Interim Dean Hoey Takes Lead of the Honors College


The following is a statement from the Interim Dean, Dr. Brian A. Hoey, on the immediate concerns he has while stepping in to lead the Honors College through a time of transition:

I am grateful for the opportunity to serve the university as Interim Dean of the Honors College. I am truly excited to do all that I can with available resources to improve the quality of experiences for our students in the college. The college serves the entire university as we have majors in all academic programs. We depend on having collaborative partnerships with every college at Marshall. That is our most valuable resource—these partnerships. Without healthy relationships of mutual understanding and support, we cannot achieve our mission and will not deliver on our promises to students. Therefore, my immediate priority is to do things that can strengthen those cross-college and cross-disciplinary connections. I envision the Honors College as a kind of crossroads. We want to provide a space where people from all over the university can come together to share ideas outside of the customary confines of institutional structure and disciplinary foci that may limit people’s ability to see a bigger picture and the opportunities for productive collaboration. That’s true for both students and faculty. Ours is a diverse community of thought and practice.

I also think that it is essential—while I am on the topic of where the Honors College is positioned within the university—to help our students understand how we do what we do when it comes to, for example, the courses that we offer. As you know, the Honors Curriculum is what students must complete while also finishing their degree. Making progress on our curriculum is necessary to remain in good standing with the college, continue to receive the multitude of benefits associated with membership in the college, and graduate with University Honors through the Honors College. The Honors College does not grant degrees. Again, we serve all students, regardless of major because we offer something that is built up on the foundation of all those degree programs and their colleges. Without the support of the faculty, department heads, and deans of the other colleges, we would not be able to offer any courses. The faculty who teach for us do so voluntarily and with the permission of their departments.

Essentially, we arrange for a part of the regular teaching “load” (the expected number of courses they teach in a given semester) for faculty teaching in Honors (courses listed as HON) to be outside their home department. That is, they are partly committed in their teaching load to teach in the Honors College for a given semester. Thus, the courses that are offered to serve our students come through arrangements that depend on the willingness and ability for these faculty to teach in Honors in any given semester. The college collaborates with everyone to bring together the courses offered in Honors each semester, but we do not control those offerings in the way that I think that students might think is the case. For example, if there are Honors courses that you want to see from faculty in colleges that do not typically provide courses in which students can earn Honors credits, let them know. Students should tell these faculty that they would like to see Honors courses in these subject areas and departments. That’s the single best way to make sure that I can work with these faculty and their departments to make such courses happen. We can only encourage people to offer the Honors courses scheduled each semester. We do not have our own faculty—though some honors colleges do have dedicated faculty. The Marshall faculty who teach for us regularly recognize the incredible opportunity of working with our outstanding students and the chance to take their work in new directions that lie outside of their typical teaching responsibilities. We are grateful to these faculty and would like to do more to support them and their departments—which is something that I’m looking into—while also encouraging new faculty to consider teaching in Honors.

The past year and a half has been traumatic in a multitude of ways. A global pandemic with attendant social and economic instability and so much uncertainty in our lives has put us all on edge. I feel that it is, again, essential to look at the quality of our relationships and to determine how the college can do more to support our students as well as all of our university and community partners. I want to do all that I can to help people to know how they are valued and to provide more opportunities for students, in particular, to engage meaningfully in doing things that make a difference in the communities of which they are a part. As I was coming into the position of Interim Dean, I felt it was essential to conduct a robust, scientific survey of two populations of students—our continuing and incoming Honors students—who have slightly different perspectives, it turns out. I am very pleased that we’ve seen response rates of over 50% and 75% respectively at this point. That’s outstanding for a social survey. And, the data is very helpful to me as I chart a way forward for a college that works harder and better at delivering on our promises and fulfilling our mission. Of the things that I have been learning from our students is how they want different forms of experiential learning that are variously a part of, as well as outside of, the curriculum, which is to say that they are keen to find the college doing more to engage them through both curricular and co-curricular activities. I have also learned that while Honors students are already receiving some merit-based awards for their achievement as high school students, they want to be able to have their distinguished work as college students in academic as well as non-academic areas, which is to say things that may be characterized by terms such as leadership or service, recognized through awards that would support their outstanding work.

Therefore, I have gone through what we are already doing that provides students with opportunities in the areas of experiential learning and scholarships and brought focus to these existing opportunities. You can find new menu items on our website for both of these areas. I believe that these pages will help walk students through what is currently available. In addition, you’ll also see places where we are currently working to deliver additional, new opportunities. I’m very excited about our initiatives. Ultimately, what we will be able to do on either front is not entirely in our control. This is a time of transition at the university with a number of key positions in the upper administration changing. We are doing all that we can to navigate these waters as we work to build up a program in Honors study abroad, for example. This is one area of priority right now in the area of experiential learning, but it is only one area.

Finally, we have always said that the college provides a “challenging and supportive community” to our students. I want to be sure that we’re doing both of those things. I think we’ve done fairly well challenging our students, though we could do more to vary the kinds of productive challenges students have within the category of experiential learning, for example, but we’ve perhaps not done as much as we could do to support students. This can mean a lot of different things. Some of it is simply recognition. It can also entail things like professional development. There are ways that we can provide financial support to broaden opportunities for our students to achieve even more. We could also speak here to efforts on which we are collaborating with university partners such as the Counseling Center to address mental health issues with which our hard working students may struggle. Along with this, we are also looking at doing more to provide opportunities for peer mentorship within the college. Ultimately, I think this returns us to my concern for quality of experience and the relationships that we have with each other.

–Brian A. Hoey, Interim Dean

Recent Releases