Honors program to undergo change despite objections

On March 20, long-time associate professor of philosophy Stacey Edgar spoke out on the floor of the College Senate for perhaps the last time against the proposed changes currently being made to the College's Honors Program. Edgar made her arguments during the open discussion before the vote to change the Honors program description in the Undergraduate Bulletin. Though assisted by history professor William Gohlman, who called for an amendment to the description changes, Edgar was ultimately outvoted. While the changes the Senate approved will not directly change the Honors program at Geneseo, the language specifically limiting the size and composition of the program has been deleted, in effect leaving the program open to the many alterations planned by the administration. With these description changes approved at the College Senate, there will be an almost complete transformation in the Honors program starting in Fall 2007. The incoming class will be doubled to 40 from its previous 20. Three freshmen will be inducted for every one upperclassman, as opposed to the previous one to one ratio. There will now be two sections of HONR 101 and 102, the "introductory" classes of the program, as well as additions to the advanced classes taken later in an Honors student's college career. This is not the first time Edgar has articulated concerns over theproposed program alterations. On Oct. 26, 2006 Edgar sent a letter to President Christopher Dahl and Provost Katherine Conway-Turner outlining difficulties that might arise from the alterations on three fronts: "camaraderie, logistical support, and intellectual." Edgar expressed doubt that all Honors students would be able to interact with each other in a meaningful way, as well the possibility that there would not be enough faculty to teach all of the new Honors sections, also mentioning differences in treatment due to multiple professors teaching the same class. Edgar received no response from her first letter. Edgar also contacted Conway-Turner via e-mail on Jan. 22, with evidence showing that students who entered into the program during their second year outperformed their freshman counterparts significantly, once again in hopes of getting a reconsideration of the proposed changes. Conway-Turner replied on Jan. 23 in an e-mail supplied to The Lamron by Edgar. In the e-mail, Conway-Turner thanked Edgar for the data but did not directly respond to it. On Feb. 20, a group of seven Honors students drafted and sent a letter to the Provost outlining their concerns regarding the changes, which focused mainly on the administration's decision to triple the number of incoming freshmen but leave upperclassmen inductions the same. They have not received a response from the administration. In the week leading up to her speech, Edgar was asked to leave the Honors Committee for, in her own words, "no longer being supportive of the direction the program is now taking." While Provost Conway-Turner has been reluctant to comment on the actual changes to the program; instead remarking, "It is important for every member of our community to have a voice," in regard to Edgar's Senate speech. Distinguished Teaching Professor of English Ronald Herzman, co-chair of the Honors Committee, is more candid about the intention of the changes. "The Honors Program has always been a recruitment tool. Raising the number of freshmen included in the program is merely an extension of that." In regards to the reasons for the new changes, Herzman said, "Every once in a great while, it's important to look at a program and see how the world has changed in relation to it. This isn't the same college that existed in 1987. For one, academic standards here have raised significantly." This jump in academic excellence is credited as the cause of almost all of the alterations to the program. Even the optional community service component will be partially aimed at helping Honors students become more appealing for Marshall and Rhodes Scholarships. Despite vocal resistance, Edgar and like-minded Honors students do not necessarily represent the feelings of everyone involved. Sophomore Dan Lilly has mixed feelings on the whole affair. "I think it is important to remember that this is not our Honors program, we're just in it. I hope the changes will help make the program more diverse. And honestly, nothing stays a 'Mom and Pop operation' forever." Lilly's comment was in reference to the history of the program, which was founded by Stacey Edgar's husband, Distinguished Teaching Professor Emeritus William Edgar. In 1987, University President Edward Jakabauskas asked William Edgar to begin the program with little funding beyond scholarships. Edgar took on the task with the help of his wife. Since that time, the program has remained in basically the same form until now. Currently, once inducted into the program, students must maintain a minimum 3.2 GPA, take five special courses over their undergraduate career and complete a six-credit senior thesis, although some of the new changes will alter this significantly. Honors students also receive a scholarship from the College which subsidizes a significant portion of their tuition, although the doubling of the program will make these scholarships smaller in the coming years.