St. John’s Honors

Enrolling in the St. John’s Honors program is among the best decisions an undergraduate serious about his or her studies can make-provided that the undergraduate is also an underclassman.

The Honors program, as beneficial as it is for any student whose interest in learning is sincere, is comprised of core curriculum courses and thus is targeted towards students just entering St. John’s.

This is not so much a drawback to the program as it is a limitation. Enrolled students are generally recruited before their freshman year even begins. Those that meet the requirements-a 90 cumulative high school average and a minimum of 1200 (soon to be 1250 or greater) on the SAT-are invited to join the Honors program.

This method of recruitment is sensible, but alienating to anyone who does not initially register. Honors promotion on campus itself is almost nonexistent, so students who are not enrolled and are interested need to seek out one of the directors and request admission directly.

The program itself consists of 30 credits of core curriculum courses specifically designated as HON. They are identical to their counterparts in every respect, except the Honors courses offer an improved class experience-usually by smaller classes comprised of a body of students sharing the same academic record and motivation-and an increased amount of work to reflect the “intensity” of these classes.

A student who completes 30 credits worth of these courses will receive an extra acknowledgement, usually in the form of a certificate, an addendum to the diploma, upon graduation.

This focus on the core courses limits the reach of the Honors program. A method has been developed which would result in a student being able to earn Honors credit for a non-Honors course in exchange for an extra bit of work-perhaps a term paper or in-class presentation-and a prior agreement between the student, professor, and Honors director.

This method of creating “de facto” Honors courses would be the only available method for a student to earn Honors credit once the core curriculum is completed, and for that reason alone needs to be approved and implemented immediately.

For the students whose core curriculum is likely behind them, having failed to previously enroll in the Honors program would otherwise mean complete ineligibility for it. Under the proposed method, these students would be able to complete the Honors program despite having finished their core, and receive Honors acknowledgement upon graduation.

If this method, or any other allowing a student Honors credit for a non-Honors course, is not implemented soon, the affected students will have finished their time in the University-without the Honors credit they might otherwise have desired.

However, a method for creating Honors courses from a non-Honors class, while useful for the students close to graduation, should not be seen as an acceptable substitute for expanding the Honors program out from the core curriculum and into classes that are generally common electives or even major-specific.

Although allowing students to do more work permits them to earn Honors credit when none else might be available is useful, it implies that the sole differentiation between an Honors course and its counterpart is the amount of work the student needs to do. Not so.

There is simply no substitute for the atmosphere of an Honors class, as it is the class itself which provides most of the benefits to the Honors students.

The generally small classes, comprised of a student body eager to learn and discuss the covered material cannot be replicated by a term paper or in-class presentation or other, arbitrary assignment. It is, in fact, demeaning to the program and the students in it to suggest otherwise.

The “de facto” Honors credit proposition is valid only insofar as there are no other Honors courses for a student to take: it is a temporary solution at best; one which should and must be used only until the courses in the program can expand beyond the easily exhausted core. The solution for students unable to complete the program-whether due to late registration or excessive completion of non-Honors core courses is irrelevant-is ultimately to create more Honors courses.

That should seem an obvious proposition, akin to saying the way to eliminate hunger is to give everyone food. Unlike the example, which contains all sorts of difficulties, the Honors program has had its way cleared: recently lauded among the faculty and administration by a letter from the Provost at the beginning of the semester, the program’s St. John’s College director, Lisa Dolling, has been inundated with a flood of faculty volunteering themselves to the program and its various activities.

Now is a prime time to aggressively begin to expand the Honors program, and the opportunity is being utilized to varying degrees of success.

Among the planned expansions are an Honors book club, various field trips, an already in place Faculty Forum (where members of the faculty from different fields form a panel on a topic of the students’ choosing) and lecture series, plus a film and museum series currently in development.

To support all these new activities, all Honors students will be required to participate in at least one during their time at the University. It will be an additional requirement for receiving the acknowledgement certificate at graduation.

It comes as some surprise, then, that “new classes” was left off this comprehensive list of expansions. An opportunity to expand the program is, ironically, being utilized in every respect except for the one which is most critical and of most interest to the Honors students: Honors classes.

This legion of peripheral benefits is not going unacknowledged-rather, they (constituting any improvement at all) are wholly appreciated-but it seems like the program’s chance to progress beyond the core curriculum is being passed up in favor of a slew of new enterprises.

Faculty members who may have been interested in teaching Honors courses in their various fields may instead find themselves being used for a trip to a museum or for a single session on a panel. While this is obviously preferred to no change at all, the profound new interest in the Honors program may be going to less than optimal use.

Provided there is student interest, a serious look should be taken at introducing Honors courses which are not contained inside the core curriculum.