"The Honors Program is one of the jewels in the crown of our undergraduate experience," said A&S Dean J. Robert Barth, SJ, in announcing the appointment. He added that the program will play an increasingly significant role as the University Academic Planning Council's recommendations regarding undergraduate teaching are implemented.
" Mark O'Connor is one of the most gifted teachers we have on campus," said Fr. Barth, who noted that O'Connor, a specialist in 18th-century central European intellectual history, also is "deeply engaged in Greek and Latin classics, well-read in modern literature, and is interested in philosophy and religious thought.
"Mark is a kind of Renaissance man, with a wide range of interests, which is why he's a natural for the multidisciplinary Honors Program," said Fr. Barth.
The UAPC's 1996 report urged the bolstering of "hallmark" programs like A&S Honors - which is characterized by strong professor-student rapport and seriousness of intellectual endeavor - as part of a strong and ongoing commitment to undergraduate education.
Mark O'Connor. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)
O'Connor's transition is expected to be smooth, since he has worked closely with Prof. Joseph Appleyard, SJ (English), during his 10-year tenure as director in shaping the program. "He knows more than anyone else about the inside workings of the Honors Program and student concerns," Fr. Appleyard said.
O'Connor arrived as a teacher in the Honors Program in 1981, three years after earning his doctorate in history from BC. He has held the posts of assistant director and associate director, and spent a year as the program's acting director.
"But Honors is above all a teaching job and that has always been the primary way I have defined myself - as a University teacher," said O'Connor, who was voted teacher of the year in 1991 by students in BC's chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa honor society.
The four-year Honors Program provides a select group of undergraduates with a grounding in the classics of Western thought through a rigorous curriculum. It is marked by small classes, discussion seminars and close interpersonal contact between students and instructors who also act as academic advisors.
In the first two years, students are presented an overview of Western cultural tradition, through close readings of great works of history, philosophy, theology, poetry and drama, from the Hebrew Bible and the epics of Homer to the cultural theories of Darwin and Freud.
Under Fr. Appleyard, the third year of the program has come to be devoted to an advanced seminar, "The 20th Century and the Tradition," which encourages critical inquiry into the Western canon while placing it in modern context. In the final year, students are required to complete an honors thesis or creative project.
Some 135 students, or about 9 percent of first-year students at Boston College, are accepted into the program. A few sophomores also are admitted each year. Each student must maintain a minimum grade point average of 3.3.
O'Connor, interviewed recently in his book-lined alcove in the Honors Library in Gasson Hall, credited professors from across the University with making the Honors Program a success and said there is "a pressing need for faculty committed exclusively to the program."
Thus, Honors Program Adj. Assoc. Prof. Mary Joe Hughes will move up to become assistant director, O'Connor said, while part-time faculty member Michael Martin will provide administrative help.
"What is critical," said O'Connor, "is that those of us who have given their careers to teaching in the Honors Program serve as facilitators to those faculty from outside who generously offer themselves to the program."
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