Honors Program future in question?

As Geneseo strives for the coveted "SUNY honors college" distinction, the future role of the current Honors Program is now in question.

The Honors Program admits first- and second-year students to "enhance the academic experience of a small number of especially dedicated and accomplished students," according to the program's Web site. Currently, there are approximately 100 students enrolled.

The program, created by Professor Emeritus William Edgar in 1986, is the metaphorical laboratory for the college, according to mathematics professor Olympia Nicodemi, a co-director.

"We conceive of the program as a laboratory for curriculum and the experience that we want to see for all students," Nicodemi said. "Within the program, we have the freedom to experiment and serve as a model for the school."

If Geneseo receives the honors-college distinction desired by the administration, the relevance of the honors program will nevertheless be called into question.

According to Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Katherine Conway-Turner, it is not yet clear if the Honors Program will have a place in the college.

"We wouldn't necessarily have the Honors Program called the Honors Program," Conway-Turner said. "The program would probably evolve into something else. In its place, we would have special science scholars, special humanities scholars, research, and other things to advance the college academically. But, we don't want to give up the special features of the Honors Program, such as the small class sizes."

The co-directors of the program, however, defended its role.

"The Honors Program is a crucible for things that might be good for the college as a whole," said Distinguished Teaching Professor of English Ron Herzman, a co-director. "And, it offers a unique opportunity to experiment with the curriculum."

Both Herzman and Nicodemi stressed the importance of an outlet wherein new courses and other experiences can be developed and tested before being offered to the college as whole.

"As a group, we're giving back to the college, whether it be this college or an honors college," said Nicodemi. "Any configuration would need some place where the curriculum could develop and have a place for experimentation."

The program was expanded in fall 2007 to a 3-to-1 first-year to second-year student ratio, and the number of students joining in the fall will increase to 40, up from the normal 20. Prior to this change, the ratio of incoming students to that of second-year students was equal.

Associate professor of philosophy Stacey Edgar, wife of William Edgar, is no longer on the Honors Program Committee due to her adamant opposition to the changes to the program. She declined to comment.

Herzman and Nicodemi, however, both supported the change.

An additional change for the program is the plan to house all incoming honors college freshmen in "Dante House," a theme residence hall. Many current members of the honors college are opposed to this change. (Editor's note: For coverage of proposed theme residence halls and the controversy surrounding them, see the April 3 issue of The Lamron.)

Students generally agreed that instead of eliminating the program altogether, some elements should remain intact. One member argued that student input should have more impact on the future of the program.

"The [Honors] Program was the main reason I came to Geneseo, and I am forever grateful that it exists," said junior Sean Roche. "However, it would benefit the college and the program if the students who decided to be in the program actually get the chance to talk more about the direction it's going."