To address students' concerns about renewed policies for one of DePauw's most prominent academic programs, members from the President's Cabinet discussed the reforms for the Honor Scholars Program through an informational session conducted at the Wallace Stewart Room of Hoover Hall on May 17.
These changes are in line with the administration's email announcement about the Bold and Gold 2027 Strategic Plan, which aims to establish "a strong, long-term foundation for DePauw.. [to] continue to flourish as a university and strengthen [the university's] ability to develop leaders the world needs." However, this met significant backlash from the DePauw community due to demands for increased administrative transparency and student involvement.
According to Dave Berque, Vice President for Academic Affairs, the administration plans to terminate Honor Scholar admissions after the Fall 2023 semester while creating an alternative method to create a similar academic experience that would be open to all interested and eligible students. Additionally, current students and incoming Honor Scholars would still be provided the opportunity to graduate from the program.
The controversial decision was attributed to the program's unsustainable faculty size and concerns about student retention rates, which was merely 26% in one previous year.
"The program though is also very resource intensive," Berque highlighted. "Faculty resources [also] provide a separate set of courses that are available primarily usually only to Honor Scholar students, and then provide a yearlong senior thesis with three faculty members supervising each thesis, as the size of the faculty has decreased and will continue to decrease…one of the measures that come out of capacity planning is the need to return our student-faculty ratio to about 11 to 1 from where it sits right now."
Moreover, Berque highlighted the absence of lateral entry opportunities for juniors and seniors, who may become interested in pursuing similar academic coursework offered to Honor Scholars.
However, current scholars of the program pointed out the lack of student and educator input prior to the decision's implementation.
"Did you guys know that professors weren't invited? [We were informed] at the end of May in the middle of finals, while [administrators have] been talking about it since October," said Jack Woods, a senior Honor Scholar. This also led to questions from other student attendees regarding the potential loss of specialized critical thinking seminars, leadership initiatives, and interdisciplinary coursework previously offered by the program.
Meanwhile, Abigail McArthur-Self, a third-year Honor Scholar elaborated on the academic consequences of terminating the program entirely. "I'm studying at the University of Glasgow this semester, an opportunity which was only open to me through the Honor Scholar program. I support an initiative to make the program accessible at a later grade ...[but] it does not seem necessary to sunset the program as we know it rather than alter it. Furthermore...I've been hearing about the lack of tenure positions, the low rate of contract renewal, and the unwillingness to replace decisions as professors retire. If the system is strained, the administration has known and has time to fix constraints for a while."
On the other hand, a rising senior currently taking a semester at the University of Oxford discussed the importance of the Honor Scholar Program for DePauw's yield rate.
"One of the reasons why I chose to commit to DePauw was because of my acceptance into the Honor Scholar program. Otherwise, I was considering a completely different university which had given me a higher scholarship [to begin] with. [So] thinking about how it's getting terminated when I have a brother who's about to enter as a freshman, it's quite disheartening. [Moreover,] if we are to operate under this pretense, [then] Management Fellows, Science, Research Fellows, Media Fellows--all of these programs need to be terminated."
The student also echoed sentiments from other attendees on how the university's Strategic Plan fails to acknowledge student opinions on DePauw's future academic implementations.