In abandoning the classics requirement for the A.B. degree Yale has made another of those breaks with the past which have gone so far to modify traditional university education in recent years. The move erases an obviously illogical provision which made the attainment of the Bachelor of Arts degree depend on the number of years spent on Latin or Greek regardless of whether a man majored in chemistry or fine arts.
What prohibition and the tariff are to political circles the study of the classics is to the academic world. In spite of the steady decline in the study of Latin and Greek, the verbal sparring about the special value of the classics both for mental training and for unique cultural contributions has not perceptibly abated. The impatient crusaders for "practical" courses face the less vociferous but equally sincere defenders of Homer and Sappho or Virgil and Horace.
The old school of "born-and-bred" classicists has recently been reinforced by a younger group who have emphasized the educational value of familiarity with a civilization which contrasts so strongly with that of the twentieth century. Yale's plan for a required course in classical civilization, if well carried out, would provide a more effective means for attaining this end than the usual disjointed series of readings from Caesar, Cicero, and Virgil.
The Yale News' assertion that the abolition of the classics requirement at New Haven will "rock the firm foundation of classical culture in secondary schools" is fine hyperbole. That foundation has long since lost any, Gibraltar-like quality. It is unlikely, on the other hand, that the classics are doomed to complete neglect at any early date.
Harvard ought surely to follow Yale and Princeton in cancelling the meaningless distinction between its A.B. and S.B. degrees by making the arts degree dependent on the field of concentration rather than on knowledge of the ancient languages. Such a change need not imply a denial by the University of the value of studying the classics. It would blot out the stigma of official favoritism which, by arousing an instinctive antagonism, has probably hindered rather than promoted a true appreciation of ancient literature and culture.