Dear Students, Alumni, and Friends,
These are challenging times for higher education. Having dramatically reduced funding for higher education in recent decades, states have shifted the financial costs of college onto students and their families. To minimize this burden, students are encouraged to take loans, move through college quickly, focus on a particular discipline, and treat college as a place for vocational training. The life of thought and reflection that has characterized academia for centuries is going, replaced by a fast-paced consumer mentality.
As it is common to confuse prevailing conditions with enduring ones, it is no surprise that many people have convinced themselves that this is a new age, that technology has fundamentally changed the world, that these students are different, and that, if we don’t find a way to keep up, all will be lost. I think that this is an illusion, created by political and economic policies. However, even if they are illusory, these beliefs have real-world implications. They take us backward, toward an older model in which those who can afford small classes, dedicated and engaging faculty, and challenging and broad-based curricula will continue to be educated in the classical style, while those who cannot afford it will receive technologically mediated instruction, large classes, and vocationally oriented curricula. If there is a crisis, it would seem to be in our cultural priorities. As Bob Moorehead has put it:
We have bigger houses and smaller families; more conveniences, yet less time; we have more degrees but less sense; more knowledge but less judgment; more experts, yet more problems. . . . We’ve been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet the new neighbor. . . . We build more computers to hold more information, to produce more copies than ever, but have less communication. . . . We’ve become long on quantity, but short on quality.
Honors programs are inherently idealistic, intended to stoke the intellectual aspirations of academically talented students. They seek to create an atmosphere of thoughtful engagement and conversation. They offer opportunities to think critically and creatively in ways that cross academic disciplines. They encourage students to demand more from their educational experiences, to insist on being engaged by both the subject matter and the person teaching it.
The Office of Honors and Scholars Programs at UT promotes high standards and the love of learning. We support our students. Above all, we seek to impart a particular (and, I would argue, a particularly important) approach to learning: we strive to make learning a virtue. But if we are to succeed in making a virtue of learning, we must be intentional about our curricula and the ways we engage our students. We must recognize what we have but also work to improve it. We must champion excellence by being excellent.
Dr. Timothy L. Hulsey
Associate Provost for Honors and Scholars Programs