New dean wants more well-rounded honors college

Originally Posted on Emerald Media via UWIRE

Gabe Paquette said he has always resisted choosing between his various academic passions. A history professor by trade, the new dean of the Robert D. Clark Honors College has spent time studying philosophy, government, biology and multiple foreign languages. So when he heard the Honors College was looking for a new dean, he saw it as a way to return to a time before he made his academic choice.

“I found myself increasingly interested in the undergraduate experience as a whole,” he said of his time teaching history at Johns Hopkins University, his most recent job. “I became interested in the experience not just in the individual classroom but kind of their experience in all senses. How are all the different courses fitting together as a part of coherent curriculum? How were their experiences outside of the classroom fitting together with their areas of emphasises and their studies?”

Paquette is just three weeks into his new role at the honors college. His office is barely set up — three lonely books dwarfed by the large bookcase they are situated in are the only evidence someone occupies the office. But Paquette already has plans to fundamentally change the future of the honors college.

First on the to-do list for Paquette is implementing the new faculty model for the honors college that was conceived last year under interim dean Karen Ford. The new faculty model involves hiring faculty members from around the University of Oregon from departments underrepresented in the honors college, like the sciences, philosophy and law. The new professors will be Dare Baldwin, Michael Moffitt, Daphne Gallagher and Nicole Dudukovic.

“There have been some moves to integrate the sciences,” Paquette said. “But I think there was still a feeling that many of the students in the honors college were either in STEM disciplines or they felt as if their own academic interests were not entirely being met by the curriculum of the honors college.”

However, Paquette said he wants to make sure the faculty expansion doesn’t detract from the traditional emphasises of the honors college: history and literature.

“I think the easy thing to say is, ‘Well let’s just open it up and bring in everyone — everyone has a little piece of the pie.’ In Spanish they call that ‘cafe para todos,’ which means ‘coffee for all,’” he said. “We have to make sure that it doesn’t become so heterogeneous that there isn’t a coherent experience which is offered.”

In the past, students raised two major concerns about the honors college: differential tuition and ability to graduate in a timely fashion. The Emerald’s past reporting on the honors college found that 40 percent of students drop out by fall of their senior year. 15 percent of those students cited financial reasons for leaving. The Board of Trustees voted in March to reduce honors college differential tuition, from $4,194 to $2,700, a step Paquette thinks could help quell the financial concerns of students.

“I think ideally differential tuition would be reduced to zero,” he said. “And I know that is a long term goal. But I think this a really important step in the right direction.”

As for students’ ability to graduate on time, Paquette said that because academic planning happens within separate colleges at the UO, the credit and requirement structure is not always inharmony between the rest of UO and the honors college.

“I promise you that there was no deliberate neglect of student concerns,” he said. “I think one of the tasks which I have is to make sure the honors college is fully integrated into the rest of the university in such a way we can address those issues of making sure that requirements are not such that they cause tremendous hardship on students in all sorts of ways.”

While he does not plan on teaching until next school year, Paquette said he wants to be an active dean. Whether that manifests itself as open office hours or regular meetings is still up in the air. A email from Paquette to all honors college students is also expected to be sent out early next week.

“Sometimes you learn the most about what is happening in college from more informal interactions, the classroom rubbing of elbows, chance encounters,” Paquette said. “I want to make sure that I am committed to making sure that students aren’t just honors college students but they are actually helping to shape the future of the honors college.”

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