Latin phrases are par for the course at an institution founded before the 20th century in the model of the great English universities. Nowadays, Columbia tries to appeal to this classical tradition in many ways, including preserving its latin diplomas (for some schools), honors, inscriptions and various other things of that nature.
Latin in Academia
The Latin language has been the lingua franca of Europe, roughly from the time of Charlemagne to the eighteenth century. Universities taught primarily in Latin, as it was both the language of scholars and a common language through which students across Europe could converse. When Columbia was founded, more than half of its curriculum was in the Greek and Latin classics. As far along as the 1850s, 14 of Columbia's 32 courses required for the Bachelor of Arts degree had to do with Greek and Latin literature.
When Columbia's Morningside campus was being built, there was a huge disagreement over whether the inscription the frieze of Low Library would be in Latin or English. Around the same time, the College abolished the Greek entrance and curriculum requirements.
Latin has long ago left the day-to-day functions of this University, and in many ways is slowly being phased out of the ceremonial aspects as well. Harvard and Princeton, for example, still have a Latin oration given as part of the commencement ceremony. At Columbia, there was even talk recently of issuing English-only diplomas for Columbia College, an arrangement that would oddly enough have made Barnard the only Columbia-associated school to still issue Latin diplomas. Naturally, this was overwhelmingly voted down.
In the 1960s, Harvard switched to English-only diplomas, a move that provoked the infamous "Diploma Riots", when angry, pretentious students dressed up in togas in the style of Roman orators and traveled the campus, delivering disputations in Classical Latin on the "vile, dog-like, and incestuous qualities of the English language".
Both Columbia and Harvard continue granting honorary degrees (Honoris Causa) in Latin.
A.B. or B.A.
The diploma itself reads: Curatores Universitatis Columbia Noveboracensis Collegii Olim Regalis omnibus et singulis quos praesentes litterate pervenerint salutem sciatis nos [NAME] cum exercitationes omnes ad gradum BACCALEUREI IN ARTIBUS attinentes rite ac legitime peregerit ad istum gradum provexisse eique omnia iura privilegia et honores quae adsolent in tali re adtribui dedisse et concessisse in cuius rei plenius testimonium chirographis Praesidis huius Universitatis et Decani Collegii Columbiae nec non sigillo nostro communi diploma hocce muniendum curavimus [DATE]
Translated: "The Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York, of the College formerly known as King's, present our greetings to all and everyone to whom this document may come. We inform you that NAME has duly and lawfully completed all the requirements appropriate to the degree of Bachelor of Arts and as accordingly been advanced to that degree with all the rights, privileges, and honors customarily pertaining thereto. In fuller testimony of this action, we have ensured that the signatures of the President of the University and the Dean of Columbia College as well as our corporate seal be affixed to this diploma. Done at New York on DATE in YEAR."
A.M. or M.A.
Artium Magister, meaning "Master of Arts".
Philosophiae magister, meaning Master of Philosophy.
Philosophiae doctor, meaning "Doctor of Philosopy".
Legum Baccaleureus, meaning "Bachelor of Laws". The "LL" signifies a plural of the Latin lex or "law", hence the two L's. The LL.B. was a "first-professional" degree and usually could be earned only after already earning a Bachelor of Arts. Replaced with the J.D. in the 1970s.
Juris doctor, or "Doctor of Law". Replaced the LL.B. in the 1970s because law students didn't want the world thinking they were undergraduates. It should be noted that the US Department of Education does not consider the J.D. a doctoral degree, even though it is denoted "Doctor", because there is no dissertation work associated therein. That being said, the US Department of Education does not consider the M.D. degree a doctoral degree either. Both are "first-professional" degrees. Both the J.D. and the J.S.D. are granted in Latin.
Juris scientiae doctor, or "Doctor of the Science of Law". The Ph.D. equivalent of a law degree. As this does involve dissertation work, the J.S.D. degree is considered a doctoral degree. Both the J.D. and the J.S.D. are granted in Latin.
Medicinae doctor, or "Doctor of Medicine". Not considered a doctoral degree by the US Department of Education, but rather a "first-professional' degree because of the lack of dissertation work.
Litterae doctor, meaning "Doctor of Letters", an "upper-level" doctorate, usually not granted in the United States. Used, however, for granting honorary degrees.
Honoris causa, appended to the end of a degree, meaning "for the reason of honor (or merit)". Used to signify an honorary degree.
Academic honors for graduating students are also awarded in Latin. While traditionally called "Latin Honors", at Columbia College they're referred to as "College Honors." The three levels of such honors apply to most of Columbia schools; in Columbia College they are chosen on the basis of GPA and faculty recommendations. For CC, the Committee on Honors, Awards, and Prizes reviews the records of the top 35% of the class by GPA. The cutoff GPA is unknown, but anecdotal evidence suggests that it falls somewhere around 3.70.
The number of people receiving honors varies each year. No more than 25 percent of CC students receive honors; this compares with less stringent cutoffs elsewhere in the Ivy League, e.g. Yale (30 percent) and Harvard (50 percent). Basically, Latin honors at Harvard are meaningless. In fact, career services personnel in Harvard grad schools often consider the Latin honors given to Columbia grads "an injustice" for their high cutoff rates.
The levels for Latin honors are:
- Summa Cum Laude: "with highest praise"
- Magna Cum Laude: "with great praise"
- Cum Laude: with praise [In 2009, the cutoff to receive this honor was a 3.6 GPA in CC.]
Students are notified when they have earned Latin Honors (or which honorific it is) via email in mid-May and also on Class Day, when it is printed in the official program.
The honors are inscribed in Latin on graduates' diplomas, regardless of those diplomas' primary language.
Trustee's Room, Low Library
Hujus collegii, regalis dicti, regio diplomate constituti in honorem dei O. M. atq in ecclesiae reiq publicae emolumentum, primum hunc lapidem posuit vir praecellentissimus, Carolus Hardy, eques auratus, hujus provinciae praefecturs dignissimus augti. die 23 AN DOM MDCCLVI
Translation: "The first stone of this college called King's established by Royal charter for the Honor of Almighty God and the advancement of the public good both in Church and State, was laid by His Excellency Sir Charles Hardy, Knight, the very worthy governor of this province. August 23, A.D. 1756."
- This is the cornerstone of College Hall, Columbia's first building, located down by where City Hall is today.
De super artificis spectant monumenta per annos
Translation: "The monuments of an artist look down upon us throughout the ages"
St. Paul's Chapel, Frieze
Pro Ecclesia Dei
Translation: "For the church (congregation) of God"
Hamilton Hall, Exterior
Huius collegii olim regalis nunc Columbiae dicti regio diplomate AN DOM MDCCLIIII constituti in honorem dei optimi maximi atq in ecclesiae reiq publicae emolumentum primus hic lapis positus est Sept. Die XXVII AN DOM MDCCCCV
Translation: "This first stone of this College, once called King's now Columbia, established by royal charter AD 1754 to the honor of Almighty God and the advancement of the church and the state, was laid September 27, 1905 AD"
Kent Hall, Exterior
IVS EST ARS BONI ET AEQUI
Translation: "Law is the art of the good and the just." 
Horam expecta, veniet.
Translation: "Await the hour—it will come."
In lumine tuo videbimus lumen.
Translation: "In thy light, we will see light." (Psalm 36:9)
Some time ago, I translated "Roar, Lion, Roar" into Latin. I'll see if I can dig it up.
- ↑ Christopher A. Francese, A Degree in English, The New York Times, May 15, 2009
- ↑ Letters, The New York Times, May 19, 2009.
- ↑ Yale Registrar
- ↑ Harvard Registrar
- ↑ This is a quote of Celsus from Section 1.1.1 of the Pandects (or 'Digesta') of the Corpus Juris Civilis (better known as the Justinian Code.)