Association of College Honor Societies


ACHS Opening Address


Dr. Michael P. Wolfe, President

ACHS Annual Meeting, 1999

Good Morning!

Like all of my predecessors who have served ACHS as a President or board member, I have developed a little different organizational perspective. What and who does ACHS represent?

  • A loosely coupled network of diverse honor societies - see numbers from Annual Report
  • Scholarship at high level
  • Leaders who oversee operations - full power to governance by committee
  • Democracy in action through appropriate governance practices
  • Millions of dollars in annual scholarship funds and grants awarded to worthy students and projects
  • Publications that address issues of the day and highlight local chapter activities
  • Standards and definitions of member/society functions
  • Lively annual meetings devoted to professional and social outcomes
  • Fellowship and opportunities for leadership
  • A legacy that is approaching 75 years

These items and others represent our past and our present. I think we all have felt a part of the growth of ACHS. We build on a rich legacy. What does the future hold for ACHS?

I mentioned in a workshop here four years ago that the scenery was beginning to change for groups like ours. I referred to the competition between virtual universities and the traditional academy. Last year others in this group have discussed recognition-only honor societies vs. recognition and service oriented groups. I will admit that I thought leadership, as a theme for two years would push these issues further. I missed the mark somewhat because the theme was too narrow. Perhaps I can prepare us for two days of potentially rich conversation about our mission, our operations, and our future by focusing directly on our reason for being to define and promote honor in all its forms.

Imagining what's ahead years from now is more than just a parlor guessing game. For one thing, the guesses tell us a lot about ourselves today-where we want to go, as well as where we are afraid of going. They both demystify and mystify the future. Look into your own crystal ball. Tell us what you see. Ten years from now, I foresee somebody reading minutes of this meeting and I predict they will be impressed with all that we got right-and laugh at all that we got wrong. Now, if we only knew which was which.

In every major epoch of civilization, the tools define what we do. Information technology is the dominant tool of this age. It appears that newspapers won't exist; we'll have books on computer; and do everything on the net involving household, business, and leisure items.

It's risky to forecast the future since ten years ago who would have predicted Tony Bennett's current popularity, or murder rates dropping, or the Internet or Moore's Law (computer power doubles every 18 months for the same price). The dot. com generation has its lifeline connect to the Internet!

In the Wall Street Journal (Monday, November 16, 1998) I read a section that has captured my attention ever since. It's frightening, it's exhilarating, it's challenging, and it will definitely alter the way ACHS will do its business.

I read that the Internet could unleash a new force into university life: star power. In ten years, the most talented professors armed with multimedia lessons could market themselves globally.

We could create private entrepreneurial academic ventures leading to a fundamental rethinking of the traditional university/college campus. School libraries will be history, eclipsed by on-line stacks. In the future, geography will matter less since online learning can occur in any location. Education will change from a place-centered enterprise to an education where you need it.

Are these changes opportunities or threats for ACHS?

  • A decade from now, the majority of education will be in homes, of offices, or on the production line. Technology will trivialize the concept of place.
  • Students could access a professor's lecture asynchronously anytime.
  • Online education frees students from rigid class schedule and enables all to rewind and review and include graphics, e-mail, etc., simultaneously.
  • Scores of universities already offer Internet courses and degree programs (Univ. of Phoenix).

Not as flashy as the future will be according to Michael Lambert, Executive Director of Distance Education and Training Council. Stanford already offers video lectures with synchronized slides and private companies already are developing packages for the shifting university market.

In ten years universities won't have the monopoly of the past (Don Aikens, Dean, School of Info at University of Michigan). In Ann Arbor, the Apollo Group, a Phoenix-based holding company, already offers online accredited degree programs in business. Kaplan Ed Centers is creating an online law degree program taught by experts from different schools, aimed mainly at working professionals.

Perhaps individual star professors will market individual courses. This could dilute the status of the professional and relegate junior professors to interaction with students as intermediaries.

Arguments have already been uttered:

  • Online courses might be too labor-intensive with e-mail.
  • Online courses are a boon for continuing education, retraining.
  • Full riches of university can't be captured online.
  • Pedagogy is in small groups and universities.
  • Chat rooms could substitute for small group interaction.

It is my opinion that this is a Darwinian experiment--however, the consensus view is the library is doomed. Books to digital form to "university library" online based on e-commerce will be the standard.

The university model is imposing and will be difficult to change, however, I believe the changes are already in motion. Further evidence comes from an announcement in the Chronicle of Higher Education: December 10,1998.

I shall plant some seeds to stimulate our thinking during the next two days.

I propose that ACHS assess every new initiated member of our respective societies 15 cents. This new income (~$30,000) could be utilized in the following ways:

  • Produce one position paper/year on a salient issue focusing on honor and excellence.
  • Provide four Regional Leadership Academies.
  • Provide chapter Advisor Training materials and workshops.
  • Develop an interactive ACHS web page.
  • Provide Executive Director/President/Board Training.

These ideas suggest only some of the many opportunities ACHS could develop for individual members and respective societies. Perhaps these new initiatives will provide our association with exciting new directions to sustain us in the 21st century.

I'm ready to consider this. How about you?