The director of the LSA Honors Program, Prof. Stephen Darwall, responds to my viewpoint in a letter to the editor today, arguing that the Perlman Honors Commons is just the same as the RC’s Benzinger Library. This seems to obfuscate the situation – the Benzinger doesn’t have a huge sign over the door reading “Residential College Library” – it is, in fact, designed for the use of all residents of East Quad, as is appropriate for a residence hall library. Located at the heart of campus, it seems to me the Perlman Commons should be logically open to all students.
And to clarify, in my viewpoint I never claimed the honors program has closed the commons to non-honors students. The program does, however, do many small things to try to ensure only honors students use the lounge: the sign above the door reads “Honors Commons,” the door is left slightly ajar, and only honors students are told to study there. What I asked in my viewpoint was that the commons be “formally opened to all students.” What might that look like? Perhaps a simple sign taped to the door reading “Perlman Study Lounge. Open to all students for quiet study, M-F 9-5”
Here’s the letter:
“To the Daily:
One day before his viewpoint criticizing the Perlman Honors Commons appeared in the Daily (Perlman Honors Commons dishonorable, 10/16/03), Rob Goodspeed defended the Residential College’s Benzinger Library against a (rumored) University closing on his weblog (www.goodspeedupdate.com), saying that the library “serves as a resource for the Residential College: RC professors put … materials on reserve there, and the library has hosted a variety of artistic and educational events in the past.” The Benzinger Library is a resource for the RC in precisely the same sense that the Perlman Honors Commons is a resource for the Honors Program. Each exists primarily to support the activities of its respective program. The Honors Commons’ function is to provide a site for honors seminars in its internal classroom, for intellectual events such as the Fresh Ideas symposium I host biweekly, for events planned by the Honors Student Steering Committee, for meetings between honors faculty and students, for student meetings, for student (and faculty) study, and for informal conversation. As for access, Goodspeed is simply mistaken when he says that access is restricted to honors students. Although the primary function of the commons is to support Honors Program activities, we have not found it necessary to restrict access to serve that function. Of course, unlike the Benzinger Library we have a central location, so we can’t guarantee that that will always be so. Finally, I would like to clarify a misunderstanding about our admissions process. It is true that this year we will be able to make use of the University’s new application materials (with new essay questions and teacher recommendations) to get a better sense of our applicants, including their intellectual seriousness and curiosity, but it is just not true that before the program relied entirely on grades and test scores. The program also took account of other factors, including, like University admissions, race, in order to build a more diverse class. We are in complete agreement with Goodspeed about the importance of that goal.
Director, LSA Honors Program”