Like most college freshmen, Molly Newcomb, MCAS ’18, came to Boston College excited but uneasy at the thought of trying to make a new life for herself in the midst of thousands of other BC students who she didn’t know. BC had deemed her one of her class’s most promising students, so upon her acceptance to the Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences, she was also invited to join the Honors Program that awarded her with smaller, academically challenging classes and Honors housing. Through the program, Newcomb made lasting friendships, forged deep relationships with professors, and grew incredibly as an intellectual individual.
So when Dean of MCAS Rev. Gregory Kalscheur, S.J., announced that the Honors Program would end with the Class of 2021, Newcomb, along with some of her fellow Honors classmates, was deeply saddened.
“It’s one of those things that it’s sad for me to see end because it’s a program that I feel like I gained a lot from,” Newcomb said. “I’m sad about it ending, although in talking with my professors about it ending, I understand why it’s happening.”
Others had a more positive response to the decision.
“I think it’s really great news for BC,” said Angela Han, MCAS ’18. “It means we’re doing really well and so many smart students are coming that we don’t even need an Honors Program anymore. We should be celebrating.”
On Oct. 13, Kalscheur sent out an email to MCAS Honors students announcing the planned end of the program. Founded in 1958, the program was originally created in order to lure academically advanced students to attend BC. The Honors Program provided these students with the opportunity to grow intellectually through a rigorous, interdisciplinary education rooted in the study of the great books of the Western intellectual tradition. Since then, BC has developed into a highly competitive university that has little difficulty attracting superior students.
“The pressing needs that led to creation of the Honors Program nearly 60 years ago no longer exists today,” Kalscheur wrote in his letter.
Although faculty had been discussing whether the program should end for years, some students were surprised and even dismayed at the perceived suddenness of the decision.
“They never gave us any warning,” said Elaina Gray, MCAS ’18. “The first time we found out it was closing was after they already decided it was closing. They didn’t give us an opportunity to say, ‘No, we don’t want that to happen. This is how much it means to us.’ Now, it’s too late.”
Chris Constas, a professor in Honors who had also graduated from the program in 1988, did not expect for students to be taken off guard. Constas will take over as director of the Perspectives Program in Fall 2019, and will start as associate director next year.
“I find myself surprised that anyone can find it sudden because this has been an open conversation for years about the future of the honors program, and there was always the possibility that it could end,” Constas said. “There has been a long discussion about it. Students have been consulted.”
Conversation about ending the Honors Program began over five years ago with Provost and Dean of Faculties David Quigley, the then Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences. During that time, Quigley and other faculty established that they could not make any major decisions about the future of the Honors Program until the school had first figured out another project that had been going on at the time: the renewal of the University Core Curriculum.
In 2015, BC started offering a newly modified Core, consisting of Complex Problems and Enduring Questions courses. These courses were designed to provide students with a set of interdisciplinary courses that would challenge them to meaningfully connect the material they learned across their various classes—the Honors Program had been offering students a similar type of education. With the renewed Core in place, Kalscheur determined that the Honors Program was no longer necessary. The belief is that the Complex Problems and Enduring Questions sections of the Core, along with BC’s Perspectives program, would expand the broad, interdisciplinary education of the Honors Program to a greater range of students.
“I know that BC’s been reworking the Core,” said Rachel Piccolino, MCAS ’18, who has been in the program since her freshman year. “The reasons for ending it definitely do make sense to me. I just wish they had tried to rework the honors program instead of getting rid of it completely.”
Erik Jinsuk Lee, MCAS ’18, also expressed concern.
“I’m sad that future generations of BC undergraduates won’t get to experience Professor Newmark’s wonderful insight into the philosophical world of the 20th century, or Breines’s captivating discourse on Dostoyevsky,” Lee said.
Other similarly disappointed students may find relief in knowing that the school does indeed plan on keeping the spirit and the education of the Honors Program alive, as well as the professors, well after the program officially ends.
“I think what [students] are concerned about is that that kind of education—interdisciplinary, broad-based general education in the humanities—is going to go away,” Constas said. “And it’s not, because it already exists in Perspectives and what we’re going to try to do is make the Perspectives Program serve more students….”
In his new role with Perspectives, Constas will be heavily involved in developing the program to bring to it the same components of the Honors Program. Constas will make it a top priority that the small classes and academically challenging atmosphere of the Honors Program continue on into the Perspectives Program. Only now, the program will be reaching many more students.
As for professors, Constas explained that from the start, Kalscheur had established that no professors would lose their jobs after the program ended. Instead, professors will go into teaching Perspectives courses, other Core classes, or they will continue teaching within their own departments.
Christian Wilson, MCAS ’18, a current honors student is hopeful about the future.
“There’s plenty of brilliant people at BC, so allowing people to self-select a Perspectives Program is kind of a smart decision because you might reach people better suited for that kind of learning,” Wilson said.
“It’s not the end of that kind of education—it’s just the end of a particular status you would give to incoming students at BC,” Constas said. “We’re not going to have that anymore, but hopefully, we can start serving more students.”
Featured Image via Heights Archives