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My experience as an honors dean, like my previous experience as a departmental chair, is that it is easier to spend time putting out fires than engaging in long-term planning. The myriad daily tasks tempt administrators to succumb to the “the tyranny of the now.” We almost always have classes to schedule and teach, books and articles to write and edit, students to advise, scholarship applications to proof, theses to read, special events to publicize, committee meetings to attend, building tours and speeches to give, students to recruit, conferences to attend, and numerous other worthy tasks that call for immediate attention.
I became dean of an honors college in 2008. However we prize it, the college is undoubtedly similar to many others. We developed from a program that the university established in 1973, became a separate college in 1998, and moved into our own building in 2004. We serve about 750 total students in a large state university that now enrolls more than 25,000 students. We have identified our goal as “providing an ivy league type education” within this larger state university context. To complete our program, students take 31 of 120 hours in honors classes, where we handpick faculty and limit enrollments. The capstone of the honors degree is a thesis, which students generally write at the end of their junior or beginning of their senior year. We also print a literary magazine and newsletter, and we offer a lecture series and other special events, scholarships, awards, study abroad opportunities, and other perks for our students.
Shortly after I became dean, our university president asked me to develop a two-year, five-year, and ten-year plan for our honors college. Although I did not initially relish this task, I ultimately found that the process helped direct my attention and that of the honors college to longer-term goals and helped focus the attention of our president and university leaders on our key programs. I also learned the value of gathering data from multiple sources and involving key constituencies in the process. We ultimately concluded that we should continue to engage in long-term planning, with or without future presidential directives.
The content of individual master plans varies from institution to institution and program to program and depends heavily on such factors as the selectiveness of the institution, the number of students enrolled in honors programs, the availability of physical facilities, the adequacy of funding, and the presence or absence of administrative support. By contrast, some aspects of the process of such planning are likely to apply across institutions. No process can guarantee a perfect outcome, but inattention to relevant sources of information and constituencies is likely to lead to the articulation of unsupportable or unsustainable goals, which have little long-term value.