Viewpoint: Honors Program poised for expansion
By Rebecca Rozelle-Stone
I wish to respond to the claims made about UND's Honors Program in a recent letter, "What's
Happening to UND Honors Program? (July 5)," submitted by Martin Rottler and signed by others. I appreciate the letter-writers' interest in the program and the opportunity to respond to the questions and provide some context.
Contrary to the letter's assertion that UND's Honors Program is undergoing a "demolition" analogous to that of the Robertson-Sayre building that housed the program for some years (although it was not Honors' original home), the Honors Program is actually poised for both expansion and heightened standards.
As the letter notes, the program is expecting one of the largest classes ever in fall 2018 — around 160 students (up about 23 percent from last year). At the same time, it is a priority for Honors and UND to ensure that a greater percentage of faculty teaching Honors students have the highest possible (terminal) degrees and extensive experience in their fields. A 2012 study undertaken by an Honors subcommittee at UND showed that in five years, only 50 percent of Honors courses were taught by instructors with terminal degrees in their disciplines.
To remedy this, we have recently expanded course offerings for students by soliciting top faculty/researchers from across the university to teach a wide range of courses. While these in-demand professors and courses might result in some slightly larger classes, we think it is better that UND's best talent is available to Honors students as part of their program.
Further, Honors is not cutting a Senior Honors Thesis requirement. Rather, this requirement has
been redesigned from a nine-credit, multi-semester expectation, which proved an obstacle to many students in majors with tight schedules and which was tantamount to a master's thesis
requirement, to a more feasible and flexible three-credit, one-semester capstone project that could involve a thesis, depending on the discipline.
This change will allow our talented students to complete coursework for their demanding majors alongside Honors credentialing in a manner appropriate and reasonable for undergraduate research in their chosen fields.
Similarly, Honors advising and student organizations are not being eliminated. Moreover, the turnover in full-time faculty in the last year was due to resignations, not, as the letter states, elimination of faculty positions. It is not unusual for non-tenure track faculty to seek other career opportunities. It is not true that our instructional budget has decreased. Nor is it true that we have fewer dedicated faculty in Honors. We are actually hiring new faculty to teach Honors classes to replace those who resigned, in addition to having more established faculty already at UND lead classes for these exceptional students.
A survey of the courses being offered to Honors students for the coming year would reveal that we are as (or more) invested in teaching students how to think critically, humanely, and globally as before. It is noteworthy that a UND "Honors Attrition Report" released in 2014 showed that
only 16 percent of students entering the Honors Program stayed with the program until graduation.
Clearly, change has been needed to attract and retain students in Honors. One of the most exciting changes we've recently implemented is a dual-track Honors curriculum that allows
students to be an "Honors Research Scholar" or an "Honors Leader in Action." These options not only embed a greater diversity of courses and experiences like internships and community
service in the requirements, but also permit enhanced flexibility for students looking for
ways to distinguish themselves within the Honors Program.
We are pleased that UND has recently provided a 50 percent increase in tuition waiver funding to the Honors Program. We have a team of highly dedicated faculty who are finding ways to make their research relevant to the class of 2022 and who are eager to mentor and encourage the diverse aspirations of our current and incoming students. And like the newly remodeled, modern and beautiful space that has been created for Honors faculty and students in Columbia Hall, there is a vista full of promise and serious commitment in the program going forward.
Rebecca Rozelle-Stone, Ph.D., is interim director of the UND Honors Program and associate professor of philosophy.