Dear Students, Alumni, and Friends,
2015 has been a busy year for us. We developed (and gained approval for) a new Haslam Scholars Program curriculum, we welcomed Rebekah Page back from maternity leave, and several honors students were named winners of or finalists for prestigious national and international scholarships. They include Summer Awad (John Lewis Fellowship); David Morse, Chris Ludtka, and Kenna Rewcastle (Fulbright Scholarship); R. J. Vogt (Princeton in Asia Scholar); Colleen Henry (Humanity in Action), and Julia Ross (2014-15 White House Intern).
These accomplishments underscore the role that honors students play at UT: Pursuing excellence on a national (and international) stage. These, and the myriad other accomplishments of our students, are among the principal reasons we have honors and scholars programs. Honors programs provide a space for high-achieving students to think deeply, challenge each other and themselves, and engage in service to both the university and the community. But, more importantly, as my colleague Nancy West at the University of Missouri says, honors programs provide a “third place” at universities, a place where idealism is not merely encouraged but required.
Last year we added a quote to the wall in our seminar room. It reads: Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel. The Chancellor’s Honors Program has for more than thirty years championed this approach to education. Our goal is to kindle a flame in our students. To create within them a passion for learning that never dies. To do this, we engage not only their intellects, but also their passions.
I make these points because I am often asked what, precisely, the value of an honors education is. Beyond the obvious things like individual attention, small, engaging classes, early registration privileges, access to top faculty, travel and research grants, and service opportunities, honors programs foster excellence–not merely academic excellence, but excellence in living.
Some years ago, when I taught a version of our UNHO 101 course at Texas State University I read a brilliant little essay entitled, “Teaching a Fish the Meaning of Water.” The gist of the story is this:
There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?”
The two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”
The point of this story is, of course, that without a context for living, we swim along blind to the point of it all. This is no less true of learning than it is of life. Indeed, awareness of the context within which we live and learn may be the most important thing an education can provide. Truly educated people think about the context of their lives, about the world, about knowledge, about how things ought to be. This is what we strive to provide for our students.
Honors programs are the great levelers, mixing students from varied socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds in an atmosphere of creativity and deep thought. They are meritocracies where ability and willingness count for more than ancestry and wealth. Honors programs provide a neutral ground where students studying different majors may discuss shared concerns and develop interdisciplinary solutions. Honors students do great things both for themselves and for the university. And that’s why we have honors programs!
Dr. Timothy Hulsey