argues over departmental honors
KITTY SULLIVAN, STAFF WRITER
Honors projects for seniors have typically involved
a vast amount of research, the formation of a thesis or hypothesis, and
then a lengthy paper or experiment on a specific topic. However, the system
of awarding honors to these independent projects can involve either one
or three tiers of honors, depending on the department.
Ten years ago, each department awarded honors, high
honors, and highest honors, but some departments, including chemistry,
biology, and art history, have diverged, feeling that only one level of
honors is appropriate.
Some members of the Bowdoin community have said that
they believe it would be beneficial to institute a unified system for
evaluating honors projects, where each department would issue the same
level of honors.
Craig McEwen, Dean for Academic Affairs, came from the
sociology department, which went from three levels to one level of honors,
and is the chair of a committee supporting the one tier system.
McEwen noted that "grading honors theses isn't like
grading an exam. It's a threshold decision about whether independent work
deserves honors." He also mentioned the difficulty in evaluating the different
types of projects: "It's hard to differ among students fairly when many
outside factors enter into the final quality and character of the project."
Brian Linton, assistant professor of chemistry, also
said he felt it was unnecessary to make distinctions between levels of
"I do not see the need to demarcate those who moderately
excelled from those who really excelled from those who were complete masters
of their domain….A hierarchy of honors is unnecessary and may tend to
marginalize those who only receive the lowest level," he said.
Others see the proposed uniformity as an affront to
departmental independence. David Page, the Charles Weston Pickard professor
of chemistry, said, "Corporate uniformity works well for places like McDonalds
and Wal-Mart but is counter-productive in a first tier small liberal arts
college like Bowdoin."
Supporters of the three-tiered system also cite the
fundamental differences between honors projects in different departments
as reasons to allow each department to issue its own standards for projects.
Page also said, "Which approach to awarding honors is
taken depends on the requirements of the discipline. An honors project
in history is conducted in a very different way from one in an experimental
discipline like biology, chemistry, or biochemistry."
However, some students feel the discrepancy in honors
distribution between departments is not necessarily fair, as they are
limited in the amount of honors attained by the their field of study.
For example, one student in the chemistry department can only receive
honors, while his or her peer in the history department may get highest
Aaron Rosen '01 said, "Universally adopting the single-standard
system doesn't mean foregoing academic rigor; it just means reducing some
of the inconsistency and politics of the process."
The decision will be reached in March with a faculty
vote to determine if the system should be uniform across departments,
and if so, with how many degrees of honors.