The popular co-director of Temple’s Honors program was suddenly dismissed earlier this month after an alleged clash of teaching ideologies and the shake-up has left many students angry and confused.
The sudden dismissal of Honors Director Dieter Forster is the beginning of a series of changes at Honors, according to Vice-Provost for Undergraduate Studies Stephen Zelnick. Forster was one of two directors of Honors, along with Ruth Ost, who remains with the program.
Forster believes that he was dismissed because he “agrees with very few of Zelnick’s ideas.”
“[Ruth Ost and I] have tried very hard to make Honors a comfortable and welcoming intellectual atmosphere,” Forster said, adding that he did not think Zelnick believed that this “family atmosphere” was academically acceptable.
Zelnick wants to raise the minimum GPA required to stay in Honors from 3.0 to 3.25. He also said that one way to help students improve was to “ask them to compete against one another.”
Forster was appointed Director of University Honors in the summer of 1995.
Zelnick said Forster was appointed in order to attract good students to an environment that was comfortable and welcoming to them. In 1995, there were approximately 450 students in the Honors program.
This year, there are 1100.
“Dieter did a terrific job building the program” into one that has attracted students to Temple, Zelnick said. He added that now that Honors is attracting students, a new direction for the program is needed.
“Things change,” Zelnick said, “and you move on to different agendas … so you change leadership because leadership is the most important thing in determining where things will go.”
Zelnick envisions transforming Honors into a program that sends students on to “top-notch” graduate schools such as Harvard and Columbia Universities.
He believes that Temple has done “precious little” to help students get into these schools and that he was “not happy” with the scores students were achieving on graduate tests such as the LSAT, MCAT, and GRE.
“One [reason for my dismissal] clearly has to do with the fact that, in Zelnick’s opinion, I am difficult to work with,” Forster said.
While the faculty senate has ultimate say over any substantive changes to Honors, Zelnick has a number of reforms in mind to achieve this goal.
This includes changing the guiding philosophy of Honors.
“Honors programs really are elitist,” Zelnick said, “but that’s why you have an Honors program, to accommodate the very best students.”
Forster said that if he had been asked to step aside as Honors director because it was time for a change, he would have done so. However, he says that he received notice on July 30 that his last day as Honors director would be September 1.
“What I have a big problem with is the way [my dismissal was handled],” Forster said, “Normally there is a [longer] transition period.”
Mathematics professor Raymond Coughlin has been appointed interim co-director and is hoping to make the transition as smooth as possible.
“This is the best office on campus, what’s not to like? I came in anticipating a few negative responses, but so far I have not had any complaints,” he said.