About Membership in the UHC

From the "Dean's Letter" in the University Honors College Newsletter, Winter 2011-12

Six months ago, when I was still a candidate for the position of Dean of the University Honors College (UHC), I asked my undergraduate teaching assistants what connections they had to the UHC. One of them mentioned that she wasn’t a member of the UHC because her SAT scores were just below the level required for “automatic honors eligibility,” and so she has not been able to take any honors courses or to participate in other UHC activities during her three years here. When I asked how she knew she wasn’t a member of the UHC, she said (among other things) that her roommate, who was thought to be a member of the UHC, received frequent email messages from the UHC whereas she didn’t.

This is a very sad story. The student is a terrific talent who has attained a very high GPA during her years at Pitt, in addition to being a very nice person. She certainly would have benefitted from, contributed to, and enjoyed honors courses and other UHC activities in which she was interested. What kept her from participating more fully was a misunderstanding. Although it is true that she wasn’t a member of the UHC, the reason it is true is because there is no such thing as membership in the UHC. Nor was her roommate a member of the UHC despite the mailings; any student can receive such mailings and be informed about UHC activities simply by asking to be put on the mailing list.

One of the questions I have been asked frequently during the past few months is, “What will I do to sustain and increase the positive influence the UHC has had on undergraduate education?” It happens that we do have a group of new initiatives, some of which have already begun (e.g., extending the summer Brackenridge Research Program to the Fall and Spring terms) and others of which will emerge later during the academic year, but the main thing I hope to accomplish is not so much to add something good as to subtract something bad; that is, the misunderstanding of who is or isn’t eligible to participate in UHC activities such as honors courses

Honors courses are intended to be more challenging and informative than regular courses on the same subject. I recognize that not every student wishes to be challenged in the classroom, and that not every student who might be interested in UHC courses has the time or talent to do well in them. But many students do have these pre-requisites and are willing to work harder in order to learn more, at least in courses on certain subjects of special interest to them. 

Those students, their friends, their advisors, and their instructors all should know that the UHC is ready to welcome students whenever they are ready for the challenge and intellectual stimulation that is part of a first-rate education, inside or outside the classroom.