That smarts: Butte considers honors cut

Don’t mess with the smartest students. That’s what Butte College administrators are finding out as students and their teacher lobby the community to oppose a cut under consideration for the Honors Program.

“The college is making a serious mistake here,” said Roger Ekins, the current chair who created the program 17 years ago. He has promised to resign as chair if the college acts on an idea to change the position to coordinator, cutting it back from 20 to four or five hours a week.

Matthews Jackson, vice president of education and student programs and services, said Ekins and the students are jumping the gun by “orchestrating a campaign.” There are many other programs and services on the potential chopping block, he said, and the Honors Program supporters are just the “squeaky wheel.”

However, Jackson said it would compromise the “sanctity” of the budget process to divulge other cuts being considered. In fact, he said, all budget discussions are confidential and will take place among the faculty, staff and administration rather than in a forum open to the public at large. Budget decisions should be made on campus, he said, not “micromanaged” by the general public. Ultimately, the decision lies with President Diana Van Der Ploeg, who acts with the support of the Board of Trustees.

Ekins said the process seems flawed. “We’re not supposed to talk about cuts until it’s too late to do anything about it.”

Jackson said that if the cut—which was proposed by a committee including faculty and department chairs—is approved, it would not eliminate the Honors Program nor Phi Theta Kappa. There would be less faculty time devoted to the program and the honor society that functions as a club, but it would continue.

“We value the Honors Program, and I am going to do everything in my power to see that it continues to exist and be a quality program,” Jackson said.

Tyler Cavaness, president of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society, has put up fliers urging students to contact administrators on behalf of the program, which includes 250 to 300 students each year. Honors student Edward Lester is advising students: “Don’t be too pushy, but don’t let them intimidate you, either. Let them know that if Butte College gives up on its best and brightest students, it will no longer be able to consider itself one of the best community colleges in the state.”

Ekins said he can’t understand why the Honors Program would be on the table at all, especially when it makes the college look even better to the community. “[There’s] some kind of institutional self-esteem problem,” he said.

Butte’s Honors Program has sent students on to Princeton, Yale, Stanford and other prestigious universities, said Ekins, who spends his time teaching, recruiting students and guiding students in charity work and at conferences. Honors students must have a grade point average of at least 3.3 and are eligible to choose from several more-challenging courses to secure general-education units.

If Phi Theta Kappa disbands for lack of an adviser, Ekins said, students will lose access to $35 million a year in scholarships. If the cut is made, he said, the college would save only $15,000.