Academic journal article Honors in Practice

Dominican University of California's Honors Program and Its Relation to University Heritage and Mission

Academic journal article Honors in Practice

Dominican University of California's Honors Program and Its Relation to University Heritage and Mission

Article excerpt


In this paper, we discuss how we came to restructure the honors program at Dominican University of California and fit it more closely to the institutional mission and Dominican values. The mission statement of Dominican University of California reads: "We are an independent, learner-centered, international university which interweaves Dominican values, the liberal arts and sciences and the skills and knowledge necessary to live and work in an independent world." The four Dominican values are study, service, community, and reflection. Our primary interest is the way adaptation of an honors program to its unique campus mission and values can strengthen the program and give it character and integrity.


In 1989, the honors program at Dominican University of California was designed to provide enhanced and alternative modes of education for excellent and highly motivated students. In fall 1989, there were 357 undergraduates out of a total student population of 657; in fall 2004, there were 1340 undergraduate students out of a student population of 1977. To graduate as honors program scholars, students completed a required number of honors seminars or honors contracts and a senior thesis. Students enrolled in the Pathways program, which was designed specifically for working adults, fulfilled their requirements through the contract system. The original program offered one course per semester for fifteen students, and the course was chosen by the Honors Board from a call for applications to the whole faculty. Unless the course also fulfilled a general education requirement, it was under-enrolled. Honors students chose instead to work individually with faculty on a contract system. As the number of honors students increased, faculty compensation through this contract system became costly.

In fall 2003, the university began the process of restructuring the honors program. There were several reasons that demanded we reevaluate the program. First, the student body of the university has more than tripled since 1989, and the program created for a much smaller student population was no longer serving the needs of its honors students. Second, we saw a growing interest on the part of students from professional programs (such as nursing, business, and teacher preparation). These students, however, felt restricted because some honors course offerings were electives, and their majors had no room for elective courses. Finally, we thought we could spend the budget more efficiently. Therefore, we decided to establish an enlarged, inclusive, and thematically coherent honors program which fulfilled all or part of the General Education (GE) requirements. Further it would contribute to recruitment, retention, and the overall vitality of the academic climate of the university.


In looking to redefine the honors program, we chose to look at our Dominican heritage (part of the university mission) for inspiration. The four values (sometimes called ideals or pillars) of Dominican life are Study, Service, Reflection, and Community (Tugwell, 1982; Koudelka, 1997). These values date to the thirteenth century in southern France when the Spaniard Dominic Guzman founded a religious order composed of men and women with the sole idea of preaching or spreading the Good News of the Gospel. Dominicans almost immediately became involved in the academic world. Since preaching presupposed knowledge, Dominic sent his early members to universities to learn and then to teach. Dominic set study not as an end in itself but as a means to be of service to others. Study then was to be combined with reflection (prayer) on the world and on the needs of the time in order to envision and to work toward a better, more just world. Dominic, a deeply contemplative and compassionate man, illustrated a passion for social justice all his life. One day, during a famine in Palencia, Dominic sold his precious books (hand-written manuscripts in the thirteenth century) to set up a dispensary to provide food and clothing to the poor, saying: "How can I study dead skins, when living skins are dying of hunger" (Rubba, n. …

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