Columbia College cannot take credit for the genius of the classicist Gilbert Highet. Born in Glasgow and educated at St. John's College, Oxford University, Highet was said to embody "the best of the Scottish and Oxford traditions" in classical learning, which he imparted to generations of Columbia College students. Although he was not at Columbia when Humanities A was created, once he arrived Highet became an enthusiastic supporter of the course and of general education.
He was the author of several books on classical literature, including The Classical Tradition: Greek and Roman Influences on Western Literature (1949). Highet's commitment to classical learning found a home in Humanities A, where he became "one of the most energetic of teachers and colleagues," untroubled by the objections of some classicists to the rapid pace of the course or its reliance on translations. "The humanist wishes humanities to be taught, not as the history of superseded stages," he once wrote, "but as the foundations of modern life."
Highet taught as a Fellow at his alma mater for six years before accepting a position as professor of Greek and Latin at Columbia in 1938. Except for a brief interruption from 1943 to 1946, when he served in the British Army (rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel), Highet spent the rest of his professional career at Columbia. He was named Anthon Professor of Latin Language and Literature in 1950, and he served as department chairman in the 1960s.
While Highet's commitment to general education was unquestioned, his interests went much further. One contemporary said he had "taken all of literature as his province." Certainly Highet won a reputation as a skilled popularizer of intellectual and academic topics. He even hosted his own radio program and served as a judge for the Book-of-the-Month Club.