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Honors convocation overhauled, made more selective

Prompted by low student attendance, even among honorees, Eastern’s spring Honors Convocation ceremony will be drastically different this year. Rather than a public event for the whole Eastern community, only 60 select undergraduate students will be invited this semester.

“It became futile to bring in outside speakers. The bleachers were less than half full,” said Provost David Fraser, who has been aware of the problem for a while.

A year and a half ago, Fraser had asked SGA to consider the situation and offer suggestions. Eight months later, SGA returned clueless.

“That told us we just needed to rethink the thing from the bottom up,” Fraser said. He started by restricting the invitation to undergraduates.

Grade inflation was another concern of both administration and faculty.

“If half the student body is getting on the honors list, it doesn’t mean much,” Fraser said, naming education as one of the most inflated majors at Eastern.

For this reason, the selection process for this year’s convocation will not be based on a student’s GPA. Otherwise, Fraser said, more difficult majors like chemistry would not make the list.

“We want to recognize more accurately the talent that’s there,” he said.

The usual letters of congratulations will go out to the students who made the Deans List.

The special honors go to 60 juniors and seniors with a declared major. According to Fraser, the select number of students makes up three to four percent of the student body, a number chosen according to size of auditorium. Each student will be given two tickets for two guests, totaling 180 students and guests maximum. With the added 80 faculty and 20 affiliate faculty, the auditorium will be filled to its seating capacity of 260 persons.

Each of the 60 students will be handed a red folder with the award inside, indicating their induction as a Charles S. Walton Jr. honor student. The society is named in honor of Walton, a former board member of the university. An additional medallion may be given to be worn at graduation. The ceremony will be followed by a banquet in the recreational gymnasium.

Students are selected from juniors and seniors with declared majors. Each department then selects the allotted percentage according to the size of the major.

According to Dr. Caroline Cherry, head of the English department, “Most departments have found it very, very difficult to select one or two students. [They] feel they have several students who deserve this sort of honor,” she said.

Of her English colleagues, she said “We are a very harmonious department; we never fight with each other.” The selection process, however, created momentary tensions among them.

Fraser and Dean of Arts and Sciences David Greenhalgh are aware that some professors are already displeased with the changes and consider them elitist.

“If I say to you, ‘that’s elitist,’ it has a snobbish feel to it,” Greenhalgh said, “but if I say ‘she’s an elite athlete,’ it means, ‘among the best.’ I think it’s an accurate use of the word.”

Fraser also recognizes that the awards are not the equivalent of a special scholarship. “They may not accomplish anything,” he said, “but they are a visible acknowledgment of higher achievement,” an acknowledgment that will go onto a student’s CV.

The ceremony does not just benefit the students, Fraser noted.

“Think of it from the faculty’s point of view. It’s saying, ‘Of all the things we’ve done, here is a sign of success,'” he said.

Greenhalgh admitted that some faculty may not feel this way.

“With every change, somebody doesn’t like it,” Greenhalgh said, “[but] most people recognize a need for change.” He hopes that “most people” will include the students.

Several professors who disapprove of the new system declined comment for this article.

“We hope that the students will appreciate it and that the 1,100 that weren’t there will aspire to be the next time,” Greenhalgh said.

Student response to this year’s changes will be instrumental in convocations to come. The changes are not permanent, Fraser clarified, calling this year’s convocation “experimental.”

“We’ll see how it works,” he said.

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