Academic journal article Honors in Practice

Implementing Honors Faculty Status: An Adventure in Academic Politics

Academic journal article Honors in Practice

Implementing Honors Faculty Status: An Adventure in Academic Politics

Article excerpt

I joined the faculty at the University of North Carolina Pembroke in 1999. At that time there were about 3200 students, and we were mostly a commuter campus. Currently we have just over 6000 students, and the campus has shifted to a much more residential student body. The physical plant has expanded and improved, and the faculty has almost doubled. We have added several new degree programs at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. The focus of this essay is the expansion of the honors college, particularly the implementation of a system granting official honors faculty status. This system has helped us establish a stronger community and identity on campus, and it has been a key step in improving the programs within the college.

When I took over as dean in 2005, I had several ideas for change within the college, one of the most important being the implementation of a formal honors designation for the faculty who teach in the college. I had taught in the honors college myself prior to my appointment, so I had already experienced the system, or lack of a system, first hand. I had also served as chair of the UNCP faculty senate, a duty that gave me valuable knowledge about how things worked at many levels of the university.

The way honors faculty were selected before 2005 probably sounds familiar, especially to those from small or mid-sized colleges and universities. The college had no formal process of scheduling faculty for honors teaching; as some colleagues have commented, it was a "beg, borrow, or steal" operation. When the call for the next semester's schedule came from the registrar, I would email and call department chairs and request that certain general education courses be offered as honors sections and ask for faculty to cover those. We also needed faculty to teach the interdisciplinary seminars that serve as our core curriculum. Even though I knew most of the chairs fairly well through my senate duties, the process was not always smooth. Some said they could not spare anyone; some wanted to assign faculty they did not want to deal with themselves; some wanted adjuncts to teach the courses; some wanted to teach themselves; and some wanted to talk about opening the classes up to non-honors students. Also, for a high percentage of chairs, honors teaching was a luxury or a reward to be handed out to faculty based on criteria that they had in their own minds. Try as I might, I often found those criteria difficult to discover or understand. Though I was technically in charge of the program, I had little or no authority to request specific faculty for honors courses. Every faculty assignment was a complex negotiation, one that did not always work to the program's advantage.

Myriad and obvious problems arose with doing things this way. First of all, getting the faculty I wanted came down to my negotiation skills. The establishment of the honors program as a college, my appointment as dean, and my subsequent requests for more honors sections and specific faculty to teach them (both senior and junior) often served to cloud the waters. It seemed logical that a more formal system with specific criteria would be a benefit to the college, especially if it meant always working with faculty interested in becoming part of honors education.

The chairs often did not recognize or acknowledge that an honors curriculum has its own goals and objectives that can be distinct from departmental goals and objectives. Few, if any, recognized the teaching of honors courses as valuable or noteworthy (or even different), especially during merit evaluation or promotion and tenure consideration; they saw honors teaching mostly as service and at best as a reward they could hand out, a reward grounded in the fact that the professor would have a smaller class and get to teach the "good" students. The UNCP Honors College lacked an identity that administrators and faculty recognized and embraced, an identity that they would want to help construct and maintain. …

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