Honors program at SOU seeks approval

When Southern Oregon University junior Jeff McJunkin got his first paper back he wrote for an honors class his freshman year, it was covered in red ink, something that hadn't happened in years.

"It was very nice," he said. "Startling, but nice."

McJunkin has since taken several more honors classes and was one of the students who fought to save the program during the budget cuts last year.

The fate of the honors program seems more stable now, but faculty and students still have questions about how it will all play out.

After the university's original retrenchment plan was announced last January &

which included eliminating the entire honors program &

Sandra Coyner, then-director of the program, along with several honors students began lobbying the administration against the decision.

It wasn't until May, however, after Coyner's position had been eliminated and the program ostensibly ended, that President Mary Cullinan appointed Sherry Ettlich to lead the creation of a more affordable and sustainable program.

"If Mary hadn't responded to that request, we wouldn't even have what we have today," Coyner said.

Administrators say the honors program was never cut, only reconfigured, evidenced by the six honors classes offered fall quarter. A new program was approved in June, pending faculty senate approval and funding. The funding, around $25,000 per year according to Ettlich, came in September, but faculty approval is still pending.


One challenge is to create a viable program under tight budget constraints.

"The funding is very minimal," Ettlich said. The current budget, at one-fourth the size of the old, releases Ettlich from teaching one class to direct the program and pays for an assistant to work 10 hours per week, she said.

Coyner, who ran the old program since 2000, said she believes honors at SOU can be supported on $30,000 to $40,000 a year, especially because the school already has honors-like programs available to all students, such as small classes and the option of a capstone project. With any less funding, SOU might endanger the reputation of honors, she said.

"When the top administration of a university wants an honors program, you have it," she said. "At some point, (Mary Cullinan) will need to decide how cheap is too cheap."

Faculty concerns

Besides the cost to fund the program, faculty are concerned about class size and the decentralized nature of the new program, which relies on individual departments to set classes and standards.

About 500 students at SOU have been tagged as honors potential, but only 99 slots in honors classes were filled this fall, Ettlich said, and all faculty must encourage students to take honors classes if the new model is to survive, she said.

"We can't afford to run courses that don't have students in them," she said.

Although there are no minimum class size requirements, a good-sized class would have ten to 20 students, said Interim Provost Ed Battistella.

There are also concerns that an honors program could create an elitist group of students, and that the program places undue demands on departments already strapped for time and resources.

"There's always more work to do than we can get done so people are always having to make priorities," Battistells said. " and large most departments really see the benefit for their students and for their faculty. Some will get involved before others, and that's OK."

Departments will have until 2010 to cement programs. And in the spring, both the strategic planning committee and faculty senate will set benchmarks the honors program and all academic programs should meet to continue.

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