Date of this Version
Published in Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council Vol. 12, No.2 (Fall/Winter 2011). ISSN 1559-0151
In higher education today, faculty morale is in the basement. Salaries are stagnant, benefits are being cut, and so-called perks such as travel money are endangered (try earning tenure without traveling to conferences). Students raised in the era of No Child Pushed Ahead are losing respect for us, administrators treat us like adversaries, and the general public thinks we are brainwashing their children with socialist doctrines. Our leaders have been enthralled by business models of assessment and evaluation, commoditizing intellectual development and exhorting us to increase demand for our “product” as though we were manufacturing diplomas like widgets. Contextualizing the faculty role within the institutional impact of honors education, therefore, is difficult when institutions no longer value faculty contributions beyond generating student tuition dollars.
For those of us still committed to high-quality undergraduate education, however, honors programs are an oasis in the midst of this academic desert. Scott Carnicom ponders a seeming contradiction in the fact that the pedagogical innovation touted by honors educators is in reality the conservation of such traditional ideals as small, discussion-driven classes; I think that honors faculty rightly see such traditions as innovative in comparison to the assessment-driven methods that we are told to employ in other classes. All of this assessment, theoretically tied to improving recruitment and retention of students, may well be hindering the recruitment and retention of faculty, especially those who bring with us not only peer-reviewed publications but also national-level committee service that translates effectively to institutional leadership on faculty senates, school-wide committees, and administrative appointments. Seeds of our groundbreaking scholarship incubate in our innovative classroom practices, subject to far fewer of the invasive assessment instruments applied to our regular courses. What happens to our classes, and in turn our scholarship, when the suggested types of honors assessment become required and regimented, as might happen if NCHC becomes the accreditation body for postsecondary honors education? Will the freedom and originality that drew us to honors be quashed?