Part 1 – Institutional mottos
UNIVERSITIES have their respective mottos. There are mottos worded in Latin. As Joseph Gora points out, the motto is “a wonderful window to the university’s soul” <https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ877050> wrapping up, as it were, like a tapestry, the university’s philosophy, vision, mission and goals (PVMG). These statements announce to the world the rationale for the university’s existence. As such, a university’s motto binds the PVMG together. The goals finally are expected to anchor student learning outcomes particularized in courses students take. Come accreditation, it would be a worthy task for a university to review the gaps in policy and practice — administrative-wise and academic-wise — to better embed the university’s motto in the institutional statements.
What is an institution’s motto? A motto (derived from the Latin muttum, “mutter,” “word,” “sentence”) is a maxim: a phrase meant to formally summarize the general motivation or intention of an individual, family, social group or organization. Another source defines motto as “a word, phrase, or sentence that expresses an attitude, ideal, or guiding principle associated with the organization to which it belongs.” The same source quotes Johan Fornäs who describes a motto as “a kind of verbal key symbol for a community or an individual, which differs from other verbal expressions (such as descriptions, laws, poems, novels) in that it formulates a promise or intention, often in a striking manner” (Signifying Europe, 2012). Mottos may sound like proverbs, especially those in Latin. Universities do not have the monopoly of using mottos. Today, companies express their brand or “signature” also through mottos and, as one might expect, are in the relevant modern language, English, in order to convey their message in the clearest way possible. <https://www.thought co.com › Humanities › English › English Grammar>
Why university mottos are in Latin. Using Latin reflects the origin of universities during the Middle Ages in which Latin was very prominent. “A Latin motto connects the university to a grand tradition of education that stretches back through the ages to a time when Latin was the only practical language for the study of science, medicine, mathematics, history, literature, philosophy, and theology. The international language — or lingua franca — for centuries, Latin was the foundation of education,” hence, many universities find it proper to pay tribute to tradition with a motto in Latin. <http://www. ou.edu/cas/classicsand letters/about/university-motto> In fact, it was not only the motto that was in Latin. In Catholic universities such as the Pontifical University and the Ateneos, Latin was taught from high school, together with some Spanish. In the last half of the 17th century, Latin was mandatory for the study of philosophy, theology and jurisprudence in school. Philippine priests and lawyers that time, with the exception of the sons and daughters of Spaniards, Ladinos, and principalia knew Latin perfectly well because the educational system was wholly religious. Explaining why there are mottos in Latin, Joseph Gora describes universities “as temples of higher learning,” and which “are particularly partial to Latin phraseology.” On a quite countering note, Gora commented that “Latin can also convey a potent image of lofty intellectualism that emboldens vacuous claims to ‘higher education’ and ’excellence.’” (I am reminded of a reader’s comment to my column on an institution’s mission and vision which said that very often schools purport to have statements on quality and excellence but which are mostly hallow if not merely decorative.)
Motto and logo/coat of arms. Nowadays, one would note that a university’s seal would relate to its motto, which usually is written on the logo. These symbols also grace the cover of a university’s brochure, or administrative manuals and is a stand-out on its website. An example where the university’s motto has a visual presentation on the university seal is that of the University of Oklahoma (UO). UO’s motto which “expresses a much more practical goal: Civi et Reipublicae (“for the benefit of the citizen and the state”) has an accompanying image of a farmer sowing a recently plowed field on the university’s great seal. “The motto speaks volumes about the purpose of higher education in Oklahoma: the seeds of knowledge should grow and yield a better future for the citizens and their state.” As explained in UO’s The Making of the Motto, “Having a Latin motto on the great seal also delivers the message that higher education is hard work. It takes hard work to plow a field, sow it with seeds, tend the plants, and harvest the crops. The farmer on the great seal knows that. It also takes hard work to learn new things, like a new language, or a new way of looking at the world, but the work yields tremendous, life-sustaining benefits.” OU’s motto “places emphasis on practicality”; that the Latin words Civi et Reipublicae “should be doing something, not just standing for an abstract ideal.” <http://www.ou.edu/cas/classicsandletters/about/ university-motto>
Whatever a motto proposes, liberal education (from the Latin liberare), which should permeate all higher education teaching and learning, is “liberating people from the shackles of ignorance.” Whether the motto is in the tradition of ancient universities as expressed in Latin, or in keeping with the modern world with its signature byword in English, some explanatory statements of the university’s motto, printed on its manuals and discussed during orientation sessions, would more likely “connect the personal with the broader institutional practices.”
Next week: Some mottos in Latin
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