying to maintain Latin's (or any language's) status by relying on scattered uses of the language here and there to provide an opportunity for somebody to occasionally show off. But I'm totally opposed to granting prestige or special status to any language whatsoever, so I'm probably in the minority on this one.

That said, the relative unimportance of this debate will ensure that the schools who have been around a long time will keep using Latin, and newer schools will use English without giving it a second thought.
Horae quidem cedunt et dies et menses et anni, nec praeteritum tempus umquam revertitur nec quid sequatur sciri potest. Quod cuique temporis ad vivendum datur, eo debet esse contentus. --Cicero, De Senectute
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Re: "the Latin diploma needs to go" (NYT Opinion Piece)

Postby Bert » Sun May 17, 2009 1:05 am

Lucus Eques wrote:
Just because you don't know the language, Mr. Francese, doesn't mean it should be dumbed down for you. You claim to be a Latinist, and your education I have no inclination to doubt; it's your follow-through that was lacking when it was your job to make sure a few Latin words that would be on every diploma were spelled correctly, and yet you failed at your only task? That's obscene. The $4,000 rightly should have come from your paycheck.
Who said he doesn't know the language? (Oh, maybe you deduced that from the mistake he made?) Is writing in English for an English speaking people about an education in English dumbing down? Who said it was his only task?

paulusnb wrote: I actually also completely disagree with the author's opinion about education not transmitting prestige. Sure it does........IT IS ABOUT PRESTIGE. IT IS A DIPLOMA.
He didn't say that education doesn't transmit prestige but that it is not the goal of education.
The goal of education is the creation and transmission of knowledge — not the creation and transmission of prestige.
paulusnb wrote: Should we change BA, a Latin phrase meant to overawe....
?
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Re: "the Latin diploma needs to go" (NYT Opinion Piece)

Postby paulusnb » Sun May 17, 2009 3:55 pm

Bert wrote: paulusnb wrote: I actually also completely disagree with the author's opinion about education not transmitting prestige. Sure it does........IT IS ABOUT PRESTIGE. IT IS A DIPLOMA.

He didn't say that education doesn't transmit prestige but that it is not the goal of education.


OK Bert. I should have said that I do not understand the author's discomfort with the prestige offered by education. Not only is there nothing wrong with the prestige attached to education, there is nothing wrong with wanting that prestige. Does it not show a certain high-mindedness on the part of the individual that he wants to be respected by his community? Don't kids from little towns who go off to the Ivy league become town heroes? Doesn't the University of Chicago advertise how many of its professors have won Nobel Prizes?

A discomfort with the seeking of prestige, and the social injustices of people being better than others, is what lies at the center of Magister's opinion.

To reword for you... I disagree with the author's conclusion that since education's goal is the transmission of knowledge and not prestige, the diploma should not be written in Latin. I quote the passage about prestige: "The goal of education is the creation and transmission of knowledge — not the creation and transmission of prestige."

The author has a problem with the "elitist" nature of latin on the diploma. It sound like he has a guilty conscience. (I thought he voted for Barak Obama? Did not this one act bring about the change we have been waiting for?) "As a college professor, I try to tell my students that education is more than a status symbol. Its purpose is the development of the mind and social usefulness through the clear communication of information and ideas. Why contradict that with the very piece of paper that is meant to represent the work they’ve done?" Magister's logic is clear. Latin on diploma = status symbol. Using a status symbol contradicts the work they do. Latin on diploma contradicts the goal of education. It is not socially conscience enough.



OK. We are talking diplomas. I say that diplomas are about prestige and not the knowledge you have gained. Employers do not examine potential employees' diplomas for their knowledge. They look at resumes for that. The diploma hangs on the wall, framed for ...........................................prestige. So, while the end game of education is not prestige, the end of the Diploma is. Is this bad? No. See above.

Bert wrote: paulusnb wrote: Should we change BA, a Latin phrase meant to overawe....

?


My understanding is that BA stands for Baccalaureate artis, a latin phrase. According to the author, the presence of Latin on a transcript is to overawe, and thus is not true to the goal of education. I suggested we change it to "Knows his stuff," something much clearer. As far as the English equivalent, what is a bachelor? Isn't this a guy who is not married? I am confused, but I know if someone has a certificate that says "knows his stuff," then he knows his stuff. The BA, whether in Latin or English, awes instead of edifies. Bad. BAD. We must always edify and not awe.

The quote, dear Bert: "Latin is a beautiful language and a relief from the incessant novelty and informality of the modern age. But when it’s used on diplomas, the effect is to obfuscate, not edify; its function is to overawe, not delight." To this, I reply a mixture of "so what" and "not really."


Lastly, all of Magister's arguments could be used to take calligraphy off of the diploma and replace it with Times New Roman. Who can read the calligraphy anyway. And while we are here, why not get rid of the pretty borders? Why use Latin for school mottoes? Why wear black gowns at graduation instead of Blue Jeans? Why wear ties?



Must tradition and aesthetics always yield to the monster, social usefulness? There is a professor at Loyola New Orleans who argues that we should end Mardi Gras because all off its trappings look back to the days of peasants and kings and reinforce present oppressive economic realities. I think he and Magister both belong on Gulliver's floating island of mathematicians where the wives run off with the servants because the servants can appreciate a good looking rack.
Last edited by paulusnb on Mon Jan 30, 2012 11:44 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: "the Latin diploma needs to go" (NYT Opinion Piece)

Postby Lex » Sun May 17, 2009 7:44 pm

paulusnb wrote:OK. We are talking diplomas. I say that diplomas are about prestige and not the knowledge you have gained. Employers do not examine potential employees' diplomas for their knowledge. They look at resumes for that. The diploma hangs on the wall, framed for ...........................................prestige. So, while the end game of education is not prestige, the end of the Diploma is. Is this bad? No.


Well, the purpose of the diploma is not just prestige. The purpose of the diploma is to represent a formal education. The purpose of a formal education, for most people, is that it is a requirement for getting certain jobs. Employers do not just look at a resume to assess a potential employee's knowledge. In fact, you won't have much of a resume without experience, and you can't get experience in certain fields without a formal education and accompanying degree. A formal education, and the diploma that represents it, then, are mostly forms of economic protectionism, and a lazy man's way of assessing a person's capability before he has experience.

If you don't believe that, take the case of a former co-worker of mine. As a contract employee who worked at a car company, he did computer programming for several years. He did not have a degree. He was eventually hired in-house, based on his past performance (he was obviously well qualified for the job), but only on the condition that he go to school and earn a BSCS, because that was a requirement for the job position. Stupid? Yes. True? Yes.

Having said all that, I agree that there is nothing bad about prestige in general, or the prestige added to a diploma by putting it in Latin. It seems the author has a definite political agenda. Prestige is only valid when some people are demonstrably better than others in some way. That seems to be insufficiently egalitarian for the author of the article.
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Re: "the Latin diploma needs to go" (NYT Opinion Piece)

Postby Lucus Eques » Sun May 17, 2009 7:54 pm

Paule (or do you prefer your first name?), I agree with you on all counts, and enjoyed a hearty laugh at your many bons mots and pleasant irony — "more clearer" was brilliant. :lol:
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Re: "the Latin diploma needs to go" (NYT Opinion Piece)

Postby paulusnb » Mon May 18, 2009 5:51 am

So should I feel bad that I have a CLassics Awards hanging in my office that has Greek on it? I am quite proud of my plaque and the prestige it gives me by proclaiming to all that I had the highest GPA in Greek in my graduating class. But perhaps I should take it down because my Greek has gotten pretty bad. It is definitely not the goal of education to deceive others concerning one's ability. So, since anyone viewing my plaque will assume that I am a master of Greek, I should take it down.
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Re: "the Latin diploma needs to go" (NYT Opinion Piece)

Postby thesaurus » Mon May 18, 2009 5:50 pm

Lex wrote: It seems the author has a definite political agenda. Prestige is only valid when some people are demonstrably better than others in some way. That seems to be insufficiently egalitarian for the author of the article.


What is his political agenda and how is he showing it?
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Re: "the Latin diploma needs to go" (NYT Opinion Piece)

Postby Bert » Mon May 18, 2009 6:44 pm

paulusnb wrote:So should I feel bad that I have a CLassics Awards hanging in my office that has Greek on it? I am quite proud of my plaque and the prestige it gives me by proclaiming to all that I had the highest GPA in Greek in my graduating class. But perhaps I should take it down because my Greek has gotten pretty bad. It is definitely not the goal of education to deceive others concerning one's ability. So, since anyone viewing my plaque will assume that I am a master of Greek, I should take it down.

Keep it hanging Paul. The Greek on it is great. After all; You earned it doing the Greek course(s). Would I like to see Greek on a math award? Nah.
English has many Latin words and phrases (like cum laude and ad hoc) that have become part of our language. You can look them up in the dictionary. That is not the same as having a Latin description on a diploma.
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Re: "the Latin diploma needs to go" (NYT Opinion Piece)

Postby Essorant » Tue May 19, 2009 5:06 pm

I don't see much virtue in using the Latin for the diplomas. It doesn't represent good learning of Latin in our culture, for most people don't know Latin. Using it to try to "keep up appearances" isn't going to help anything and it is especially not going to help people have more respect for the language.
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Re: "the Latin diploma needs to go" (NYT Opinion Piece)

Postby dlb » Thu Jun 11, 2009 11:24 pm

paulusnb wrote, "I actually also completely disagree with the author's opinion about education not transmitting prestige. Sure it does. And why not? Jesus' apostles mentioned their education at Jesus' feet whenever they could. Socrates' students all wrote about him incessantly. What is wrong with prestige? When you look at your doctor's diploma on the wall, do you want to see a community college or an Ivy League? (sure, doctor's go to med school but the point still stands). IT IS ABOUT PRESTIGE. IT IS A DIPLOMA. Transcripts, Resumes, and Curriculum Vitae get to the communication of knowledge. Thus, they are not in Latin and written in Times New Roman."

25% of Americans have a college degree.
33% of all freshmen in college drop out.

Prestige? It sure is!!
Deus me ducet, non ratio.
Observito Quam Educatio Melius Est.
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Re: "the Latin diploma needs to go" (NYT Opinion Piece)

Postby alismith » Tue Jun 16, 2009 4:44 am

Essorant wrote:I don't see much virtue in using the Latin for the diplomas. It doesn't represent good learning of Latin in our culture, for most people don't know Latin. Using it to try to "keep up appearances" isn't going to help anything and it is especially not going to help people have more respect for the language.


This is exactly what I was thinking. It's fancy but completely impractical -- it's form over function.
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Re: "the Latin diploma needs to go" (NYT Opinion Piece)

Postby Deudeditus » Fri Jun 19, 2009 8:37 am

I'm not sure there has to be a real function to the language on diplomas. Traditionally, Latin is used. We all know what the piece of paper means when we see it. If we don't, we can ask, which does not stop the world from turning. Conversely, the world will keep turning if Universities decide to write/print on diplomas in the vulgar. The accomplishment/status will still be the same, I assume.

It would be nice to see a diploma in Attic, though. Or even Koine; I wouldn't know the difference. Unless, I suppose, I saw the word thalassa.

Maybe we should make degrees in computer sciences binary.
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Re: "the Latin diploma needs to go" (NYT Opinion Piece)

Postby tominsjones » Fri Mar 19, 2010 5:28 am

The rest of it has me a little confused. "And furthermore has achieved on account of this study honors of the second order in [field of specialty]"?

That's far, far better than what I've been able to put together. In many places I have the words translated, but haven't been able to string them together properly to make any kind of sense (the nature of the Latin beast).

Second honors? Is that part in a little bit different script like they had to add it later after honors were calculated? My "cum laude" is like that.
Precisely.
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