The University of Michigan, an encyclopedic survey ... Wilfred B. Shaw, editor.
University of Michigan.

Honors programs grew out of serious discontent with the state of American higher education after the Second World War. Competition for student enrollment had sacrificed quality for numbers; many students were ill-prepared and poorly motivated; there was too much stress on social conformity, fun, and sports; rigor in fundamentals had given way to curricular permissiveness and incoherence; there was an erosion of values in the liberal arts and sciences, and a utilitarian vocationalism in the professional schools; wide-spread obeisance to conventional IQ and grade-criteria of competence was ill-placed; there began the recognition of the neglect and waste of the true abilities among the young, and the need to salvage them, discover them early, and to nurture them, so that scientific, social, and humanistic illiteracy could be halted, and that college training produce men and women of dedication and humanity rather than narrow technicians.

All this was seen then, as it is realized now, to be a distortion of our democratic ethos: the equality of opportunity confused with identity of treatment, and a reluctance to differentiate abilities and to take the trouble to study and to supply their various needs. Costly remedial courses were and are given for our least competent students. As in every group — whether it be plumbers, doctors, lawyers, or electricians — undergraduates are divided among the least skillful, the middling, and the very competent.

In 1956 the Inter-University Committee on the Superior Student was established with the University of Colorado at Boulder as its home base, and Professor Joseph W. Cohen of the Department of Philosophy there as its Chairman. With the support initially of a Rockefeller Foundation grant, and later, from the Carnegie Corporation, largely tax supported colleges and universities throughout the country were encouraged to plan academic programs Page  2for the student of superior ability. The College of Literature, Science, and the Arts was a charter member of the ICSS, as it got to be called. Dean Charles E. Odegaard named Professor Otto G. Graf to serve as this College's representative on it. The Dean also appointed a College committee, chaired by Professor E. Lowell Kelly (Psychology) to develop a rationale and plan for implementing a College Honors Program providing continuity throughout the four years of undergraduate experience. The Committee's report distributed to the faculty contained twelve major objectives:

  • 1. Identify and select students of higher ability as early as possible.
  • 2. Start programs for these students immediately upon admission to the College and admit other students into Honors work whenever they are later identified by their teachers.
  • 3. Formulate such programs to embrace the area of specialization as well as all the College work for the degree.
  • 4. Create variety and flexibility by establishing special courses, ability sections, Honors seminars, and independent study.
  • 5. Secure increasing visibility throughout the institution so that the Honors Program will provide standards of excellence for all students and faculty.
  • 6. Use methods and materials in teaching appropriate to superior students.
  • 7. Select faculty qualified to give the best intellectual leadership.
  • 8. Reduce regular requirements in order to give abler students greater freedom of choice among alternatives in the Program.
  • Page  39. Devise methods of evaluating both the means used and the ends sought by an Honors Program.
  • 10. Employ Honors students wherever feasible as apprentices and research assistants to the best men on the faculty, as well as for counselling, orientation, and other academic advisory functions.
  • 11. Establish an Honors Center with library, lounge, reading rooms for Honors Program students.
  • 12. Assure that such programs will be permanent features of the curriculum and not dependent on temporary or spasmodic dedication of particular faculty men or administrators — in other words, institutionalize such programs, budget them, and build a tradition of excellence.

The report by the Lowell Kelly committee was approved by the faculty in the winter term of 1957. Dean Odegaard appointed Professor Robert C. Angell of the Department of Sociology to the directorship of the Honors Program. The Executive Committee assisting Professor Angell consisted of Professors Philip J. Elving of the Chemistry Department, Herbert Barrows of English, Otto G. Graf of German, Leo Goldberg of Astronomy, and E. Lowell Kelly, Psychology. At an early meeting, it was decided to name the new administrative unit "Honors Council" rather than "Honors College" in order to avoid suggesting a separation from the College of Literature, Science and the Arts. As a component of the College it was directly responsible to the Office of the Dean, its reports to be submitted to the Dean and his Executive Committee, and all budgetary matters to reside within the Dean's office. The Honors Council consisted of the Director on a half-time appointment, his staff of counselors, and representatives of all the departments participating in Honors work. A great number of tasks were completed in short time: selection of students Page  4from among the freshman applicants for fall term admission, preparation of a brochure, and the planning of an interdisciplinary science course under the direction of Professor Lawrence Slobodkin of the Department of Zoology. A high school visitation program was also planned in order to make known the creation of the Honors program here, to encourage introduction of Advanced Placement course work, and to establish contact with school superintendents, principals, and senior class counselors. A Carnegie Corporation grant of $54,000 assisted the Director and his Executive Committee to support these immediate projects.

The initial Honors freshman class of 201 was somewhat hastily selected from the roster of National Merit Finalists, Semi-Finalists, and Commended Students. At the end of the first academic year attrition for academic reasons (failure to maintain a "B" level of performance) was quite high, 25%, and prompted the Director and his Committee to use a wider range of qualifications: academic performance in high school, performance on national standardized tests, and the quality of the high school. A more searching basis for selection improved the statistics in the following year with an attrition of 17%.

By the end of the third year Honors opportunities on all four class levels were available in virtually all departments of the College. Some departments offered introductory courses especially for Honors students, and others offered Honors sections in multi-sectioned courses. Students who were admitted to candidacy for an Honors degree in their field of concentration were accommodated in junior and senior seminars. In the senior year the student worked under the tutorial supervision of a faculty member in the planning and preparation of his senior thesis or (for the scientific disciplines) his senior research project. The Honors citation, "With Honors," "With High Honors" or "With Highest Honors" was determined by the over-all Page  5quality of the candidate's performance, the quality of his work in his major subject, and the quality of his thesis or research report as well as on his oral defense of it. The citation appears on the diploma.

Courses mainly interdisciplinary in scope were planned to provide breadth in the junior and senior years, and by the following year eight were available each term. They were designed to offset over-specialization once a student entered his field of major interest. To teach these courses the most successful teachings on the College staff were recruited.

Professor Angell resigned the Directorship in the course of his third year and Dean Roger Heyns named Professor Otto G. Graf of the German Department as his successor. A number of innovations were introduced in the ensuing years. Summer Reading Program in conjunction with the University Extension Services enabled Honors students to fulfill all requirements of any course which departments made available for independent study, thus providing an opportunity for the student to demonstrate his ability to work alone. A number of guest speakers, all distinguished scholars, appeared under Honors auspices: Professor Fritz Martini (Germanist and comparatist) of Technische Hochschule in Stuttgart, David Butler of Oxford University (Political Science), Daniel Aaron of Harvard University (American Studies), Claude Simpson of Ohio State University (English) and Wolfgang Kayser of Gottingen University (Comparatist). These appearances involved an address before the University community and three days spent in conducting seminars and conferences with Honors students. The Carnegie Corporation supported this effort.

The Honors Council was also the recipient of a grant in the amount of $69,750 from the National Science Foundation for undergraduate research and independent study in the sciences and mathematics. Seven departments participated. Modest support was provided for 94 students during the academic Page  6year, but very generous support for a full-time commitment during the summer session. The initial grant was renewed for two additional years.

With financial assistance of the Dean's Office, an Honors Professorship was created in 1964 involving a year's residence for a distinguished scholar and educational leader. Half of the cost was assumed by the Department appropriate to the guest professor's field. In chronological order these guest scholars were: Professor Harold Stein of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University; Professor William Arrowsmith, classics scholar and eminent critic and translator from the University of Texas; Professor Adrienne Koch, Georgetown University, in American Intellectual History; Professor Robert McLeod of Cornell in Psychology; Professor Erich Vogelin of the Institute for Political Science Studies, University of Munich, whose source of support came from the Earhart Foundation; Professor Harold Cruse, free lance journalist and historian, who became a permanent member of the faculty.

In 1964 a study of the effectiveness of the Honors Program covering its first five years was completed by Dr. Phyllis E. Pilisuk of the Department of Psychology. Her statistical results of elaborate samplings, interviews, and measurements revealed general satisfaction with the Honors Program, although some members of the Honors Council considered such an evaluation premature. Follow-up studies were planned to be administered five years after our Honors students had received their undergraduate degree. Two such studies by the Departments of Psychology and English, both strongly positive, showed that most of the respondents were making superior progress in their graduate work or at the beginnings of an academic career.

Throughout the 1960s a more visible result of rigorous training, tutorial attention, continuity in counseling, and opportunities to engage in independent study and research became apparent when our seniors entered Page  7competitions for graduate support made available by foundations, government agencies, and graduate schools. Here the record of the Honors Program virtually led the country's colleges and universities year after year in the number of Woodrow Wilson and Danforth Fellowships awarded students in the Program. During the same period, Honors students fared well in the Marshall and Rhodes competitions. The record over the years of the Honors graduates supplies a more impressive index of excellence than statistical analyses.

Members of the Honors Council and the Director held frequent conferences with officers of M Clubs throughout Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, and Pennsylvania in order to identify outstanding academic prospects and also to advertise a program conducted summers for outstanding 11th graders. During the summers of 1964-68 seminars of two weeks' duration were conducted, accommodating each summer approximately 200 high school juniors nominated by their principals. The seminars were in English Literature, Creative Writing, Classics, German Social Studies, and Mathematics. Strongly positive reports from schools, parents, and participants confirmed the Honors Council's assessment of the program. The young people enjoyed an agreeable yet challenging foretaste of the Honors Program. Expenses were defrayed by the students themselves, with the exception of the cost of instruction, assumed by the Office of Academic Affairs.

Despite a national decline in scores on standardized tests, the quality of the students in the Honors Program remained consistently high. Our criteria for their selection and retention became even more rigorous. To accomodate the growth in numbers, the staff of faculty counselors was increased, an Assistant to the Director was appointed, and an Associate Director authorized to superintend the growing number of students in science programs. Professor Adon Gordus (Chemistry) continued his function as Chairman of Unified Science and assumed responsibility for counseling pre-science Page  8majors and for identifying research opportunities throughout the scientific community in order to place appropriately trained and qualified students as participants in on-going research. Professor Gordus was successful in placing many of the young scientists in on-going projects in the Medical School, the School of Public Health, the College of Pharmacy, and the science departments within the College.

A two semester sequence in Great Books became a required course for freshmen in Honors in lieu of the conventional English Composition course. Rigorous, analytical reading and a good deal of critical writing characterized this introductory course. Every effort was made and is continuing to be made to man the discussion sections with distinguished faculty — an effort extended to all instruction in the Honors Program.

In the second half of the 60s the Honors Council was the recipient of several funds, the largest of which, $136,000 from an anonymous source, to be used in support of Honors candidates' theses or research projects. Other funds were given as memorial to Honors graduates and undergraduates who met an untimely death: the Martha Muenzer Memorial Award, the income from $12,000 for a Junior class woman in Psychology Honors; the Roger Vanko Memorial Award given annually in the amount of $150 to an outstanding Junior in Chemistry Honors; the Virginia Voss Memorial Award, derived annually from $12,500 for particularly gifted women in written expression; the Helen DeRoy Memorial Award of the annual income from $000 to be used to enhance the College Honors Program. Although the Honors Program since its inception has attracted strongly qualified high school seniors from both in-state and out-state schools (the number of students growing from 1196 in 1964 to 1680 by 1975), the College was not totally successful in meeting competition for bright students from sister institutions within Michigan and from private and state-supported institutions elsewhere. Public and private universities and Page  9colleges were investing substantial sums for "academic tender," and a disappointingly large number of applicants admitted to our Honors Program chose to go elsewhere on generous scholarships and subsidies. During the period covered by this survey, however, the Honors Council did not relax its efforts to attract the best, and enjoyed strong support of the College Administration, the Office of Admissions, a loyal and devoted faculty, and its own staff of counselors. In recognition of the excellent services of the counseling staff in the Honors Program the following members of the Honors Council were recipients of the Ruth M. Sinclair Memorial Awards: Professors Alvin Goldman (Philosophy), Malapalayam Ramanujan (Mathematics), William Hauser (History), Gerald Linderman (History), Mary Alice Shulman (Economics), Frederick Test (Zoology), Mary Crichton (German), Bert Hornback (English and Chairman of English Honors Committee), Thomas Tentler (History), Paul Cloke (Geology), and Daniel Weintraub (Psychology).

Finally, a word must be said concerning the charge of elitism, which became particularly strident during the troubled 1960s and which reverberates occasionally to the present day. In response to a veritable campaign in the Michigan Daily to abolish the Honors Program as undemocratic, the Director wrote its editor: When a student enters the Honors Program he is not given an irrevocable privilege; he is asked to accept his proper responsibility. Accepting responsibility proportionate to one's ability is the essence of democracy. An Honors Program is not designed to give gratuitous recognition to the innately superior. Graduation with an Honors citation comes at the end of a process — for achievement."

This admirably sums up the philosophy of the Honors Program in the College of Literature, Science and the Arts with which this brief history of the program began. With ever increasing belief in the proposition that our Page  10educational goals are right, and with increasing support from all who think with us, it shall continue.