President addresses meaning of pursued "Honors College" distinction

The term "SUNY's Honors College" is often used in Geneseo's advertising and admissions materials. However, senior administration has never given students a clear explanation of what this title means, or where it will lead the College in the future. The title "Honors College" implies greater academic standards, but other qualifications of such an institution are still a mystery.

With the visit of SUNY Provost Rita Palm on Wednesday, April 25, it seems that after more than a decade of cooperative discussion with SUNY officials, Geneseo is finally poised to turn this de facto catchphrase into Geneseo's official designation.

President Christopher Dahl was eager to comment on what the title "Honors College" will mean for now, and for the future.

Dahl has been pursuing this Honors College Initiative for the better part of twelve years. College documents from 2003 obtained by The Lamron indicate that senior administration believed official recognition would come as early as Fall 2004. However, battles over funding, as well as an almost continuous changing of administration on the SUNY system-wide level, including three chancellors in one decade, have considerably slowed down the process. However, Dahl remains optimistic.

"What does the Honors College mean?" Dahl asked. "Simply, this: Geneseo is already the most selective institution in the SUNY system. It seeks to become the premier public liberal arts college in the country, which is in fact merely an intensification of our mission statement." Geneseo's current mission statement asserts that the College "combines a rigorous curriculum and a rich co-curricular life to create a learning-centered environment."

In searching for models of an ideal, top liberal arts college, institutions such as Skidmore, Vassar and Oberlin have all been studied. Criteria such as high school GPA, mean SAT scores, populations living on campus, overall student body population, as well as percentages of international and minority students, were seen as what is most indicative of a top liberal arts college.

Dahl explained that many of the major changes the College has undergone in the last five years have been part of the Honors College Initiative. This includes, but is not limited to, the construction of the Integrated Science Center, the acquisition of a new state-of-the-art particle accelerator for Greene Hall, the reacquisition of Dodie Hall, the enacted two-year and proposed three-year housing requirements, and the greatly heightened admission standards. College documents also indicated that general housing projects like the renovation of Erie Hall and the construction of Seneca Hall, due to be finished by 2010, are also a large part of the initiative.

Yet despite the enormous amount of progress that Geneseo has made, the ultimate battle will take place over wresting funds away from an already strapped SUNY system budget. According to the documents obtained, the College seeks to maintain its amount of funding from the State even if it admits fewer students, raises tuition and keeps students on campus longer, effectively meaning that students will spend more and more of their money at the College during their four years.

In response to local landlord Dominic Friscia and others who have condemned the proposed three-year housing requirement, among other College initiatives, as merely a money-making scheme, Dahl said, "We will keep [them] informed as to our plans, and local economic development is important to us. However, our first priority will always be the development of the learning community here at SUNY Geneseo."

Dahl also stated that the recently proposed changes in the Honors Program were not, in and of themselves, related to the Honors College Initiative. However, this comes after Provost Katherine Conway-Turner was quoted as saying that "After we become an Honors College, there will be no more need for an Honors Program," at the March 20 meeting of the College Senate. Dahl acknowledged her statement, but said that complete elimination of the program was at this time "completely hypothetical" and that senior administration would continue to explore what "having and Honors Program at the Honors College would really mean."