Honors director stepping down

The Honors Program director will be stepping down after this semester to go back to teaching full-time.

He said he is leaving the position after being told his opinion about the direction the Honors Program should take is not in line with that of the Northern Kentucky University administration.

Ernest Smith came to the program in July 2009, when it had a 50 percent drop rate after the first year — meaning that half of all freshman students who are enrolled in the Honors Program never come back their sophomore year. Overall, Smith said only about one-third of honors students complete the program.

The Honors Program offers students who maintain at least a 3.25 GPA the opportunity to enroll in smaller, specialized courses and take advantage of priority registration dates.

“I’m hesitant to talk about it because its a delicate…” Smith said. “One thing that was said to me is that my philosophy of honors does not match that of the institution. I start with academic excellence and rigor.”

Smith said he could not speak on behalf of NKU, but he follows “best practices of the National Collegiate Honors Council,” a national group linking educators to help them develop their own honors programs.

Smith said that he was also told that he had lost support of “important constituencies” that Smith explained include various professors, department chairs, deans, alumni and administration.

As part of being honors director, Smith said he had to spend time going to all the different parties invested in the program and explain his plans for improvements.

“[I tried] to go to those people, meet face to face and not isolate the program,” Smith said. “[I was] meeting people, exposing the program, floating initiatives, knowing not all would fly.”

Smith said his first priority when he joined NKU was to increase retention rates in the Honor’s Program. Most of the changes he said he implemented have just gone into effect, including offering a three-credit-hour capstone project, instead of the traditional six. Smith explained that this would make it easier for students to complete capstone projects required for an honors minor and that may encourage them to finish the program.

Smith said he has also seen the Honors Program improve its international reach, with 41 students in the Honor’s Program studying abroad and some classes offering international trips, such as a class that studied Berlin’s history and culture included an option to take a trip to Berlin over spring break.

Story by Cassie Stone