Academic journal article Honors in Practice

Program Excellence versus Program Growth: Must These Goals Conflict?

Academic journal article Honors in Practice

Program Excellence versus Program Growth: Must These Goals Conflict?

Article excerpt

Two essays, both published in the fall/winter 2007 JNCHC Forum entitled "Managing Growth in Honors," present conflicting points of view:

As most of us in honors openly or covertly acknowledge, the best friend an honors program can find is the president who embraces advancing the program as a central piece of her/his personal agenda to advance the entire institution. When those stars align, the funding flows. (Lanier 39)

At the last, growth management must be guided by ... the resource requirements for sustaining excellence ... [A] highly developed honors program/college must ... stay grounded in its core mission to provide an enriched learning environment for high-achieving students. If it grows beyond its capacity to provide for this core mission, then it ... will fall. (Sederberg 26)

Lanier underscores the potential of a president to create beneficial change while Sederberg suggests the risk that such change might undermine an existing university asset. New England University provides a case study of this dynamic in the context of growth in honors; it is a story about the efforts of faculty, students, and staff committed to evoking and sustaining excellence in one honors program to respond to the vision of a new president who placed growing the honors program as one of his highest priorities. This particular presidential initiative--significantly growing the size of an honors program at a major public university--presents an opportunity to analyze one university's experience of implementing institutional change. Examination of the personalities, process, pitfalls, strategies, and successes in this case study contributes to the scholarly tradition of studying and documenting change in higher education. Conforming to tradition in qualitative research and to at least partially protect the identities of the university and individuals involved in the case study, I have substituted fictional names.

The study of institutional change in higher education is extensive (Alfred; Morrill; Steeples). Scholars have focused on various aspects of university administration in effecting successful change, including the role of strategic planning (Morrill), the importance of a clearly articulated vision and effective communication of that vision (Duderstadt; Morrill), the recruitment of support from multiple stakeholder groups (Martinez and Wolverton), and dealing with budget reductions (Mathews), among other topics.

Other research focuses on the role of incumbents responsible for initiating or implementing a particular change agenda, especially the role of college and university presidents (Cohen and March; Duderstadt; Eckel and Kezar). A president's leadership or communication style (Alfred), extent of "fit" with institutional culture (Farmer; Martinez and Wolverton), and savvy in navigating a structurally weak position (Cohen and March) can help or hinder the achievement of a president's goals. Far less has been written about the roles of the honors program director and vice provost, but the literature on academic deans bears on these roles. Deans, vice provosts, and honors directors are in quintessential middle-management positions (Buller), advocating for those who report to them while representing the higher-level officers who set limits within which they operate. Their role is a nexus of university organization; they cannot do much by themselves but can be catalysts for realizing the visions of those around them. This case study of the growth of honors at the public flagship New England University (NEU) provides a narrative exemplifying many of the issues of interest to scholars of change in higher education.

BACKGROUND

The story begins in 2007, when President Robert M. Mitchell was appointed fourteenth president of New England University. From his first moments on campus, Mitchell embraced the honors program as a central piece of his agenda to advance the entire institution. …

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