Perhaps the major objective of University academic honors units is to provide for the fullest development of their students through a combination of academics, activities, services, and relationships. But as they work to meet this objective, the honors units face at least three imperatives. One that is universal includes the maximization of their distinctiveness in their institutions. The second, specific to the United States, includes the meeting of the criteria and standards of the National Collegiate Honors Council (NCHC). The third, specific to the age of the realization of globalization and the aspiration toward globalism, includes the preparing of students to live in progressively larger arenas that we may view as the "concentric circles" of family, neighborhood, social community, organizational community, nation, and world.
For honors units in the historically-Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in the United States, one additional and critical imperative is the maximizing their relevance to the realities of their students. This imperative seems critical, because as of December of 2017, the web site of the organization of honors units at HBCUs did not enunciate criteria and standards for honors units in general or for its member units in particular (see http://www.naaahp.org). The Thomas F. Freeman Honors College at Texas Southern University attempted to meet these imperatives in the program that it conceived in 2011 and which may guide the elaboration of honors education at other historically-Black colleges and universities in the United States, as well as at other institutions that serve students of African descent around the world.
Honors units for undergraduate students have developed and implemented many elements that they believe set them apart from other academic units in educational institutions. At one seminar that the National Collegiate Honors Council (NCHC) convened at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln in the summer of 2011 for the new leaders of honors units, among these elements, participants included this non-exhaustive list:
separate course numbers, sections and classrooms for honors students;
priority registration or advance registration privileges for honors students;
separate instructors, advisors, mentors and supervisors for honors students;
separate dorms, places of study and places of interaction for honors students;
scholarships, work study, other financial help designated for honors students;
separate opportunities for observation and experience for honors students;
separate study-away and/or study-abroad opportunities for honors students;
separate research projects, creative projects, internships for honors students;
chapters, organizations, and/or networks for transitions by honors students.
After identifying these elements, participants seemed unified in the view that almost all of them may be present to varying degrees in many academic units, and/or may be provided by non-honors academic, student activities, or student services, units. Thus they seemed to agree that honors units seem to have lost much of the distinctiveness they may have enjoyed.
One approach to addressing this reduction of distinctiveness would be for honors units to develop new sets of observations, experiences, activities and services to which they expose only their students. But that does not address the core issue: that the other academic units and the activities or services units could replicate these elements, and honors units one more time would face the question of their distinctiveness.
And after this reinvention by themselves and replication of their "new" elements by others, the honors units one more time may face the scrutinizing, and even questioning, of their very raison d'etre.
One other approach to the resolution of this reduction of distinctiveness arises from the view that the principal bases for eligibility for admission into honors units include a record of academic achievement and the potential for enhanced academic achievement. Thus it argues that programs in honors units should assume the presence of this record and potential in their students; should be centered on academic elements that other academic units probably would not replicate; should integrate these academic elements with other academic elements that are common or specific to other individual academic units; should include activities and services that have been unique to honors units but that other units have adopted; and should address the critical matter of their raison d'etre--the central issue of enhanced academic achievement for what purpose(s), or, toward what end(s). This would ensure, as the National Collegiate Honors Council proposes, that the honors unit offers an academic program that is "broader, deeper, or more complex than comparable learning experiences typically found at institutions of higher education" (see updated Definition of Honors Education, nchchonors.org, 2017).
In 2011, the Thomas F. Freeman Honors College at Texas Southern University conceived of a program that answers that challenge. This report describes the academic core and related aspects of that program. It states the raison d'etre for the College. It states conceptually and operationally the academic implications of the raison d'etre for the program in the College. It describes conceptually and operationally the instructional, observational, experiential, activities and services implications of the raison d'etre and academic program. It describes the many relationships between the program and its instructors, departments, University and general community. It clarifies implicit and explicit commendations and recommendations the program in the College received, and provides the implications of these commendations and recommendations, as well as other insights from its program.
In the conception and elaboration of details of the program, one point of reference consists of the comments from the heads of honors units at the seminar organized by, and the criteria and standards and admonitions that appear at the web site of, the National Collegiate Honors Council (NCHC). But one additional and important point of reference consists of the major characteristics and imperatives of Historically-Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in the United States in particular, and of the educational institutions that serve the members of the world African community in general. One part of this report is an interpretation of the core academic aspects of the program--the three academic themes--in the elaboration of subjects in the histories of people of African descent in the United States (African Americans) and other members of the community (other people of African descent, and people of Africa). The report concludes with several responses to the program from selected publics, and the proposition that the program meets African American, world African community, national community, and world community, imperatives.
Raison D'etre and Age of the Global
There seem to be two contrasting...