The Academic Senate heard the complaints of honors students and faculty this past Tuesday when it created and passed three advisory resolutions to keep the honors program running.
Every speaker at the meeting spoke in favor of keeping the program — and the unanimous vote reciprocated that. The three members who abstained did not voice their reasons for doing so.
The resolutions passed are advisory suggestions to Provost Kathleen Enz Finken who will make the final decision early this summer. Enz Finken is currently on vacation and unavailable for comment.
Most agree the honors program needs to make structural changes, but there has been disagreement on how to enact these changes. Earlier this quarter, Enz Finken announced her decision to phase out the program and create a new one.
This decision led to reinvigorated support from faculty and students and inspired the honors community to come together in attempt to keep the program, Honors Program Director Sema Apltekin said.
During the meeting, members of the Academic Senate spoke and expressed their concern for the incoming students who would not be able to experience the program if the provost upholds her initial decision.
“Even though we’d still be able to graduate, we felt it was bigger than just us,” honors student and business administration sophomore James Sofranko said. “We feel additional students should continue to enroll and be able to have the experiences we’ve had.”
After the provost’s announcement, students realized they had to take action and created a preliminary Honors Advisory Council, Sofranko said. The council has served as an intermediary between the provost, college deans, academic senate and the honors program as a whole.
Though the program has room for improvement, it has played a large part in Sofranko’s college experience, he said. Students in his honors courses are more driven and interested in the classes, creating an atmosphere of much higher caliber, he said.
“My honors philosophy class blew my mind on a daily basis,” he said. “We were able to discuss subjects normal classes wouldn’t because students either wouldn’t do the reading or weren’t willing to think on a more critical level.”
These experiences, however, are not easily accessible for students of all majors, Sofranko said. Honors courses are only offered for General Education classes, and students in the College of Architecture and Environmental Design and College of Engineering often have other required courses for their General Education units.
One of the biggest areas of improvement is making the classes more accessible to students of all majors, Sofranko said. Increasing accessibility to the program will help build a large student base, which is one of the provost’s main concerns.
Another way to increase student enrollment is to start a re-branding effort for the program. There are a lot of students who have much to contribute, but are unaware of what the program has to offer, he said.
Nutrition freshman Jaime Savitz also agrees the program needs to increase its branding efforts, she said. It is important for the program to engage the community and Cal Poly as a whole, she said. One of the ways to do this, she said, would be hosting speakers and making the event open to all students.
Savitz is currently participating in a one-unit research activity where honors students of different majors collaborate to create solutions for social and economic problems. Her group is working on establishing a sanitation system in India.
“I’ve really enjoyed these activities, because I am able to research topics I’m interested in that aren’t a part of my major, as well as work with students from different majors,” Savitz said. “I don’t think I would have that experience without the honors program.”
During their meeting, the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences suggested creating issue-based classes. These would consist of students of all years and would discuss issues pertaining to a certain major.
Savitz also said honors students should have priority registration. There have been times where honors classes were open, but they did not fit into the time slots her schedule allowed.
“You learn a certain amount in a regular class, but the honors program is taking what you learn one step further by making connections and solving problems,” Sofranko said.
The Honors Advisory Council has been meeting with the college deans and the provost to create solutions to the problems addressed. They will continue to meet throughout the summer and into next year to collaborate on ideas and plans for the future of the program.
Honors faculty member and an adviser for the Honor Student Board Ken Brown said he was pleasantly surprised by the unanimous vote. If the provost passes the resolutions, the program needs to be open to all areas of improvement, he said.