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Honors Program Director Steps Down

O’Connor Leaves His Post After 14 Years As Program Head

Asst. News Editor

Published: Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01

After being part of the directorship of the College of Arts and Sciences Honors Program for 30 years, Mark O'Connor has decided to step down as the program's director.

O'Connor began teaching as an honors professor in the 1970s, and assumed the position of assistant director in 1981, after doing post-doctoral work in Poland. He has been the program's full director for 14 years.

"I thought, ‘It's about time to think about someone else leading the program,'" he said. "It's a question of generational generosity—it's time for someone the age I was to have the chance I had."

Allowing the program to have a new director will give different professors the chance to shape the program, O'Connor said.

"We have so many bright faculty members," he said. "It's about giving those bright faculty members the chance to get involved in the mix."

David Quigley, dean of A&S, will be serving as interim director of the program. O'Connor said that this is positive, because he represents a different era of academic thought.

"Dean Quigley is not only brilliant; he's a couple of academic generations younger than me," O'Connor said. "In short, he can do lots of exciting things."

O'Connor will be on sabbatical in Belgium next semester, the spring of 2012. He has been accepted to an ongoing faculty seminar on the relationship between aesthetics and spirituality.

"I am going to get to think about that connection with faculty from around Western Europe," he said. "It's going to be a really interesting thing."

O'Connor said that he looks forward to the opportunity to learn and think about teaching. "I need to go back and be the geek I once was, and read and study," he said.

Next fall, however, he will be returning as a professor in the Honors Program.

Though he is partly interested in allowing different minds the opportunity to have a greater voice in the program, he is also looking forward to returning his focus to teaching.

"It's also to give me the opportunity to teach more," O'Connor said. "To be able to be present in the classroom again is the key."

Since he assumed the position of assistant director, the Honors Program has grown in size from roughly six to 13 sections, and the number of faculty has expanded, both because of the increase in the number of sections and as a result of the curriculum modification.

Previously, students were able to take "boutique seminars" during their junior year, after their first two years taking Western Cultural Tradition. Now, third-year honors students take a two-semester sequence called "Twentieth Century and the Tradition."

"[The boutique seminars] didn't always particularly integrate with the curriculum they had seen the previous two years," O'Connor said. "The decision was that we needed to finish off the story and take it up to the present." As a result, professors who could teach the modern period were needed.

"My greatest accomplishment has been my role over the past 30 years in our accomplishments, students and faculty, together," O'Connor said. "The Honors Program has been a community that has learned much and given back more through our seminars. I'm very proud of my part in that."

He hopes his successor will set a goal to further the program.

"My hope for my successor is that she or he will feel the need to establish some ambitious goal for his or her tenure and lead the rest of us, those who teach with the program, those who are fellow travelers of the program among the faculty, and above all the students, to join together in some kind of ambitious intellectual project," O'Connor said.

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