After 13 years as director of the Honors Program, LawrenceWheeler will step aside at the end of summer, followed by anationwide search for a new permanent director.
An interim director will be appointed for the 2004-2005 academicyear. The new permanent director will take over for 2005-2006.Terrel Rhodes, vice president for curriculum and undergraduatestudies, will select the new permanent director, subject toratification by the university’s provost (current Provost Mary KayTetreault will resign in June).
The University Honors Program, also known as the Honors College,is one of Portland State’s less conspicuous programs. It isdesigned specifically for students who plan to go on to graduate orprofessional school after earning a bachelor’s degree.
The call went out May 11 for applications or nominations fromtenured faculty for the interim directorship. Applications are duein Rhodes’ office May 27.
“We hope by the end of this term to have the interim directoridentified,” Rhodes said, adding that Wheeler will continue in theteaching faculty of the Honors Program.
“We will continue to have his perspective and talent and toshare his knowledge of our program with other parts of the campus,”he said.
Rhodes continued, “Some people in Oregon don’t always recognizethat PSU has an outstanding Honors Program. Our students whocomplete the program go on to the finest graduate schools you canfind.”
During Wheeler’s regime, the program has been able to developoutstanding contacts for internships in Washington, D.C. Among themare the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute ofMental Health, the National Museum of American History at theSmithsonian, the Woodrow Wilson Center and the Library ofCongress.
“We have a couple of interns in the White House,” Rhodesadded.
Wheeler referred discussion of the circumstances of hisseparation from the directorship to Rhodes. Wheeler chose to pointto the accomplishments of the program during his tenure, whiledeclaring, “The last thing I want to suggest is that I’ve done thissingle-handedly.” He gave tribute to his faculty colleagues in theprogram and singled out Michael Reardon, who preceded him asdirector of the Honors Program and will continue on the Honorsfaculty.
The program has changed in significant ways under Wheeler’sstewardship. It once was known for its concentration on study ofthe “Great Books.” Wheeler has shifted the emphasis in a majorway.
“We start by looking at the emergence of science in the last17th century,” he explained. As recently as the 1990s, he said,western science was seen as the hallmark of the westernintellectual tradition. He has channeled the Honors Program toinquiries into the universality of science.
“Does science answer all things at all times?” he asked.
Rhodes was told that a student in the Honors Program, who hadasked not to be identified by name, had described Wheeler as abrilliant teacher but somewhat lacking in people skills.
“I have heard that from a couple of students,” Rhodes said. “Heis very good in the classroom. It is part of my hope that he willbe able to do some of the writing so he can share his experience inthe Honors Program with a wider audience.” He pointed out thatWheeler was part of the team that had written the original grantapplication for federal funding which strengthened the presentprogram.
“Most honors programs (at other universities) don’t have thatcombination of university funds and foundation support,” Rhodessaid.
Wheeler pointed to two areas where he feels the program gainedluster during his regime. One is the Visiting Scholars LectureSeries, now in temporary suspension due to budget constraints.
These week-long programs allowed students to hear and conversewith outstanding scholars who usually worked with graduatestudents. The PSU program attracted these scholars, to some degree,because they found bringing their knowledge to undergraduates anovel experience.
The other area Wheeler pointed to is the Washington, D.C.,internship project in which students can engage in clinical workand research projects and even share credit for publication.Publication credit can be helpful in gaining admission to medicalschool in an era when medical schools are overwhelmed withapplications.
Rhodes viewed the change of directions as a sort of rotation,which he sees becoming more common at Portland State.
“One of the things we’re moving toward in programs anddepartments is that we periodically have a change of leadership,”Rhodes said. “Dr. Wheeler has talked to me about working on doingsome writing.” The writing, the vice provost said, would involvesharing the insights he has gained about running an HonorsProgram.
He said he has conferred with the provost on the national searchfor a permanent director.
“Part of the effect will be to allow the program to have thebenefit of a new person coming in. New face, new breath, a way ofbringing in new faculty,” he continued. He saw acquiring a newdirector as a means of strengthening the distinction of the Honorsfaculty, attracting a national figure “who might strengthen ourability to attract high achieving students to Portland State ratherthan to other universities.” He visualized this new director as aperson of national reputation who would infuse new perspectivesinto the academic foundation of the university.
Rhodes attributed the need for an interim director to “a sort ofdelay in getting the national search going. We’d have been veryrushed to have tried to accomplish that this year.”
The interim directorship will be a 12-month position withresponsibility for administering the program’s budget andday-to-day operation. About half the director’s time will be spentin an administrative capacity and the remainder teaching in eitherthe Honors Program or with her or his home academic department orprogram.
The Honors Program is administered from a modest wooden buildingat 1632 S.W. 12th avenue. It has its own assigned teaching facultyof David Brande, Michael Flower, Kathleen Merrow and Reardon, inaddition to Wheeler.
Students admitted to the program do not take the sequencesrequired by general university studies. For the freshman andsophomore years, they take core classes taught by the Honorsfaculty in general and liberal education. The core classes,designated as “studies in western culture,” follow two tracks, atechnical/professional track and a liberal arts track.
As juniors and seniors, students take two courses designed asupper division seminars taught by Honors College faculty. Tograduate, they must complete a baccalaureate thesis in the majorarea of study. Some are privileged to go to Washington, D.C., forthe one-term credit internship.