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Honors Program collection

Identifier: uarc 1217

Scope and Content

The collection contains committee minutes and reports, clippings, pamphlets and brochures, news and press releases, recruiting materials, newsletters, scrapbooks, budgets and planning documents related to all aspects of student honors designations and student honors programs at the University. In addition, there are 4.5 cf of student theses, ranging from the earliest years of the program (1963) to 2002. Inclusives dates for the collection are 1937-2009: bulk dates are 1978-2002.

The collection covers multiple aspects of the subject of "honors" on the University campus, including the criteria for awarding honors at commencement, criteria for determining honors, discussion of awards criteria across colleges and the creation and support of honors offerings and programs for students with accelerated ability.

The bulk of the collection covers the creation and administration of the Honors Program in the College of Liberal Arts in the 1960s, discussions of expanding honors enrichments to other colleges on campus during the 1980 through 2005, and the creation of the campus-wide University Honors Program in 2008. The substantial amount of minutes and reports from various committees involved in planning for honors curricula and designations offers granular discussion and insight into how and why honors courses and distinctions are important to the University, and how the offerings have evolved and been administered over time in CLA.

The collection is strong in historical materials, particularly Honors Committee minutes, Committee On Instruction minutes and correspondence between the CSLA Dean's office and the the Honor Committee and Honor's Council from the late 1950s to 1969. There are also complete runs of Honors Council and Honors Committee minutes from the early 1980 through the 1990s. Student theses are not comprehensive, and date primarily from the 1980s and 1990s.


  • Creation: 1937-2009
  • Creation: Majority of material found in 1978-2002


Language of Materials

Collection material in English

Use of Materials

Items in this collection do not circulate and may be used in-house only.


Researchers may quote from the collection under the fair use provision of the copyright law (Title 17, U.S. Code). Requests to publish should be arranged with the University of Minnesota Archives.

Historical Note

“Honors” at the University of Minnesota has two related but distinct applications. The earliest references to honors in the collection are to the standard designations awarded to students graduating with a specific number of credits combined with high grade point averages. The designations for graduating with honors were -- and continue to be -- “Cum Laude”, “Magna Cum Laude”, and "Summa Cum Laude.” Students in colleges or departments at the University could graduate “with distinction” for maintaining a high grade point average, or with the above mentioned “honors” for maintaining higher level averages and/or submitting to examinations prior to graduation.

The College of Liberal Arts (CLA), and its predecessor, the College of Science, Literature and the Arts (CSLA) maintained an active dialogue concerning granting honors to its graduates from the 1930s onward through the work of its Honors Committee. The committee was charged with providing clear and standardized criteria for students to receive honorifics from the college for academic achievement. From the 1930s to the 1950s, the committee discussed, altered and monitored the system by which honors were granted in the college. By 1956-57, however, the committee’s discussions were taking a new turn. At issue was the quality of the learning experience available to accelerated students. In the interest of recruiting and retaining Minnesota’s top high school graduates, the committee, and some members of the University administration, began to look at changing and invigorating the classroom and campus experience. The outcomes of these discussions formed the basis for the first Honor’s Program.

The Committee on Curricular Flexibility recommended to the CLA faculty in January 1957 that the college should be doing more to improve the campus climate and college offerings for “superior” students. The report recommended a program of special course sections and honors courses, independent study and intensive advising from designated faculty. Policy and policy review would be created and monitored by a council consisting of affilliated faculty (membership expanded in the 1960s to include Honors program student representatives.) In 1961, a program was officially identified in the College of Science, Literature and Arts Bulletin as " extensive program of "Honors opportunities" designed to afford outstanding students challenging educational experiences in keeping with superior abilities." William McDonald, a classics professor, was the first program director.

The program contained programatic offerings for both lower division and upper division students. At the lower division, honors sections of large courses were established for higher achieving students, emphasizing advanced reading and additional projects. At the upper division, students enrolled in departmental honors classes and interdisciplinary seminars and wrote an original thesis paper in their major department.

The first review of the program appeared in 1965, and emphasized the need for greater administrative support. D. Burnham Terrell succeded McDonald as Director in 1967. Discussions about the lack of uniform criteria for honors distictions across colleges reimerged during the late 1960s and early 1970s, as well as a renewed push to consider a University-wide honors program. In 1975, out of concern over the growing numbers of students graduating with honors across colleges, the Senate Commitee on Educational Policy convened a task force to study honors opportunities and requirements on campus. The task force's recommendations noted the grade point disparities between colleges graduating students with distictions, and recommended that the CLA Honor's Program be used as a campus model for of all college efforts at establishing honors opportunities.

Frank Hirschbach followed Terrell as program director in 1971 and was succeeded by Peter Robinson in 1975. Enrollement in the mid-1970s in CLA Honors fluctuated between 850 and 1,000 students, with about 250 new students entering the program each year. Administrative support for the program was provided by the CLA Honors Division staff, who coordinated department offerings and acted as departmental liaisons. Several departments in the College of Biological Sciences, the Institute of Technology and Intercollege also began offering upper division course sequences with honors designations. Increased honors opportunities, combined with a $1 million dollar scholarship endowment from the McKnight Foundation awarded in 1981, again pushed the discussion about a campus-wide honors program to the forefront. The campus climate, however, was much more fraught around the discussion of offering "elite" classes to small numbers of students while instructional budgets were being cut University-wide. The Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs proposed a campus-wide Merit Awards and Honors Program in 1980 based on the CLA Model, but the proposal did not find traction. Thoughout the 1980s and 1990s, CLA, IT, CBS and University College and the School of Nursing continued to offer honors courses.Steven Blake served as CLA Honors Director from 1980 to 1982, succeed by Glen Holt, 1982-1987, Rew Godow, 1987-1989, Gordon Hirsch, 1989-2000 and Rick McCormick, 2000-2006.

By 2005, the idea of an honors college bolstering undergraduate recruitment efforts was folded into the University's strategic planning process, which aimed to position the University as one of the nation's top three public research institutions. Provost Thomas Sullivan led the task force studying academic issues and administrative efficiencies, which embraced the idea of a single administrative structure for honors offerings. By 2008, honors programming in all colleges, including CLA, were merged into one program. The main components of the new program include an emphasis on student-initiated research, smaller classes, faculty mentoring, study-abroad opportuities and honors housing. Serge Rudaz professor in the School of Physics and Astronomy, was named director in 2008.


4 Cubic Feet (4)


The collection documents the evolution of campus discussions and practices concerning the awarding of departmental and college honors, the creation of programs of accelerated course work for high-performing students in the College of Liberal Arts, and a selection of student theses.


The materials were arranged by the Honors Program staff and were left in the order in which they were recieved.

Source of acquisition

The collection was transferred to University Archives by staff in the Unuiversity Honors Program office in three separate accessions, the first in 2008, the second in April, 2013 and the third in February, 2014.

Related Materials in University Archives

University of Minnesota. College of Liberal Arts papers

University of Minnesota. College of Science, Literature and Arts papers

University Relations records

Processing Information

The collection was processed by Mary Shaw.

College of Liberal Arts Honors Program collection, 1937-2009
Susan Hoffman
May 2014
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English

Collecting Area Details

Contact The University Archives Collecting Area