Date of this Version
Published in Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council Vol. 12, No.1 (Spring/Summer 2011). ISSN 1559-0151
Honors programs thrive in an environment of pedagogic freedom. This freedom extends to our honors students as they explore topics for projects and theses and engage in much more independent research than the average undergraduate. Honors programs should also be havens for faculty to experiment with new ideas for courses and co-curricular activities. Freed from large lecture halls and department politics, faculty who teach in an honors program often find themselves wandering over to the honors facilities to hang out with students or going off on honors-sponsored adventures. Thus academic freedom also often leads to a stronger sense of community. However, as the corporate, managerial model encroaches on the modern university, both academic freedom and the community of scholars are under threat, and honors administrators must find a way to preserve what makes their programs unique.
Universities used to generate new ideas and create models that were adopted by those outside the ivory tower, from art and entertainment to industry and politics. However, the modern university, perhaps lacking its old confidence, turns again and again to the corporate world for many of its practices, including so-called accountability. Politicians, claiming to speak for the “consumers” of higher education who spend ever-increasing sums for college tuition, have in many cases required colleges and universities that receive state and federal funding, which means just about every institution of higher learning, to show “transparency and accountability,” and the schools, urged by accreditation agencies, have decided that “assessment of student learning” is the best response to critics and consumers alike. Through reaccreditation, budgeting decisions, curriculum approval and other means, university administrators have exerted pressure upon deans, department chairs, and individual faculty members to “embrace the culture of assessment.” In our previous article for JNCHC, we questioned the validity of assessment as an accurate measurement of student learning in honors. We will argue in this essay that the “culture” of assessment and accountability is not what honors faculty should choose to embrace.