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Tulane Honors Program

Friday, March 31, 2006

Noam on Norms

Last night we had a fair attendance (where were the rest of you! ;-) for Noam Scheiber's talk on Rules, Norms, & Politics in the Bush Era. Many students asked if Noam had written anything on the topic and he has kindly provided some links.
Here are a couple of pieces that might be worth checking out if people want to see some of my stuff about the GOP and norms. the first one is about duke cunningham and tom delay. the second one is about the john bolton nomination for UN ambassador -- i get into the norms thing toward the end. the third was written by my colleague, jonathan chait. it's one of his early takes on the bush administration's exploitation of media norms....

The first piece is here and requires a free subscription. The second story is aptly titled Norm! and is available here. Finally, I will summarize and quote the last article later this weekend when I have time (it is not available online) but here is the teaser:
MARCH 19, 2001
BYLINE: Jonathan Chait
The Bushies snooker the Times on taxes.
Imagine the president pardoned a wealthy criminal--let's call him "Mr. Rich" --who had written two $500,000 checks, one to the president's campaign and the other to his party. Critics accuse the president of selling pardons. The president's spokesman indignantly denies that Mr. Rich donated $1 million but refuses to say how much he did give. When pressed, the spokesman finally insists that Mr. Rich actually donated only $500,000--a figure he arrives at by simply ignoring the existence of the second check.

No president could get away with such an obvious falsehood, right? Well, it depends on the nature of the lie.

Would any of you who attended like to offer a summary or comments on Noam's talk? Please feel free to do so!


The Registrar's webpage is still updating with Honors courses and Fall registration for current students begins next week. There are not many H courses up yet (about 20) but
Don't Panic®. I am working with the departments and the registrar to get more courses up and listed. So please be sure to check back regularly, even after you have registered, to see if another H course that you might want has been offered.

Don't forget, Honors Option is still available for courses at any level. 600 level courses also often count as Honors courses. Email me if you are unsure.

Newcomb loses attempt to keep identity

The Times-Picayune story covers yesterday's trial.

The Newcomb Institute plan is described in this Tulane new story. The details of the plan are here.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Honors Round Table: What does it mean to be honorable?

Mr. Evan Sparks, a senior majoring in History and Political Science was our guest today and kindly typed up his notes to share with us all. Enjoy and as he says, please discuss!
On my honor. Scout's honor. The Rt. Hon. Tony Blair. The Honorable George W. Bush. Honor code. Will you love her, keep her, comfort her, honor her... Honors program. Dean's Honor Scholar. Honors residence. And Brutus is an honorable man. What does it all mean?

There's a common division in our understanding of the word honorable into the idea of "being honorable" and "possessing honors." For example, an altruist is honorable, and a Rhodes scholar has honors. This semantic division has not always been the case, however. The first universities to grant honors were institutions of the church, and their marks of honor ("summa cum laude," &c.) were indications not only of academic prowess but also praiseworthy character. To have honors and honor you must be worthy of the term. I would like to separate the notion of honor from awards. In fact, I ought to be the first to do so given that my resume makes this same error by listing under one heading "Honors & Awards."

Allow me to propose three dimensions of honor, and then we can follow this with discussion.

1. Honor has objective moral content, that is, virtue. Honor is intimately associated with virtue. There is an external standard, ingrained into the fabric of the universe, of what is praiseworthy and what is not. (Notice I do not introduce the concept of "right and wrong" when discussing morality, but rather "good and bad." this is an important distinction.) In The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis writes about what he calls "the Tao," or "the doctrine of objective value, the belief that cetrtain attitudes are really true, and others really false, to the kind of thing the universe is and the kind of things we are." It is not mere preference. The Tao is something which we all recognize, even if we do not accept its force. "I myself do not enjoy the society of small children," he writes, "[but] because I speak from within the Tao I recognize this as a defect in myself, just as a man may have to recognize that he is tone deaf or color blind." It is a recognition of defect in relation to objective value. The consequence of not following or recognizing the Tao is a bizarre paradox: "We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst."

Honor and virtue depend upon the existence of objective standards of good and bad. Without these, one cannot have honor or be honorable. There is no way to know what is praiseworthy, nor is there any worth in being praised under such conditions.

2. The objective moral standard associated with honor is self-sacrifice, whether for faith or family or country. In the famous funeral oration recounted by Thucydides in The Pelopponesian War , Pericles calls self-sacrifice the highest virtue. However, the self-sacrifice must be for something good and valuable. Hence, Pericles recounts extensively the various good and praiseworthy qualities of Athens ("This, then, is the kind of city for which these men, who could not bear the though of losing her, nobly fought and died."), for whom the soldiers in question perished. Those who sacrifice themselves in an honorable cause or on behalf of an honorable person, community or institution are themselves honorable. "To me it seems that the consummation which has overtaken these men shows us the meaning of manliness [lit., virtue] in its first revelation and in its final proof.... So and such they were, these men -- worthy of their city."

Honor is not so much about the one who is honorable as it is about what the honorable man stands far, and for whom. Self-sacrifice as moral content implies the other: that is, community. It is in community that we become honorable. Only in community can we even aspire to honor.

3. Honor as self-sacrifice is not quantifiable. At Tulane University, admission to the honors program is granted on the basis of test scores and grade point average. Josiah Bunting, former superintendent of VMI, writes in An Education for Our Time that such metrics are useless to measure honor. "The utility of such praceices is zero. No, worse than zero. Everything that we should value and exalt in the way we educate our young people in college is ignored utterly; or if not ignored, forgotten and unknown... Asserting that College X 'ranks' ninth regionally is like writing that Professor Jones has published seventy-one papers, or that University Z has "produced twenty-one Rhodes scholars" (as though the university were a salmon hatchery). What if sixty of the papers are stupid and wrong? What if nine of the Rhodes scholars are drunks?"

We tend to praise people based on numerical values: X hours of community service, Y GPA, Z dollars raised to cure cancer. All well and good, but we're after self-sacrifice as honor. Ascribing honor(s) based on metrics is more award than honor as we've defined it. How do you measure self-sacrifice? Dr. Brady suggests that honor is something descriptive, not prescriptive, and this may be getting at what we're talking about. Can self-sacrifice in a community for moral causes be quantified? I don't think so.


The TV is Here

The plasma tv for Butler has finally arrived! We are all about studying, of course, but it is nice to be able to have some distractions now and then. :-) I am currently sitting in the lounge, enjoying the Red Sox and Pirates playing a spring game while "working" before a 1:30 meeting. It doesn't get much better than this.
UPDATE: Pit 1 Bos 1 in the 4th.

Monday, March 27, 2006

BBQ Bash

The BBQ was well attended and the food was great! I would say that is a successful first day of our Honors Week! See more pictures here.

Honors Week is Here!

Good Monday Everyone! Today is the first day of Honors Week! (And Homecoming...) I hope that you all can make our various events and be a part of our new tradition.

Today – BBQ 11:30 on the Academic Quad (in front of Hébert) including a rockclimbing wall for entertainment.

Wed – Round table 4:00 in Butler House Lounge: Our own Evan Sparks, Senior Tulane College, “What does it mean to be honorable?” Evan has provided some links of thought provoking readings, be sure to check them out before Wed if you get the chance (see below).

Thurs –
Lunch in Bruff 12 noon with Noam Scheiber,
Tulane College ‘98, Rhodes Scholar and Senior Editor of The New Republic and our keynote speaker.

Keynote Lecture 6pm Stone Auditorium Noam Scheiber, “Rules, Norms, & Politics in the Bush Era.” Open to everyone.

Please invite your friends and come celebrate Honors Week!

Readings for Wed Round Table:

The discussion topic is: "What does it mean to be honorable?" To stimulate thinking on honor and the concepts surrounding it, here are some suggested resources and excerpts from them:

Thucydides, "The Funeral Oration of Pericles," from The Pelopponesian War.

Pericles argues in a funeral oration for felled Athenian soldiers that honor is self-sacrificing and communitarian. The highest form of honor, then, is giving up one's own life for his fellows.

"I have dwelt upon the greatness of Athens because I want to show you that we are contending for a higher prize than those who enjoy none of these privileges, and to establish by manifest proof the merit of these men whom I am now commemorating. Their loftiest praise has been already spoken. For in magnifying the city I have magnified them, and men like them whose virtues made her glorious. And of how few Hellenes can it be said as of them, that their deeds when weighed in the balance have been found equal to their fame! I believe that a death such as theirs has been the true measure of a man's worth; it may be the first revelation of his virtues, but is at any rate their final seal. For even those who come short in other ways may justly plead the valor with which they have fought for their country; they have blotted out the evil with the good, and have benefited the state more by their public services than they have injured her by their private actions. None of these men were enervated by wealth or hesitated to resign the pleasures of life; none of them put off the evil day in the hope, natural to poverty, that a man, though poor, may one day become rich. But, deeming that the punishment of their enemies was sweeter than any of these things, and that they could fall in no nobler cause, they determined at the hazard of their lives to be honorably avenged, and to leave the rest. They resigned to hope their unknown chance of happiness; but in the face of death they resolved to rely upon themselves alone. And when the moment came they were minded to resist and suffer, rather than to fly and save their lives; they ran away from the word of dishonor, but on the battlefield their feet stood fast, and in an instant, at the height of their fortune, they passed away from the scene, not of their fear, but of their glory."

C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man,
Lewis asks (and answers) the question of whether there is a connection between absolute truth and ethics: namely, whether honor has a moral code. Chapter 1 is immensely valuable. Here is the final paragraph:

"And all the time˜such is the tragi-comedy of our situation˜we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that what our civilization needs is more 'drive', or dynamism, or self-sacrifice, or 'creativity'. In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful."

Josiah Bunting, An Education fo Our Time.

General Bunting, a former VMI superintendent, Rhodes scholar, and Vietnam War veteran, writes in the context of higher education about how honor has become obscured by other metrics of achievement. Here he specifically refers to college rankings.

"The utility of such practices is zero. No, worse than zero. Everything that we should value and exalt in the way we educate our young people is ignored utterly; or if not ignored, forgotten or unknown. What kind of men and women teach the students? What do they teach them? For what have such numbers, such rankings, to do with what the undergraduates will become when they are forty or sixty?"

Theodore Roosevelt, What College Graduates Owe America.

The essay is here (1.2MB).

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Honors Week!

Welcome to the first annual Honors Week! The schedule is in this lovely flyer below. :-) Come one come all! (More about each event to be posted as we get closer to the events.)
Honors Week Flyer
Hmm. For some reason Explorer in XP is not showing the image (but it works on Mac). The direct link to the flyer in pdf is here.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Political Science Fellowship

From the Chair of the Political Science Department:

The Presidential Fellows Program is a unique, non-residential program sponsored by the Center for the Study of the Presidency (CSP). The CSP is a non-partisan, private organization that publishes the highly-respected journal, Presidential Studies Quarterly. CSP also conducts major conferences and working sessions for researchers, students, journalists and policymakers on issues of governance and presidential leadership. Each year, the Center holds an awards ceremony at which it recognizes various individuals who have contributed greatly in the previous year, or over their careers, to public service at the national level.

The Fellows Program brings together students from 87 selective universities and colleges. Fellows meet twice during the academic year, over a long weekend in November and April. They help to lead workshops; engage in discussions with leading policymakers and White House Fellows; and research, write and present original research on a topic of public policy or leadership. The last task is typically completed under the supervision of not just an advisor affiliated with the CSP, but with a Tulane faculty member as well. It is possible, but not mandatory, that you use your CSP paper as the core element of a TU independent study in the spring semester. The best of the student papers are published each year in an anthology of Center Fellows Papers.

Tulane will nominate two students for next year’s program. Tulane will pay for the selected students’ transportation to and from the conferences in November and April; the CSP and their own financial backers pay for your lodging and meals while in D.C.

Students from all TU undergraduate colleges and majors are invited to apply. Though in most years, students from social science disciplines within the Liberal Arts and Sciences predominate, in the current year our two students are from University College and the Business School.

Selection criteria include academic achievement and a demonstrated commitment to public service.

Interested students should send to Professor Thomas Langston, Professor and Chair of Political Science, the following application materials by the end of the business day, April 1:

  • a one to two page statement of intent, indicating your reasons for wishing to participate in this program and your qualifications for doing so

  • a copy of your undergraduate transcript (an advising copy is fine at the application stage)

  • an academic writing sample

For further information, please contact Professor Langston at langston@tulane.edu.

Thomas S. Langston
Professor and Chair
Department of Political Science
Tulane University
New Orleans, LA 70118
ph.: (504) 862-8311
fax: (504) 862-8745

Friday, March 17, 2006

Newcomb-Tulane Undergraduate College

Yesterday the Board approved a plan for preserving the name and legacies of Tulane and Newcomb Colleges.
As Tulane University implements its Renewal Plan in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the Board of Tulane approved a sweeping set of recommendations on Thursday (March 16) to preserve some of the university's most time-honored traditions. It renewed its historic ties to Paul Tulane and H. Sophie Newcomb by naming the university's new undergraduate college the Newcomb-Tulane College.

Newcomb's role in women's education will continue as well:
The board also established The H. Sophie Newcomb Memorial College Institute, which will draw women students and all faculties from across the university in a dynamic, interdisciplinary program designed to enhance women's education and continue to enrich the women's community at Tulane. The Newcomb College Institute will be housed on the Newcomb campus and will be headed by an executive director who will also be the holder of a newly created Newcomb College Endowed Chair.

But before the Board's vote several Newcomb alumnae and students filed a lawsuit to stop the dissolution of Newcomb College as a degree granting institution. The Chronicle has the story here.

Monday, March 13, 2006

First Honors Weekend Sucess!

Yesterday and today we have been hosting nearly 70 students who have been accepted to Tulane and into the Honors Program. Last night we culminated our day with The Zoo playing in Wall Residential College followed by a movie.

Good times, good times.

Honors Program, in a Nutshell

For the Honors Weekend I prepared a handout with the outline of the Program in bullet points. It is not exhaustive but should give you a quick idea of what our Program is about. Feel free to download the pdf here!

For more detail please stop by here

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Board Approves Reorganization at Rutgers - New York Times

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J., March 10 (AP) — The Rutgers University Board of Governors approved a major reorganization on Friday, simplifying a complicated system of undergraduate colleges but preserving an all-female niche on the campus.

We continue to work towards similar ends at Tulane.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Bush 41 and Clinton to Speak at Commencement

From Tulane's President, Dr. Scott Cowen:

Good Morning

I've always felt, in light of what we've experienced over the last few
months, that this year's commencement will be a special one. Just how
special was made plain this week when George H. W. Bush, 41st President
of the United States, and William J. Clinton, 42nd President of the
United States, agreed to be the keynote speakers at Commencement 2006.

As you know, Presidents Bush and Clinton first joined forces to raise
funds for the victims of the 2004 south Asian tsunami. Then, in the
aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, they formed the Bush-Clinton Katrina
Fund, which has raised more than $100 million to date, some $30 million
of which has been dedicated to 33 higher educational institutions in the
Gulf region, including Tulane.

The whole world has admired how these two leaders have risen above their
political differences, harnessed their formidable skills and galvanized
the generosity of the American people. Their partnership provides a
lesson for all of us.

Please join me as we welcome our two former presidents and salute the
graduates of this historic class, May 13 at 9:30 a.m. in the New Orleans
Arena. For a full schedule of Commencement 2006 events visit

Have a great weekend,


Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Honors Professor of the Year

ATTENTION:  Juniors and Seniors
Many of you have observed that the quality of your Honors classroom experience has depended less on the particular courses offered than on the expertise of the instructors.  I hope you will take the time to recognize their enthusiasm and experience by nominating one faculty member as the Honors Professor of the Year.
The person you recommend may be someone you have worked with either in class or independently, this year or in the past. The person should, however, have contributed substantially and positively to your education by challenging you, by leading you to ask questions or draw conclusions you would never have considered, by uniquely exciting your interest in and curiosity about a subject.  All regularly appointed faculty members are eligible.  The winner, to be announced at the Honors Program Senior Reception on Monday, April 24, will receive a plaque and a check for $500.
Please submit a letter naming your candidate for the award and describing your reasons for selecting him or her, being specific in detailing his or her particular excellencies.   A committee of Tulane Honors students and the Honors Program Director will together select this year’s winner.
All nominations for Honors Professor of the Year must be submitted to the Honors Program office no later than Monday, April 10th. Thank you for taking the time to recognize the special efforts of our best faculty.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Apple rewards college-bound seniors - The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW)

From TUAW:
Apple rewards college-bound seniors
Dave Caolo

Attention, college-bound high school seniors: Apple is currently looking for 10 recipients of its scholarship program. The students who demonstrate the most innovative use of technology in academics will receive $2,000 (which should just about cover your books, actually), plus a MacBook Pro and an iPod nano!

To enter, you must be a high school student who will attend a 2-year or 4-year accredited college or university in the fall of 2006, and a legal resident of the U.S. Good luck!

Thanks, Matt!

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Prospective Tulane Honors Students

Have you been notified of acceptance to Tulane AND the Honors Program? Were you invited to our Honors Weekend, but misplaced (or didn't receive) the details? (Which would likely be our fault since the printers have been unable to get the jobs done quickly enough.) Here are the key facts:

Honors Weekend

Sunday, March 12 - Monday, March 13, 2006
Sunday, March 26 – Monday, March 27, 2006

We hope that you will visit for Honors Weekend, a two-day program that will further highlight the academic, cultural, and social opportunities available at Tulane.

Please RSVP for either Honors Weekend by Friday, March 3rd. Just send an email to hwrsvp@tulane.edu.

We ask that you include the following information in the body of your email:
• Name (First, Middle, Last)
• Preferred Name
• Number in party (including yourself)
• Phone (area code + number)
• Email Address
• Will you be requesting overnight hosting?

Overnight hosting is limited and will be provided on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Once you send in your RSVP email, you will receive a confirmation within 24 hours with a detailed schedule and additional information.

Questions? Please call the Office of Undergraduate Admission at (800) 873-9283 or (504) 865-5731.

NB: The Admissions Office is running these weekends so while I am happy to answer any questions I can all logistical questions (reservations, hotels, taxis, etc.) must be directed to their office.

I look forward to meeting you all and helping in any way I can in this challenging decision of where to go to college!

-Dr. B