Public University Press published A Review of Fifty Public University Honors Programs on April 18, 2012. The Press is a new–and small–organization, and grew out of a project to write only a series of articles that compared published rankings and summarized their findings. Yet we soon discovered that even though the scholarly literature about honors education is growing, the programs themselves had not been evaluated, except in some cases by in-house staff and faculty or by visiting reviewers from other schools. So, instead of reporting on what others had found, we realized that we had to find “it” ourselves.
Or, we should say, try to find it. Among other things that we have stepped into during this project, one big thing is skepticism that anyone, much less someone outside of academe, could begin to compare honors programs in a meaningful way, given their many unique features. That skepticism is understandable, and this first attempt is tentative–though it is the result of many months of total focus on just these fifty programs. We do not claim to have produced a definitive review; on the other hand, anyone who claims to have produced a definitive ranking of colleges is suspect. We do believe ours is strongly suggestive, especially when it comes to honors curricula. Another important element of the review is that it shows whether an honors program or college is relatively stronger or weaker than the university as a whole. (On the Methodology page of this site we provide a description of the data. We urge you to read the page.) It is true that we have no track record, no big magazine name, no outside funding. It is also true that we are totally independent. Read through the site; see if you think we have something of value to offer. If you buy the book, tell us if you don’t like it, and why, and we’ll get you a refund. Fair enough?
The editor of Public University Press is John Willingham, who is also the editor of publicuniversityhonors.com. John worked with editorial assistants and a Ph.D. statistician on the first edition of the Review. In the summer of 2012, he completed a training session offered by the National Collegiate Honors Council on how to conduct external evaluations of honors colleges and programs. A full-time writer and editor, John is a regular contributor to the History News Network (hnn.us) and is the author of a historical novel on the Texas Revolution. Much of his work for HNN has focused on education issues in Texas, especially the curriculum wars that occurred in 2010-2011 over the adoption of the state’s history and social studies curricula. Another essay for HNN explored the relationship of historical fiction and the teaching of history, especially in the university.
His own novel, The Edge of Freedom, A Fact-Based Novel of the Texas Revolution, has been used as a reading supplement in college. Previously, John’s fiction appeared in the Southwest Review, the literary quarterly of Southern Methodist University Press.
John became interested in the history of education, especially higher education, when he was a graduate student in American history at the University of Texas at Austin, earning an M.A. before deciding to pursue a career in journalism and public administration in Texas. The Academic Revolution, by Christopher Jencks and David Riesman, was the book that triggered John’s interest in higher education. Earlier, John had received a B.A. from UT Austin, with honors, majoring in history. His minor fields in graduate school were the history of education and journalism. He now divides his time between Portland, Oregon, and Austin, Texas.