National Collegiate Honors Council


Date of this Version

Spring 2005


Published in Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council 6:1, Spring/Summer 2005. Copyright © 2005 by the National Collegiate Honors Council.


Since becoming honors director at a small regional institution in March, I have had more than a few opportunities to reflect on what honors might be and what it is not, or should not, be. When Dail W. Mullins, Jr. writes of “balancing tensions” between meritocratic and egalitarian tendencies, it is a reminder that honors education is not a single linear pursuit as outsiders often conceive it, “working with the best and the brightest” (what could be easier or more straightforward!), but involves a reconciliation of opposites that is fundamental to paradox. Most of us arrive in our profession with an outlook similar to the colleague of Sara Hopkins-Powell who said that “teaching is the most important work in the world, and we do it one student at a time.” College teaching, however, is already a serious compromise with this sterling premise since, as a matter of institutional organization, we teach classes, sections, labs—not students. Prefaced by sound justifications, honors programs introduce a drastic selectivity into the dynamic of who might constitute the “one student” even before we begin to struggle with the business of teaching her or him. This conflict is only one of many involved in thinking through the honors process and administering a program based on consistent principles.