Academic journal article Honors in Practice

Ending in Honors

Academic journal article Honors in Practice

Ending in Honors

Article excerpt

(What follows is a slightly revised version of a presentation given by Sam Schuman at the 2008 NCHC conference in San Antonio, Texas.)

I'll be wise hereafter, and seek for grace.

--Caliban, The Tempest

Part One

Sometime in the year after the 1983 NCHC national conference in Philadelphia, I had a gripe. A younger and less circumspect professor in those halcyon days of a quarter-century ago, I was not hesitant to express it: Why, I wondered irritated and irritatingly, doesn't an organization like this one do a better job of welcoming and orienting newcomers to Honors? I thought at the time that the NCHC had a tendency to drift toward being an "old boy's club," where neophytes often felt baffled and uncomfortable, marginalized and patronized. (I had been attending the meeting for eleven years at that point and still felt "out of it" most of the time.) Grumble, grumble, grumble. At that point in our collective history, one of the presiding elders of our organization was Dr. John Portz. I have always admired John and seen in him the quintessence of much of what is best about the honors movement. He was bright, creative, funny, humane, unpredictable, endlessly inquisitive. We shall not look upon his like again. When John heard my complaint about our collective inability to bring new people into the honors movement and into NCHC and, in fact, into our annual conference, he responded, in fairly typical John Portz fashion, "why don't you do something about it?" I was, of course, somewhat startled by the unique notion, at least in academe, that instead of griping about something, I should try to fix it. And thus was born at the 1984 conference in Memphis "Beginning in Honors."

Next year will mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of that launch, and I hope we'll mark that modest anniversary: "Beginning in Honors" has probably served--and served pretty well, I suspect--several thousand of us and our colleagues over these years. I organized the first several sessions and then was joined as co-director by Anne Ponder (with whom I still collaborate professionally); for the last many years, the workshop has benefitted enormously from the skilled leadership of my old friend in honors Ted Estess. "Beginning in Honors" has spawned children: the Beginning in Honors Handbook, "Developing in Honors," and the like. Today I want to share with you--and then invite us all to share with each other--some thoughts about the other end of the honors career: the ending.

My comments are in four parts: where folks go when they leave honors; how to know when to leave honors; how to end the honors career; and whether there is an honors afterlife. Since I've also been a chief academic officer and, twice, a campus chancellor, my remarks are easily generalized. I could well be talking about ending a deanship or a college presidency or any other position of senior administrative responsibility at a college or university.


Where do we go when we leave our work as honors directors or deans? (Aside: I'm going to drift back and forth between honors director and honors dean; honors program and honors college; by and large, for our purposes today, assume I'm speaking of both.) A careful statistical analysis of this question might be an interesting bit of research for someone looking for a topic in higher education administration. Anecdotally and far less scientifically, I've seen people go in several directions.

* Some honors directors or deans go (you should pardon the expression) up. They ascend into the ether (or descend into the pit, depending upon your perspective) of more senior administrative positions. Although the more common career path is probably from department chair to dean (and thence to provost and president), lots of chief honors officers have stepped on to this path. And it is a good one to follow. I recall the then-director of the ACE administrative interns program suggesting that honors leadership is an excellent stepping stone to other managerial positions in academia. …

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