Amy Hocraffer: Honoring students’ work

Imagine a required class where the entire grade is based on a single assignment. Now imagine that for some students in this class the assignment is a 10-page essay, for others it is a 40-page research paper, and for a lucky few, it is simply to attend class. With class requirements this unequal, students would be furious.

Unfortunately, this is the conundrum facing seniors in the University Honors Program each year. According to the honors program’s senior thesis/seminar information packet, to graduate with honors, students must “complete an honors senior thesis or seminar, or fulfill all departmental requirements to pursue special honors in [their] major.”

On the surface, this seems to allow seniors to kill two birds with one stone by getting special honors in their major – and for some it does. For example, political science majors with a GPA of 3.8 or higher in their major automatically receive special honors. While maintaining a GPA this high is an achievement in itself, it means that some political science seniors graduate with both honors and special honors without writing a single extra page.

For other students, such as political communication majors, the current senior requirements force them to choose between writing a two-semester special honors thesis or writing two separate theses – one for the honors program and one for their major, no matter how high their GPA is.

Now writing one thesis is totally acceptable – a reasonable request to demonstrate what seniors have learned in the past three-and-a-half years. But being forced to write two theses is simply ludicrous, especially since many GW students are unlikely to need this type of formulaic, completely academic writing once they graduate. It is, in short, an exercise in bureaucratic tyranny that takes busywork to a whole new level.

I am not advocating giving seniors a free pass and allowing them to coast to graduation with honors. Nor am I blaming the honors program’s for the fact that every major has different senior requirements. Nonetheless, students deserve a fair system that rewards all seniors equally for their work, rather than punishing some for picking the “wrong” major.

Senior year is a bit like falling into a vortex of chaos. Students are finishing up their remaining graduation requirements, applying to grad schools, holding down jobs and internships, searching for direction in their lives, and generally preparing to transition into “real” adulthood. To then expect seniors to deal with a confusing, occasionally contradictory, and ultimately unfair set of honors requirements on top of that is simply cruel and unusual punishment.

One solution is to allow seniors to re-submit their senior theses, even if they did not specifically write them for special honors or the honors program. Therefore, students in a major that requires a thesis will only have to write one, while students who would not normally be required to write a thesis can take the honors class. By requiring all seniors to complete one thesis, rather than none or multiple, everyone is treated fairly while still being challenged.

Surely a department dedicated to outstanding academics at a university dedicated to enhancing the students’ experience can manage to create and administer a reasonable set of graduation requirements. Unless the honors program can provide a compelling reason for arbitrarily rewarding or punishing seniors based on their choice of major, the senior requirements must be standardized. It is only fair to the roughly 700 students currently enrolled in the honors program, not to mention all the future honors students. In fact, it is the honorable thing to do.

The writer is a senior majoring in political communication.

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