University mulls change to honors policy

The proposal would allow some students to graduate with a higher level of honors than their GPAs currently permit.

by Jonathan Du

A proposed policy change would let University of Minnesota honors students who complete “exceptional” theses receive a higher level of Latin honors than they qualify for based on GPA.

The University’s Senate committee on Educational Policy discussed a potential update this month that would allow a student whose GPA is within 0.1 of a certain level of Latin honors to be bumped up to the next band if they write an exceptional thesis. Some say the change would make honors policies more equitable.

Under current policy, students who receive Latin honors at graduation must complete a certain number of honors experiences — like internships or honors classes — as well as maintain a certain GPA and finish an honors thesis.

There are three levels of Latin honors: cum laude, magna cum laude and summa cum laude. Students’ GPAs, in part, determine eligibility for the various levels. 

“The cases that really break my heart is when a student decides to write a thesis [and] may end with a 3.48 [GPA], and they’ve spent four years doing a number of requirements, of which the thesis being the last one, and then they get nothing on their diploma,” said University Honors Program Director Matt Bribitzer-Stull.

The discussion is driven in part by an ambiguous University policy that lets departments recommend a student be bumped down an honors level because of poor thesis work, even if the student has fulfilled all other honors requirements, he said. 

“It doesn’t strike me as equitable, that a student who doesn’t do a good job on the thesis could be knocked down, but a student who’s just below one of the GPA thresholds who writes an exceptional thesis can’t be bumped up, that was the rationale for proposing the change,” Bribitzer-Stull said.

Some students who worry their GPAs may not be high enough to qualify for Latin honors could be deterred from working on a thesis, said Ian Ringgenberg, an honors advisor.

“I do think, for a number of students, the ability to graduate with honors is a significant portion of why they’re doing the thesis. If they don’t think they’ll be able to that, then they don’t want to pursue the thesis,” Ringgenberg said.

A thesis is an opportunity for students to conduct research and work closely with a faculty member, said Jennifer Goodnough, chair of the Educational Policy Committee.

“It’s a good way to get exposed to original scholarly work. It’s a gateway if they want to go to graduate school, no matter what their field,” she said.

Bribitzer-Stull said he discussed the proposal with the Honors Student Association and received positive feedback.

For now, the committee will continue discussing the proposal. In order for the change to pass, it must be approved by a majority of committee members.