by Michael Sipe
College creates connections
we welcome the Class of 2008, we also usher in a significant new endeavor
on our campus, one that promises to enrich not only the undergraduate
experience, but also the intellectual spirit of the entire institution.
The new academic year marks the inauguration of the University of Vermont
Honors College, which enrolls 95 of our top incoming students in its first
Honors education, of course, is nothing new to our University. Outstanding
students in search of deeper academic challenges have long found them
in the honors programs within many of our individual schools and colleges.
What distinguishes the new model is that it draws students across all
of the disciplines who will simultaneously be enrolled within one of our
seven undergraduate schools and colleges and the Honors College.
This approach brings together students of different minds, motivations,
and ways of looking at the world in a way that enhances the experience
for all involved. Imagine the discussion around a seminar table as an
animal sciences major, an art major, a biochemistry major, and a nursing
major bring their different perspectives to the same question.
Professors Alan Wertheimer, political science, and Donald Loeb, philosophy,
have designed the first-year seminar a two-semester, six credit
class that will be taught to the honors students in five small seminar-like
sections (nineteen students each) that will come together at regular intervals
for plenary lectures (to which the larger campus community will be invited).
Making Ethical Choices: Personal, Public and Professional
is the provocative focus of the course, notable for its relevance to so
many fields. Among the questions that will be under discussion
Do individuals have a moral obligation to obey the law? Were engineers
under an ethical obligation to blow the whistle on faulty
design that led to the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster? What
considerations should be taken into account in developing a policy on
Were especially fortunate to have Professor Wertheimer, a prolific
ethics scholar of international renown, involved with building our first-seminar
in the final year of his long and distinguished career on our faculty.
In mid-August, 35 of our faculty took the first-year honors seminar for
something of a test ride, coming together for a three-day symposium to
consider some of the same literature and questions that the students will
take on this year. Faculty from twenty-five different departments from
across the University participated in the symposium, modeling the very
best that a university-wide Honors College can do to build bridges between
the academic disciplines. Universities fall short of their full potential
when people and departments conduct study, research, and scholarship in
isolation. As we shape the future of the University of Vermont, one of
our keys to excellence will be taking down barriers, and the Honors College
represents an important step in this direction. When I hosted a dinner
at Englesby House for the participants in the faculty symposium, I found
myself in the midst of a group of faculty as excited about intellectual
discovery and interchange across the disciplines as any I have ever seen,
and I know that they will carry the electric charge of that excitement
into their classrooms across the campus.
While this years honors scholars have the privilege of launching
a new college, next years will move into a new home. The residential
complex currently under construction on the former University Heights
site will include space for the Honors College starting in fall 2005.
That will mark another significant enhancement of the undergraduate experience,
as we continue to create new ways to unite the academic, social, residential,
and co-curricular experiences of our students.