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An Honors College Emerges

New focus on linking disciplines, but no new degree

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President Robert A. Brown yesterday announced the formation of the University Honors College. Photo by Kalman Zabarsky

Beginning this spring, Boston University will invite a select number of incoming 2010 freshmen to enroll in a new four-year, University-wide undergraduate program called the University Honors College, designed to include cross-disciplinary classes, intensive seminars, and independent studies for seniors.

“It’s important for institutions of higher learning to be continually developing the best and most innovative ways to reach its students,” says President Robert A. Brown. “The University Honors College allows students to have an interdisciplinary perspective while maintaining focus on one of our excellent existing schools and colleges.”

Unlike the University Professors Program, which stopped accepting applications two years ago, the University Honors College will not be a separate degree-granting college within BU. Rather, the emphasis will be on bringing together students in all existing liberal arts and professional programs, allowing them to work on interdisciplinary, collaborative research.

University officials announced the creation of the program in spring 2008, tentatively calling it New College. The name proved unpopular, and last week Brown recommended to the Board of Trustees renaming it the University Honors College. The trustees agreed unanimously.

“The name New College was only provisional — a placeholder,” Brown says. “In the beginning, it worked because it allowed us to define what the program should be.”

As the University Honors College will not offer a separate degree, it will not have a separate dean. “It is not a replacement for, or in competition with, any of the existing schools or colleges,” says Charles Dellheim, chair of the College of Arts & Sciences history department and the head of the Committee to Design the University Honors Program. “It is a cooperative enterprise that we hope will be a source for — and a beneficiary of — rigorous innovation across BU.”

The college will provide an open dialogue between professional schools and the liberal arts and sciences, adds Provost David Campbell. Students will continue to satisfy requirements for existing majors, while taking advantage of a new interdisciplinary structure. “Students completing the University Honors Program will have this distinction recognized on their diplomas,” Brown says.

According to Dellheim, the program will build on three strengths: the University’s standing as a research institution, its strong liberal arts and professional schools and colleges, and its Boston location. “This is an attempt to redefine the balance by making research and creation a significant part of the undergraduate curriculum,” he says.

The broader concept will expose students to a variety of disciplines as well as a variety of pedagogies, he adds, including case method, master classes, studios, and laboratories.

This fall, CAS began offering freshman seminar courses that could become University Honors College courses in 2010. Although offered through CAS, they were taught by faculty members from schools and colleges throughout the University, including the College of Engineering, the College of Fine Arts, and the School of Theology. Thus far, Dellheim says, feedback from instructors has been positive.

The proposed curriculum encompasses all four years of an undergraduate program and features two semester-long freshman seminars, two semester-long sophomore discussion classes, a one-semester junior year course, and a keystone research project during senior year. Students will also complete an internship during the summer of sophomore year.

The program will allow for closer interaction between students and faculty, smaller class sizes, and a specialized curriculum, Dellheim says.

Freshman courses will focus on research, creation, and discovery involving fine arts, philosophy, management, history, literature, and engineering. Sophomore courses will take a comparative look at practices of inquiry across the arts, sciences, and professions. Juniors develop a detailed proposal for their keystone project, to be carried out senior year.

Collaboration on keystone projects will be highly encouraged. “For example,” says Dellheim, “a painter from CFA might work with an art history major from CAS and a marketing major from SMG to open an art gallery.”

According to Laurie Pohl, vice president for enrollment and student affairs, freshmen will be selected based on “their interest and drive to understand issues from multiple perspectives and synthesize strands of information into a coherent whole.” Students will be invited to join the inaugural program in the spring.

Reaction to the disbandment of the University Professors Program had been mixed. “There were some who had concerns about how it would affect other programs and what impact it would have on resources,” says Dellheim. “But I think that, for the most part, people were highly supportive.”

“Although successful in attracting students, UNI was always a small program,” Pohl adds. “The University Honors College expands on the notion of academic talent to include academic potential, allowing more students to benefit.”

Andrew Smolenski (SMG’09, UNI’09), former president of UNI’s student government, worked with Dellheim throughout the 2007–2008 academic year to develop the concept of the new entity. “Our biggest concern with discontinuing UNI was the fate of its interdisciplinary concentrations,” he says. “We were asked to come up with ideas for set majors that might replace the interdisciplinary concentrations, what classes we thought they should draw from, and what professors should be involved.”

The last group of UNI freshmen entered in 2007; the college will officially close when they graduate in 2011.

Vicky Waltz can be reached at vwaltz@bu.edu.

12 Comments

12 Comments on An Honors College Emerges

  • Ruth MacFarlane Hunter ENG'64,GSM'86 on 09.24.2009 at 10:33 am

    University Honors College

    The establishment of the University Honors College at BU is an exciting development . I wish it had been available when I was an undergraduate engineering student.

  • Anonymous on 09.24.2009 at 11:37 am

    UHC and CGS

    University Honors College sounds like an amazing program and I think that students who participate in it will really enjoy it. It reminds me of the College of General Studies, which I participated in and thoroughly enjoyed and thrived in. I don’t think proper credit is given to CGS in this article. I will go so far as to say that UHC seems to have been inspired by CGS.

    You mention that freshman and sophomores in UHC will participate in yearlong courses and that in their senior year they will complete a keystone project. Well freshman and sophomores in CGS participate in yearlong courses and in their sophomore year complete a capstone project. Also, neither program offers a degree. Finally, the following statement directly from your article about UHC could be said of CGS:

    “The program will allow for closer interaction between students and faculty, smaller class sizes, and a specialized curriculum”

    I think that CGS often gets the short end of the stick. Credit needs to be given where credit is due.

  • Anonymous on 09.24.2009 at 12:53 pm

    nice article

  • Anonymous MAN on 09.24.2009 at 1:21 pm

    I agree, CGS needs to get some credit to.

  • Anonymous on 09.24.2009 at 1:55 pm

    University Honors College

    The choice of the term “College” is unfortunate and will lead to confusion among students and others. Why not call it what it is, a University Honors Program.

  • B on 09.24.2009 at 4:58 pm

    Boston University will continue to rise in the ranks because of this!

  • Anonymous on 09.24.2009 at 5:15 pm

    The only shame is that the new college is really just a “college” and doesn’t offer any graduate/Ph.D. programs as UNI did.

  • Anonymous on 09.24.2009 at 5:38 pm

    Honors College vs. Honors Program

    What, if anything, will the Honors College have in common with the current Honors Program? That was not mentioned in the article and is potentially very confusing.

  • Anonymous on 09.25.2009 at 9:17 am

    Sounds like another money-absorbing, inefficient waste of scarce resources.

  • JnP on 09.25.2009 at 12:36 pm

    I am seeing and hearing more of a marketing application then a new way of educating. With prospective students’ funds possibly limited by the economic turn-downs of the past few years, it does not surprise me that, to attract attention and applications, BU has taken this route.

    As long as the students are happy with their chosen college / programme, they are getting their monies’ worth and it does not compromise but enhance their years at BU, I say why not? But to propose to we who have been there that this is some sort of new and innovative approach, well, most won’t be buying it.

  • Anonymous on 09.26.2009 at 8:12 am

    Not too late to retain UNI at graduate level.

    As a proud UNI graduate, I wish the new University Honors College all the best. However, as UHC does not contain a graduate component, could UNI be retained (on a smaller administrative scale) to fill this void?

    UHC is an excellent way to broaden the honors concept across campus. However, the highest-profile projection of a university’s scholarship tends to come from within its graduate programs and the research and publications emanating from them. If UHC will remain tailored to undergraduate studies, then UNI, which already has an outstanding track record at graduate level, could continue in that role — not as a rival to UHC but as a companion to it.

  • Anonymous on 12.09.2009 at 4:04 pm

    new college

    will this option be available to freshmen 2013 in good standing as transfers–do any of the freshmen seminars weigh in as honor equivalents?

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