By Alex Ebner
*Ed. Note: An abbreviated version of this article was published in the April 22 issue of The Round Table. Here is the full version. Enjoy!
Hi, my name is Alex Ebner and I’m not allowed to pursue departmental honors.
Last semester I received $1,500 from the OIE to go to Quebec to conduct research about national identity and language usage (not the most thrilling topic, I admit, but I really like it). I went up there over winter break and accomplished my goals. When I came back to campus, I thought “hey, Beloit clearly supports this project, otherwise they wouldn’t have given me the money.” So I ambitiously started looking into the protocol to turn this special project into an honors thesis. The first place I turned was to Professor Daniel Youd, head of the Modern Languages Department. Right off the bat, Professor Youd told me was that it was departmental policy to allow students to work towards honors upon invitation only. He also said that having talked to my professors, they unanimously agreed that I was “an excellent student” (I have an A average within the department). Furthermore, he told me, the department would hereby not extend me such an invitation.
I was in shock. Since the very beginning of this predicament, I have been offended as a liberal student. What kind of system is this that discourages people from going above and beyond? Following my meeting with Professor Youd, I looked at the Course Catalog to confirm this policy. Sure enough, this is what I found:
Intended to encourage and reward independent thought, intellectual maturity, and distinguished academic achievement, independent study leading to departmental honors is offered by all departments of the College. Honors work is open to any student who, in the judgment of the department concerned, is promising enough to do it adequately, has earned at least a ‘B’ average in the major, and has completed six terms of credit work (p. 22).
Encouraging and rewarding independent thought, eh? Later on in the Catalog, it notes that “individual departments may have additional guidelines or qualifications for departmental honors. Students should consult with the department/program chair” (p. 22). Of course I respect this policy, but I can’t help but feel that in cases like mine, the addendum comes in direct conflict with the principle statement.
So I thought maybe I could reason with the department. Since my special project work was about French, I approached long-time senior faculty member, Professor Jack Street. Prof Street came off as quite stead-fast, saying “The department has had this policy for quite some time. It’s really our tradition to do it this way.” And thus I was to understood that it is because of this “tradition” that I am not allowed to pursue departmental honors. Thanks… Being the educated Beloit student that I am, I understand that “tradition” is a very strong, logical argument which is above all, fair and objective.
Finally, I approached Dean Ann Davies. Dean Davies was very warm as she took the time and energetically sat down with me in her office. She and I discussed how she of course was not able to strong-arm the department and say “Give Alex honors work!” However, she assured me that she would see to it that steps be taken such that this situation will not persist in the future. Since our meeting the only thing that’s changed has been that the Modern Languages department has announced that they will only offer “invitations.” As far as I see it, this still reeks of subjective favoritism. While I appreciate Dean Davies’ feedback and eagerness to help, I am nevertheless in the same situation: no matter how good a student I am, and no matter how eager I am to go above and beyond with my academics, I will not be allowed to pursue Departmental Honors.
My goal here is merely to expose some of the inner workings of one of the departments here at Beloit and make this a commonly known issue. Overall, I have been extremely satisfied with everything Beloit has given me, and this is the first time I have encountered such a problem. Lastly, I hope that this will not come across as a personal vendetta against any of the faculty of the Modern Language Department. Throughout all of my encounters, I have consistently been treated with friendly respect and in no way do I want to attack any individuals.