Honors Program: no more ‘honors’ section classes

Honors Program Director Joseph Parry greets students arriving at the Honors Opening Evening in Fall 2012. Major changes to the Honors program will impact students across campus. Photo courtesy Honors program.
Honors Program Director Joseph Parry greets students arriving at the Honors Opening Evening in Fall 2012. Major changes to the Honors program will impact students across campus. Photo courtesy Honors program.

The BYU Honors Program is making significant changes to both the requirements for honors students and honors classes that are expected to increase average class sizes across campus.

Honors Program director Joseph Parry said the changes to the program itself will bring the requirements closer in line with student goals and majors. The farther-reaching change is that special small honors classes and even general education honors classes will no longer be offered, which is mainly due to the small number of faculty available to teach.

“Honors has depended essentially on the goodwill of colleges and departments to provide faculty to teach the class,” Parry said. “Even those with the goodwill can’t afford to have their faculty step away for assignments.”

Classroom sizes will increase across campus because the Honors Program is dropping specialty courses. The change is in response to a request made by the Dean’s Council to come up with a program that is more in line with actual resources available at BYU.

Kristine Hansen, an English professor who has taught in the Honors Program, said the change will help with resource distribution.

“The bigger curriculum requirements have required fairly heavy use of adjunct faculty, who are often wonderful, but the Honors Program needs to be sustained as much as possible by full-time faculty who are deeply committed to research, teaching and mentoring students to great heights,” she said.

The program has reported positive attitudes toward the changes so far, although some faculty mourn the loss of specialty classes.

“I am sad to see the program dismantled for lack of foresight — and lack of understanding in hindsight,” said Mary Lee, an English and writing adjunct instructor. “I am afraid that, down the road, this will be seen as a sad misstep in our efforts to build a better university.”

Hansen is also concerned about the loss of the Honors Writing course, specifically.

Honors advisors plan to replace the classes by promoting a new environment focused on creating small communities and groups for students to connect studies that relate to their interests and majors.

The new changes offer a benefit for students as more personalized curriculum is developed according to majors and talents, Parry said. It could be more efficient for the individual student, as students who have a capstone project may be able to use that as part of their thesis and count more of what they are already doing toward graduation.

Parry said the changes could also benefit faculty. Removing the specialty honors courses will increase the number of general education classes and give professors more chances to receive the Alcuin Fellowship, an opportunity that allows professors to receive research support funds and mentor new students in general education classes over a thee-year period.

Honors Program personnel hope these changes will help embody a spirit they’ve tried to communicate in previous classes.

“Asking big questions and answering them in interdisciplinary ways is going to be that spirit that will guide students to complete their final honors thesis and what they will gravitate toward after graduation,” Parry said.

The requirement changes are in effect for students who enrolled after June 2013. Those who were already working toward graduating with honors before that cutoff have more flexibility and can choose to graduate using the old requirements or the new.

“It’s nice that I have some flexibility to choose what I want to do,” said Nick Hales, a junior from Nevada. “I guess I just came to BYU at the right time to be an honors student.”

Transfer students who have questions about their requirements are still welcome to seek information about joining the program.  Those hoping to graduate with distinction might seek specialized guidance for credits from other schools to fill BYU’s checklist. Students who have fewer than 60 transfer credits are welcome to apply.

Hundreds of freshmen sign up each year for the Honors Program after orientation, but only about 100 students make it to graduation with the distinction. A common idea from students is that the program is too rigorous or risks graduate opportunities and GPAs.

“I came to BYU hearing a little about the program but then a lot about how hard it was and to not really look into it,” said Laura Thornburg, a junior from California. “School is tough enough, and I didn’t think I had time for it.”

Parry said he believes students are asking the wrong questions when it comes to deciding to join the Honors Program.

“The university experience is hard anywhere,” Parry said. “The question is what do you want to achieve at school, and for students who want to complement their major education with a very enriched, broadening, interdisciplinary component — that’s who we are, and we’ll ask for the hard work that anyone would require.”

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