Combining Efforts in a Common Cause*
John W. Warren, President
Association of College Honor Societies
I appreciate so very much this opportunity to speak to an issue that has long been close to my heart. I am addressing our topic today from two vantage points: for more than thirty years, I served the Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi as a member, chapter officer, regional vice president, and national associate, and executive director.
And I am here today because of Hew Joiner’s commitment to the National Collegiate Honors Council (NCHC) and also to the integrity of honor on college and university campuses. With Hew’s leadership in NCHC and Dorothy Mitstifer’s long and worthy service to ACHS, we have two visionary leaders who see the importance of establishing partnerships in honors. I commend them both on this endeavor.
In Phi Kappa Phi over the years as I visited campus chapters, spoke at initiations, and conducted officer training workshops, I repeatedly encouraged some type of cooperation/combined efforts on campus. I saw then our greatest needs in my society to be “visibility” and “respect.” And I contend that those two needs are still our greatest challenges in the honors community because they encompass all that we do—initiations, programs, and activities.
I perceive our aim in developing Partnerships as seeking an effective way to promote the integrity of honor (respect) and to increase its visibility.
This, indeed, is an aim in my own society as well as other bonafide honor societies, and it is especially so with the Association of College Honor Societies that I want to address momentarily. An endeavor to preserve the integrity of honor is what really led to organizing ACHS in 1925. In 1900, such societies as Phi Beta Kappa, Tau Beta Pi, Phi Kappa Phi, Alpha Omega Alpha had already become well respected honor societies committed to very restrictive high standards. But from 1900 to 1925, academicians—academic deans and presidents—became perturbed with the deluge of honors groups on campuses that gave little or no attention to high standards (or sometimes any standards)—thus polluting true honor and the goal for excellence.
History, we are often told, repeats itself. Indeed, it has with regard to the honors community. Once again our campuses are experiencing a variety of groups professing to be honor societies but show no evidence of following high standards or a legitimate process of chartering campus chapters. Further, because these groups appear on campus, students understandably accept them as worthy honors organizations.
I say all this to underscore the timely theme of partnerships to combine efforts for our common cause—the integrity of honor. I strongly believe that through such united action we can regain lost groups and also sustain respect for honors. Let us look at examples: ACHS has witnessed isolated successes where ACHS member societies have set up honors councils on their respective campuses giving honors a single unified voice on those campuses. Such cooperation or partnering has made a tremendous difference in the programming, visibility, academic, and faculty and administrative support of the honor societies.
As Executive Director of Phi Kappa Phi, I remember several years ago visiting one of our chapter initiations in Wisconsin. It was a campus honors-day event—all honor societies held their initiations sometime during that day, had various displays and activities, and concluded with a combined banquet for all groups with student speakers representing the various groups. It was hailed as the largest single event on campus each year—much larger than the annual athletic banquet. Here was an extraordinary visibility of HONORS—a combining of efforts in a common cause.
In turn, I have witnessed ACHS’s attempt to address this issue in the past. In the late 80s, for example, ACHS appointed a task force to study the common links between ACHS and NCHC and campus honors programs. Nothing definitive resulted, but it was a start in identifying broad general connections—that is—striving for excellence and promoting honor.
Then in 2001, ACHS opened a dialogue with NCHC by including Hew Joiner on a panel at the annual conference to discuss our linkage. (By the way, the theme of that conference was “connections.”) Others on that panel were representatives of university divisions of honors programs and student activities. All members of this panel were positive in identifying similar goals as well as common concerns. For some time now, ACHS has established communications with university presidents, provosts/academic deans, as well as national professional groups of university administrators, registrars, and deans of admission.
Now, what’s ahead for all of us in the honors community? I want to mention two primary challenges we face, and I believe that we can successfully meet these challenges only if we work together as partners.
First, we much preserve and nurture our inherent connections; that is, we already have a select receptive audience with a similar goal. University administrators want their institutions to be models of excellence, e.g., presidential scholarships, chairs of excellence, outstanding faculty awards, etc. Also, accrediting agencies look for academic excellence in universities they visit; and the number of honor societies and a quality honors program are two main evidences they consider. In other words, we already have an “ear” to promote what we are about. Yet, we can too easily let that “ear” close if we lose our credibility with the invasion of non-certified groups that solicit money from students and garner a membership that mocks the high standards promoted in the honors community. Preserving and nurturing this level of support are vital to our existence. Together, we can counter such movements and be a strong complement for collegiate excellence.
Second, we must join together to speak with one voice as we identify the best students and move them forward in their academic growth, leadership roles, and ultimately in their life’s work. In our various formats, we have separately and effectively celebrated honor. NCHC, for example, provides a means for honor students to showcase their endeavors to demonstrate excellence; honor programs have followed similar activities on campus; honor societies have initiated productive campus activities and impressive initiations that convey the worthiness of honor. Put all these actions together, and we have a remarkable impetus for honor. It is important to note that with a prevailing attitude of anti-intellectualism and an indictment of honors as being elitist, we can no longer stand apart. With a unified voice, we can establish a legitimacy and effectiveness to insure and promote the integrity of honors.
In conclusion, I hope that what we are doing today—discussing our common goals and concerns and the potential of partnership—will continue to be a part of this convention as well as the annual conference of ACHS. I would encourage local honors directors and campus society leaders to generate both a discussion of this need and also seek ways to implement cooperative efforts.
* This paper was presented by invitation from Hew Joiner, Past President, National Collegiate Honors Council, in a session entitled “Partnerships in Honors: Combining Efforts in a Common Cause” at the 37th Annual Conference of NCHC on Thursday, October 31, 2002, in Salt Lake City. Dorothy Mitstifer also presented some concrete ideas for collaboration at the session.