For over 200 years, each UNB diploma has been written in Latin, a language that is now incomprehensible to many. UNB student senator, Edward Choi, wants to change this.
Choi has presented a motion to the senate that proposes the removal of all or parts of the Latin language on all UNB diplomas or certificates. He sees it as a great problem and impracticality.
“The main content of the diploma, such as the name of the person, the name of the university, the name of the degree — the pertinent details should be in English,” Choi said.
“The diplomas are a legal document between the university and the recipient of the diploma. And it’s something to be hung up for the public to see, so it’s not something that’s purely ceremonial.”
“Nowadays in Canada, most people do not read in Latin and the times have changed. So, it would make sense practically for it to be in English. You’re going to hang up your diploma in your office and it’s for people to read.”
Other universities in Canada have already gone as far as to remove Latin from their diplomas. Choi said that the University of Toronto, the University of Western Ontario and the University of Hong Kong are among many other universities across Canada and the world that have kept their crest in Latin, but have changed the text to English.
The motion has created some controversy on campus. The people in favor see the practicality of the change and would enjoy being able to understand the words on their diploma.
On the other end of the spectrum, people would be saddened by the loss of a tradition that dates back to over 200 years ago. Another problem would be the inconsistency between the UNB degrees from years past in Latin and the newer ones that would be in English.
Dr. James S. Murray, professor and chair of the department of classics and ancient history at UNB said that in recent years UNB has been emphasizing its history that goes back to 1785. Removing Latin from the diplomas would be contradictory to this.
“We are one of the two oldest English language universities in North America,” said Murray. “The use of Latin in insignia or the use of Latin on a degree diploma is a symbolic statement of the roots that we have in the European, medieval and early modern university traditions that we like to hold onto.”
Murray said that the use of Latin is something that makes the university special.
“We don’t use it to be a hurdle, or a hindrance. We use it to be an iconic statement of the long and rich tradition of university work that is recognized in the Western world. We should have some historical recognition of the past and how we fit in with the past,” he said.
Dr. Murray recognizes that things evolve, and that we find new and better ways of doing things every day. Yet he believes this tradition is something that distinguishes us from others.
“We as a university don’t want to be like every other university. Because then when you say, ‘You should come to UNB!’ they would say, ‘Why? You’re just like every other university in the world.’ We want to be special in our own way,” he said.
“We want to have our own traditions. It’s kind of like being in a family. We want to be who we are, not who somebody else is.”