TCU Honors History
Honors was first conceived in the front seat of a 1955 Plymouth station wagon as Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs James M. Moudy and Professor of Religion Paul Wassenich commuted to and from TCU. In the early 1960s TCU was a small regional school of four thousand students, and the two friends discussed how it could provide its best students with an enhanced level of study.
Under the direction of Moudy and Wassenich, the Honors Program was launched in 1962. A small program with only about 50 students and no faculty of its own, Honors at first functioned with no funding, a part-time director, and enrollment limited to juniors and seniors.
From the beginning, the central mission of Honors was defined as “the stimulation and encouragement of academic activity at the highest level,” and it was committed to an interdisciplinary curriculum and a co-curricular agenda. Both the Honors Program and later the Honors College have been dedicated to the promotion and recognition of intellectual achievement. In its years as a Program, Honors had limited resources and funding—an historical context that has continued to shape its situation since becoming a College in 2009.
With Paul Wassenich as its first Director (1962-68), Honors began at TCU by inviting the top 5 percent of students admitted in 1963 to participate in the “pre-Honors” phase of the new program. Candidates would undertake Honors study within their major, including the completion of a junior research seminar and an “an acceptable senior paper or its equivalent,” while also taking a series of four Honors colloquia (one per semester during the junior and senior years) “designed to teach the student to think in an interdisciplinary manner.” From these originally intertwined features, Departmental Honors and University Honors, versions of which remain as two distinct upper-division tracks available today, with a few students choosing to complete both.
From the beginning, the Honors colloquia were intended to develop rigorous, in-depth discussions of relevant issues and large questions. Covering four fundamental areas of human experience, the colloquia were first introduced as “The Nature of the Universe,” “The Nature of Man,” “The Nature of Values,” and “The Nature of Society.” The tradition of addressing relevant issues and large questions was carried forward, and the current upper-division colloquia include “On Human Nature,” “The Nature of Society,” and “The Nature of Values.” For more than 50 years Honors students have been asked to consider what it means to be human, how people can live together, and what is the value of life.
After Wassenich stepped down as Honors Director in 1968, the Program was carried forward by a succession of energetic and dedicated directors. Professor of Philosophy Ted Klein directed the Program from 1968 to 1972; Honors was then directed by two English professors, Fred Erisman, who led the program until 1974, and Keith Odom, who was director until 1981. The Honors Program was then administered by Professor of Chemistry Henry “Jim” Kelly until 1987, and in 1988 Professor of Religion David Grant took over as Director, followed in 1994 by Professor of History Kathryne McDorman, who supervised the Program until 2003, when Professor of Spanish Peggy Watson was appointed as the Honors Program’s last Director and then the John V. Roach Honors College’s first Dean. Under their able leadership Honors continued to grow and develop, contributing to TCU’s intellectual life in significant ways.
McDorman secured funding for the Fogelson Honors Forum. Beginning in 1998, the Fogelson lectures brought—and continue to bring—internationally recognized figures to campus. The inaugural Fogelson Forum was a presentation on Violence in America by Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander.
Two other important developments took place in the 1990s. By the end of the decade Honors attracted a record-breaking 250 new first-year Honors students, and for the first time Honors mounted its first “Abroad” experience when it offered a summer program in Edinburgh, Scotland.
With the number of students entering and graduating continuing to increase, the first decade of the twenty-first century was a period of dynamic growth and change. Paul and Judy Andrews endowed a new Honors College, naming it for their friend and mentor John V. Roach. Much of the groundwork for transitioning into a College was done during the 1990s by McDorman and her staff, but it was the Andrews endowment that made the change possible. The endowment was fully funded by June 1, 2009, and the new John V. Roach Honors College opened in November 2009.
Honors Directors and Deans
Paul Wassenich, director (1962-1968)
Ted Klein, director, (1968-1972)
Fred Erisman, director (1972-1974)
Keith Odom, director (1974-1981)
Jim Kelly, director (1981-1987)
David Grant, director (1988-1994)
Kathryne McDorman, director (1994-2003)
Peggy Watson, director (2003-2009), founding dean (2009-2014)
Sarah R. Robbins, acting dean (2014-2016)
Diane Snow, dean (2016-2020)
Ron Pitcock, acting dean (2020-present)