National Collegiate Honors Council


Date of this Version

Spring 2017


Published in Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council, Spring/Summer 2017, Volume 18. Number 1.


Copyright 2017 by the National Collegiate Honors Council.


As the “haunted” Rhodes finalist whom Lia Rushton accurately cited in her essay, I would like to provide some context for that reaction. I also wish to discuss some disquieting conclusions I have reached about prestige scholarships through my own experiences as a candidate, as an advisor to multiple nominees, via personal and family knowledge of nearly twenty Rhodes Scholars ranging from the Class of 1910 to the Class of 2000, and during twenty years as a faculty member at two universities.

What stood out most about my final Rhodes interview was its tone of bigotry and belligerence. I am the son of a gentle, well-educated, mainline Presbyterian pastor, and I am named for the founder of Scottish Presbyterianism. In my Rhodes essay I referred to my hopes to bring my studies in English language and literature at Oxford and my career in meteorology together with my faith. These words apparently inflamed the committee chair, then Rice University president George Rupp, whose first biting words to me at the night-before-interviews dinner were, and I quote verbatim, “So, you think you’re predestined to be a Rhodes Scholar?” Rupp later spent time during my interview lamenting my passion for the poetry of Keats in the most pejorative term he could think of: “it’s . . . it’s . . . almost religious.”