Association of College Honor Societies




John W. Warren, President

During 2001, the Association of College Honor Societies (ACHS) has positioned itself for a new and challenging direction in the new millennium. It has been an extremely busy and, I think, highly productive year for the Association. The Executive Committee and Standing Committees have cooperated enthusiastically in addressing urgent issues and in responding to charges given by the Council.

President’s Goals

At the close of the 2001 Annual Meeting in Albuquerque, I presented four goals that I believe are necessary to fulfill the mission of ACHS. For my term as president of the Association (2001-2003), I proposed the following actions:

1. Continue vital programs designed to help member societies with their “nuts and bolts” operations and to provide idea-sharing activities.

2. Enhance the organizational structure for more effective governance and efficient operations.

3. Maintain high and creditable standards for member societies, and keep the honors community aware of these standards and informed as to what constitutes a true honor society.

4. Expand the Association’s connections in the honors community.

These goals have served as excellent guidelines in preparing the charges to the standing committees, in developing agenda for the Executive Committee, in connecting with the honors and academic communities, and in handling other relevant issues.

Council’s Call to Action

At the 2000 Annual Meeting in Orlando in the Strategic Thinking Session, the Council voiced strongly that ACHS needed to prepare itself for greater visibility and for an extended outreach in the academic community in the new millennium. The Council renewed this charge in a formal resolution, passed on February 15, 2001. In that action the Executive Committee was given the responsibility of developing a state-of-the-art structural and financial plan that would propel the Association into this new and expanded role. The Executive Committee, with the aid of the Bylaws Committee and a professional registered parliamentarian, proceeded expeditiously to prepare a comprehensive proposal to modernize ACHS governance that would give the Council a more effective organization that would include a broader representation of the membership in the governing structure. Following the integration of the new proposal into the current bylaws, a final document went to the Council members in October for their review and response in preparation for Council consideration in February of 2002.

The second part of the Council’s request is particularly crucial. For if ACHS is to expand its services, programs, and activities for a greater leadership role in the honors community, it must secure additional revenue. To address this need, I asked the Finance Committee to propose a new dues structure that would increase revenue and be more equitable than the present one. The Committee formulated a plan based on membership data rather than on budgets as is presently done. Like the bylaws’ document, this proposal was sent to Council members in early fall for their review before presentation at the annual meeting in February.

Renewing the Historic Role of ACHS

It seems that “history is repeating itself.” When ACHS began in 1925, it was in response to the plea of university officials, who for several years were concerned with the proliferation of so-called honor societies that accepted low standards for membership and duplicated already recognized high-quality societies. Again we have a similar situation. During 2000 and 2001, ACHS received reports from parents, students, and university personnel that money was being solicited by what appeared to be “questionable honor societies.” Since 1925, ACHS has collaborated with colleges and universities to counter such activities by establishing and maintaining acceptable criteria for recognition of outstanding achievement. And so it is imperative that the Association renews and reinforces this vital principle to uphold the integrity of honor.

In two special letters, I responded to these concerns about new “honors” groups emerging on campuses and the Internet. One letter in the spring to deans and directors of admission and the other one in the fall to university presidents focused on alerting university and college personnel about the problem and on asking their help in seeing that students not be misled. In addition, the Association is establishing connections with national professional organizations of honors directors, academic deans, registrars, directors of admission, and university administrators.

Maintaining High Standards

During this year, I have given high priority to reinforcing the function of ACHS as the official certifying agency for ensuring high standards in honor societies. If ACHS is to be a worthy organization, I believe it must not only continue to retain and strengthen the high standards developed through the years but it must also aggressively promote and implement these standards as the legitimate criteria to certify what are creditable honor societies. Two factors, in particular, provide justification for the Association’s role as the only recognized certifying agency for college honor societies. First, the longevity of more than seventy-five years with its continued growth from the original five to now sixty-seven societies is a distinctive endorsement of the mission of ACHS. Secondly, the fact that Baird’s Manual and the Federal Office of Personnel Management have accepted the definitions/standards that distinguish honor societies from recognition societies validates a “status of sanction” attributed to no other group.

Compliance Review

At the beginning of this year, I charged the Standards and Definitions Committee to begin a compliance review of ACHS member societies. I felt strongly that if ACHS is to serve as a certifying agency, it must be sure that its “own house is in order.” This committee has done a highly commendable job, expending tremendous time and effort, in implementing its charge. The Committee first addressed the need to study and clarify ACHS standards, all of which provided the Executive and Bylaws Committees significant revisions and recommendations that needed to be made in the ACHS Bylaws. Secondly, the Committee continues its ongoing charge of doing intensive critiques of the constitutions and bylaws of member societies. In this regard, I wish to reiterate that ensuring high standards for honor societies is historically the main thrust of ACHS. For this reason, it is extremely important to have a compliance review to identify areas of non-compliance and to aid societies in remedying any deficiencies that the Committee reveals.

Volunteers and the Work of ACHS

It is common knowledge that campus chapters of ACHS member societies depend almost solely upon the volunteer efforts of those who serve as chapter advisors and/or officers. These volunteers dedicate themselves to a noble cause where they accrue few tangible academic benefits that help toward such matters as tenure and promotion. In turn, the Association of College Honor Societies, except for staff time from the volunteer secretary-treasurer’s office, depends on its members who are willing to serve voluntarily as officers and committee members and who cover their own food, lodging, and other expenses. During this year, for example, I asked the Executive Committee to meet two times at the national headquarters. If these able volunteers were not willing to take care of their own expenses, ACHS could not adequately conduct the business for the Association and support its many programs on a shoestring budget.

It is remarkable that such a viable organization like ACHS has been able to serve the academic community for so long and be sustained primarily by volunteers who are dedicated and personally committed to promoting excellence.

Future Actions

In order to maintain the integrity of honor societies, ACHS must be aggressive in actions and programs that will fulfill its mission. I envision ACHS as a network of sixty-seven organizations promoting honor society excellence, becoming the key player in the honors community. First, in such a leadership role, the Association must maintain a strong internal structure in standards, operations, programs, and services for its member societies. Secondly, it must extend its province to the various professional arenas that address critical issues in higher education. Participation in national academic associations will enhance the Association’s position of leadership and provide a special opportunity for greater visibility. Thirdly, it must open avenues of communication to develop a campus wide “image of respect” for the honors community. For example, it must foster individual and joint society functions on campus that will command attention in the university community.

The Importance of ACHS to Academe

I am indeed optimistic about the future of ACHS because of its “value” to the academic and honors communities. The ACHS mission statement is to “build a cohesive community of national and international societies, individually and collaboratively exhibiting excellence in scholarship, service, programs, and governance.” With such an objective, the presence of ACHS member societies on college and university campuses can provide a positive image and influence for excellence unparalleled by any other group. At a time when education tends to give way to mediocrity, ACHS and its honor societies are a reminder of the great potential of the human mind and heart. Where a growing indifference to learning exists, ACHS applauds high academic ranking in all areas of knowledge. Where honor is faulted for being elitist, ACHS celebrates “earned” academic achievement.

ACHS has the vision, energy, and commitment to become a more dynamic force in ensuring the stability and rightful place of honor in academe. We must not falter in this noble cause.