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History & Mission

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History and Mission

In keeping with the wisdom and tradition of placing the study of ancient Greece and Rome at the heart of a strong curriculum the liberal arts and sciences, President David Ross Boyd selected a classicist, William N. Rice, as the first member of the University of Oklahoma’s faculty in 1890.

Rice’s successor, Joseph Paxton, wrote the university’s motto, Civi et Reipublicae (“for the benefit of the citizen and the state”), stating in nuce the university’s institutional mission of providing the “best possible educational experience for our students through excellence in teaching, research and creative activity, and service to the state and society.”

From the Athenian drachma and the Roman sestertius featured above the south doorway of Adams Hall, to the Ionic column symbolizing humanistic learning in the College of Arts and Science’s logo, the Classical tradition has always been an important part of the University of Oklahoma, and the Department of Classics and Letters has always supported the university’s mission through research and teaching in the languages and cultures of ancient Greece and Rome and their enduring influence on the modern world.

In 1937, the School of Letters was organized to “provide systematic instruction in ancient and modern languages, history, philosophy and comparative literature,” an Oklahoma Daily writeup from that year concluded.

A few years later, the School of Letters became a planned program of the College of Arts and Sciences, under the guidance of a committee of faculty members from the core departments of Classics, English, History, Modern Languages, and Philosophy. In 1953, under the direction of Philip J. Nolan, the Classics Department became the administrative home of the Letters program. Since then, the Chair of the Department of Classics also serves as the Director of the Letters program.

To reflect the department’s long-standing commitment to the Letters program and the outstanding job it has done administering it, the department’s name was changed to the Department of Classics and Letters in 1996.

In 2009, President David Boren established the Institute for the American Constitutional Heritage, or IACH, within the Department of Classics and Letters out of a desire to promote an interdisciplinary, humanistic approach to the study of the Constitution and constitutionalism.

From its earliest days, the Department of Classics and Letters has supported OU’s institutional mission by promoting free inquiry and the perpetuation of the humanistic tradition.

Through teaching, scholarly and creative activity, and service, the Department of Classics and Letters seeks to preserve and promote the study of the culture, history, languages, literature, and philosophy of Greco-Roman antiquity and the enduring influence of Classical ideals on the modern world.

Expanded Statement of Institutional Purpose

The principal mission of the Department of Classics and Letters' curricular program is to provide a traditional liberal arts education that will prepare students to adapt to a variety of settings after graduation. Our programs are based upon the assumption that cultivated intelligence, good judgment, and artistic expression in speech and writing are desirable in and for themselves.

Each of the department's major programs, in addition to fulfilling this principal mission, has its own specific purpose and goals.


The principal mission of the curriculum in Classics is to educate students about ancient Greek and Roman civilizations.

The three emphases within Classics have distinct goals:

  • Classical Studies: To provide an opportunity for general study of ancient Greek and Roman civilizations, primarily through primary sources in English translation.
  • Classical Languages: To prepare students for advanced study in Classics at the graduate level.
  • Latin: To prepare students for a career in the teaching of Latin at the primary and secondary level.


The principal mission of the curriculum in Letters is to provide students with a traditional, interdisciplinary education in the liberal arts and sciences through courses both in the Department of Classics and Letters and in other departments.

  • The goal of the Letters curriculum is to equip students with skills that can be adapted to a wide variety of pursuits after graduation.
  • The additional goal of the emphasis in Constitutional Studies is to educate students about Constitutionalism.

To build on the strength and reputation for excellence that the department has enjoyed since the earliest history of the University of Oklahoma, our goals are:

  • To advance scholarship in the humanities through research, presentations, publication, and creative activity.
  • To support and promote the university's educational mission by creating and offering courses not only in the College of Arts & Sciences' general education program, but also in specialized areas of study in support of the department's major and minor programs.
  • To promote wider interest in the humanities through public lectures, presentations, and other outreach events.