The Oberlin Review
<< Front page News November 30, 2007

Latin Honors Reconsidered at Forum
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum: Students discuss adopting a GPA based Latin Honors system

Despite widespread hesitation, future seniors of Oberlin might have to add the words cum laude, magna cum laude and summa cum laude to their vocabulary. Next week, the Honors at Graduation Committee will propose before the College Faculty that Oberlin adopt a Latin, or general, honors system. If the proposal passes, beginning next year the top 25 percent of the arts and sciences and double-degree graduating class — as ranked by GPA — will receive honors.

Currently 20 percent of graduates complete honors projects. While students will still be able to apply for departmental honors, which usually requires the completion of a 30-50-page paper, under the new proposal, students will not need to complete honors projects to graduate with honors.

Robert Thompson, chair of the Honors at Graduation Committee and professor of chemistry and biochemistry, presented the proposal to students in an open forum Wednesday night. The proposal had been delayed for one month specifically so that the forum could be held.

Students expressed concerns that general honors would encourage students to take less challenging classes for the sake of a higher GPA and make Oberlin’s atmosphere more competitive.

“As a tour guide, I tell visiting students that everyone here helps each other and works together. If this passed, I don’t know if I’d be able to say that,” said College senior Sara Green.

Some students feel differently. “I support the change because so many of our peer institutions use it,” said sophomore Nathaniel Mich. ”Since graduate schools and employers are going to evaluate applicants based on honors, I think not using the new system will put us at a disadvantage.”

Mich also feels that the current system hurts people who try for more than one major and thus have difficulties completing honors projects.

Although the Honors at Graduation Committee contacted the Student Senate about the proposal last year, most students at the forum felt that the student body as a whole was uninformed about the issue. Several of the participants adamantly urged Professor Thompson to delay making the proposal until a student referendum could be sent out to gain input from the student body.

“Because students were informed of this possible change to honors long after a proposal had been formalized, the forum devolved into attacking and defending the changes,” said College senior and former student senator Colin Koffel. “While General Honors may be good for Oberlin students, the fact that the proposal was crafted over the past year and a half without any inclusive and open student consultation should make the proposal a non-starter at College Faculty.”

Professor Thompson firmly advocated presenting the proposal next week, adding that there was no guarantee the motion would pass. “After working here for 25 years, I don’t think Oberlin has a competitive grade-driven culture…this won’t change student behavior. There is a cooperative culture here,” he said.

Having cum laude on their resume could also help Oberlin graduates get jobs, he suggested, saying, “Our students should be competitive with students from other schools.”

Oberlin’s peer institutions were surveyed during the planning of this proposal, and 13 out of 19 have Latin honors, including Amherst, Williams, Middlebury, Carleton, Wesleyan and Vassar.

If passed, this proposal will also result in the dissolution of the Honors at Graduation Committee.


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