National Collegiate Honors Council


Date of this Version

Summer 2020


Journal of The National Collegiate Honors Council, vol. 21, no. 1 (Spring/Summer 2020)


Copyright 2020 by the National Collegiate Honors Council


The topic of this issue’s Forum, “The Professionalization of Honors,” has a history in the National Collegiate Honors Council that probably goes back to its origins and that has evoked turbulent controversy within the past three or four decades. In the mid-1990s, the proposal to establish a document titled “The Basic Characteristics of a Fully Developed Honors Program” arose from a perceived vagueness about the meaning of “honors education .” Proponents of the document claimed that they were simply trying to create clarity out of chaos in defining the profession of honors while opponents feared the prospect of standardization. Heated objections arose during conference sessions and panel discussions, with many members insisting that the NCHC had no authority or right to dictate the nature of honors education. What happened next was that, with the deft and diplomatic guidance of John Grady and others, a committee finally produced “the document,” which immediately quelled all objections. The content, tone, and mode of suggestion reassured all parties that the document was not designed to—and did not—dictate what honors programs had to look like. The document provided guidelines that virtually everyone found reasonable, and, above all, it did not enforce or advocate standardization.

The next eruption of the professionalization controversy in 2012–14 resurrected some of the same issues of two decades earlier but with increased acrimony and a different outcome. The issue this time was certification: an argument by some of the NCHC leadership that the NCHC should become an accrediting agency with the power to grant or deny the legitimacy of individual honors programs and colleges. Again, the underlying issue was standardization, but now the proponents advocated a professional prerogative for the NCHC to enforce regulatory standards for honors education and for membership in the organization, in a manner akin to the American Bar Association or American Medical Association. The rebellion against this proposal was swift, passionate, and widespread. The controversy created a rift in the organization that disrupted its celebrated unity, cordiality, and mutual support. Ultimately, the opposition succeeded in shutting down the movement toward certification, and the issue of standardization faded away . . . until Patricia J . Smith bravely raised it again in her lead essay for the current Forum on “The Professionalization of Honors .”