The diploma in question

For a few years now, the General Studies Student Council has lobbied to receive a diploma written in Latin–like the College and Law School currently give. (GS, along with the other 13 schools, award an English diploma.) Peter Awn, the GS dean, took a break from being totally awesome to let down GS students easily:

Dear GS Students,

In recent years there has been an initiative led by members of the General Studies Student Council (GSSC) to move from conferring a School of General Studies diploma written in English to a GS diploma written in Latin, the language of the diploma conferred by Columbia College. Currently 13 Schools of the University confer diplomas written in English while only 2 continue to confer diplomas written in Latin. (The second school is Columbia Law School.)

I take quite seriously the concerns expressed by members of the student councils past and present, as well as the contributions from many students who have expressed support for the Latin diploma and those who have expressed support for continuing to offer the English diploma. As you know, last January I postponed a decision on the Latin diploma in order to focus the attention and resources of GS on navigating an increasingly complex economic environment. I promised at the time to revisit this issue when the University returned to a more stable financial footing. While the impact of the recession will continue to be felt for years to come, I am now able to make a decision on whether or not we should move to conferring a diploma written in Latin.

After listening to alumni and students’ thoughts and concerns over the past 18 months, I have decided, along with the 13 other Schools of the University, to continue to use the English language diploma-design approved by the University Senate in 2005. I do this for reasons that I have discussed with the GS community in a number of different forums, private and public, over the past year and a half. Let me share with you, briefly, some of the reasons that have led me to this decision.

First, it is my belief that a Latin diploma does not represent appropriately a college that was founded in 1947 and that embodies a cutting-edge approach to undergraduate education in the United States. At GS, we are not only steeped in the Columbia educational tradition, but also thoroughly modern and innovative. I would find a General Studies diploma in Latin to be regressive, given our mission and identity. While our full integration into the Columbia undergraduate community is a goal we all share, in this case, I believe our difference from Columbia College is a strength, not a weakness. In addition, I find it difficult to grasp why any student would want a diploma written in a language that he or she could not understand.

Secondarily, after researching this issue in some detail with multiple offices around the University, it became clear that offering a Latin diploma would create numerous logistical complications and expenses that seem excessive in a time of fiscal constraint. While I want to be clear that the reason for my not supporting a move to a Latin diploma is based principally on my conviction that the English diploma better represents GS as a unique college at an Ivy League university, these financial and logistical concerns are considerable and serious.

Finally, I think it is important to note that, while the language in which the GS diploma is written may differ from that of Columbia College’s diploma, the text and design of the two diplomas are the same, as well as their significance in the world outside of Columbia.

I know that some of you will be disappointed by my decision. I hope, however, that we can agree to disagree on this issue and begin to focus on other major concerns of the GS student body, faculty, and administration. Thank you for your patience in allowing me to take time to review all of the aspects of this issue.

For your information, I have included an image of the design of the diploma below.


Professor Peter J. Awn