Academic journal article Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council

Honors Program Leadership: The Right Stuff

Academic journal article Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council

Honors Program Leadership: The Right Stuff

Article excerpt

Reprinted from Forum for Honors XVI.3 (spring 1986), 3-9

In what follows, I shall discuss six leadership roles that I think generally need to be fulfilled in an honors program. Since the leadership of most honors programs is the responsibility of a single person, the director, this can be thought of as a discussion of the various roles that my ideal honors director would play. Accordingly, the list also can be thought of as a general checklist of things that search committees should look for in candidates for a position as honors director.

Before discussing specific leadership roles, a caveat is needed. The leadership needed for a particular program will be affected by the nature of the program and the nature of the college or university. A new program has different leadership needs than an ongoing one; a program of 100 students may need leadership somewhat different than that for a program of 1,100, etc. Moreover, the sort of leadership required will be very much institution-specific. The leadership needs will depend on the view people have of the role of the honors program and may even be, in part, a response to some particular weakness or strength of the previous director. As a result, the "right stuff" for leading one honors program may not be particularly well suited for another program. Given all this, it is risky--some may think it is folly--to try to make generalizations about honors program leadership. Yet, I am convinced that one can make useful generalizations; the roles described below are ones that I think need to be played to at least some degree in virtually all honors programs. Although the discussion below intentionally ignores the myriad of variables that make honors programs different, it should not be forgotten that all these differences would have to be taken into account if one were analyzing the leadership needs of a particular program. With that caveat, I want to turn to the general discussion of honors program leadership.

It used to be fashionable to believe that the chair of an academic department should always be the department's best senior scholar. The job of the department chair, it was thought, was basically to serve as a role model for significant scholarly productivity. By and large, that view has become obsolete. Like it or not--and many in the academy do not like it one bit--chairing an academic department has become increasingly an administrative and managerial job. In very small institutions where a typical department has only two or three members, the role of the chair may not have changed very much. Yet, for the vast majority of institutions, it is viewed as increasingly important that those chairing departments have some expertise in administrative matters such as budgeting, planning, and personnel management. There are now workshops, articles, and books devoted to the skills one needs in order to effectively chair an academic department. Although the idea remains that the chair should be an academic leader and a role model for teaching and scholarship, there is an increasing emphasis on administrative ability in choosing department chairs. Indeed, many have noticed that the attributes that make people distinguished scholars and teachers are not necessarily those of the successful department chair.

And what about honors directors? Though I am amazed at the wide and impressive array of talents of many honors directors I have met through NCHC, I am nonetheless convinced that not enough attention has been given to what seems to me to be a set of remarkably varied abilities and aptitudes that are needed to build and maintain a first-rate honors program. In what follows, I will list and discuss the qualities that I think are the most important. The resemblance between these qualities of the ideal honors director and qualities needed in other academic administrators is in no way coincidental.


The successful director of an honors program must be different from the director of campus security or the director of a bank. …

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