Honors Program under fire

The influences of nationally respected Honors Programs are coming to Temple in the form of proposals to reorganize the current Temple University Honors Program. The changes, which are still in the planning period, are being

The influences of nationally respected Honors Programs are coming to Temple in the form of proposals to reorganize the current Temple University Honors Program. The changes, which are still in the planning period, are being led by President David Adamany, Provost Ira Schwartz and Vice Provost Peter Jones. Despite illustrious influences such as Arizona State University, the University of Michigan and the University of Pennsylvania, those involved with the current program hope that Temple’s unique Honors dynamic will not be diluted in the process of improving it.

For Jones, concerns arise at the beginning of the Honors process.

Admissions requirements are under scrutiny because standardized test scores are not weighed evenly with high school grade point average, causing concern that all students are not being considered equally. Further, incoming Honors students are handled by University Admissions, rather than a separate department devoted exclusively to the program. For Schwartz and Jones, simply being at the “very top end” of the admissions process is not enough.

“Peter Jones went to admissions and gave them hypothetical situations; someone with a 1500 SAT score and a 2.5 GPA would not be admitted to Honors,” said Matt Scannapieco, president of the Honors Council. “They kind of want to level the playing field between those two numbers.”

The administration plans to revamp the program across the board, with the intent of solidifying admissions requirements and staff, implementing research components, improving test performance and lengthening the program. The administration hopes to finalize such changes within the next two to three years; possible donors or grants for the Honors Program will be explored during that time.

Once admitted, students who want to earn an Honors certificate must complete a minimum of eight Honors courses while maintaining a 3.0 GPA. The courses can fill core requirements or requirements in a specific major, or function as electives.

According to Jones, only six or seven departments have enrollment large enough to sustain upper-level departmental Honors courses, posing a problem for students in smaller disciplines.

“We want to redevelop departmental honors in all of the programs that can sustain it,” Jones said. “For those students in departments that can’t sustain it, we must create experiences that may have something to do with courses in their department. That means more use of independent study that has students work closely with faculty. There also needs to be preparation for research and graduate school.”

Research will be a central component if the proposal is enacted. Administration is unhappy over poor standardized test performance on graduate and professional school exams, as well as the low number of Honors graduates who further their education.

By immersing upperclassmen in high-caliber research activities and requiring a thesis paper to be completed around the beginning of senior year, Schwartz and Jones hope to keep students actively involved in the Honors program until graduation.

Citing the way Honors students fade from the program after receiving their Honors Certificate as the rationale behind the move, Schwartz likened the situation to practically “falling off a precipice.”

Dissent has arisen over the suggestion of enhancing Temple’s reputation and the Honors Program through stressing test scores and competition, as well as diminishing the accomplishment of completing the current program.

“The true spirit and desire to learn that comes out of the Honors Program will be lost through coerced competition,” said Tricia O’Donnell, a junior Honors student majoring in psychology and criminal justice. “Students won’t work well together if they congregate in their own field … The Honors Certificate speaks for something; you got through the classes. Competition will thwart the individual dynamic.”

Scannapieco agrees.

“They assume that if there is more of a structured four-year program, test scores will go up,” he said. “But it’s not necessarily the Honors Program’s responsibility to make sure those scores go up.”

Administration hopes to proactively recruit and then employ a designated Honors faculty through a nomination process that is expected to begin next semester. Much like the standardized criteria for Honors students, faculty will also be subject to review that will determine their scholarly merit.

Skepticism from students has been vocalized over the number of faculty supervisors who would oversee a junior thesis project. Research on the project would likely continue through the summer after junior year, and if the proposal is mandatory, a flood of students will be seeking personal assistance.

Students recognize the program is severely understaffed as is, and see the plan as “shortsighted” if there are not measures taken to increase faculty numbers.

The concern is likely derived from past Honors staff changes, which have left the current director, Dr. Ruth Ost, overworked according to Honors students and former Co-Director Dr. Dieter Forster. Forster worked with the program for seven years, from 1995 to 2002, but said he was fired by the provost. Forster still has “no understanding why he wanted me out.”

According to Schwartz, “When we talked about the outcomes of student performance [Forster] didn’t seem to feel that improving the competitiveness of students was a function of the Honors Program. So we had some differences of opinion regarding that.”

Forster, who is currently a physics professor at Temple, recognizes that he was outspoken when changes were proposed but denies opposing increasing competitiveness or selectivity.

“I never did anything of the sort,” Forster said. “Physics professors don’t tend to be people with small demands. My outspokenness was probably true; I discussed ideas rather than just agreeing with them.”

Though Forster has no official ties to the Honors Program, he stresses the importance of involving Ost in the process to ensure the program’s effectiveness.

To Forster, administration must “pick her brain” to be positive the informal dynamic of the program continues.

“Reorganization is not the right word,” Forster said. “It’s should be continual improvement.”

Brandon Lausch can be reached at blausch@temple.edu.

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