The recent action of the Cornell faculty in establishing a system of "honors" is quite an innovation for that college, which has heretofore been opposed to any such scheme.
The plan seems to be very similar to the one in vogue at Harvard, although there are quite a number of points of difference, and a comparison between the two systems may be of interest. The honors at graduation are of two classes, i. e., "honors for general excellence" and "honors in special subjects." The "honors for general excellence" correspond in a measure to our degrees "with distinctions."
"Special honors" at graduation are given in ten subjects - History, Political Science, Greek, Latin, French, German, Mathematics, Chemistry, Physics and Entomology. It will be noticed that a man can get honors in Greek without excelling in Latin, and vice versa. This is different from the system at Harvard, where the corresponding honors in "classics" require proficiency in both Greek and Latin. In the same way, our honors in Modern Languages (now abolished), requiring proficiency in three languages, have their parallel at Cornell in the honors in French and German. We miss the honors in Philosophy and Music, as well as those in Sanskrit and Semitic Languages.
The main points in which the system at Cornell differs from the one at Harvard is in the requirement that the applicant for honors in any department must also be of good standing in the subjects not connected with his honor course. In some courses the candidate is required to have won "mid-course honors" in that subject. These "mid-course honors" correspond to our second year honors, but they are given in History, Political Science, French and German, as well as in Greek, Latin and Mathematics. The special requirements appear somewhat less difficult than those at Harvard.
For mid-course honors in History and Political Science, the candidate must have passed with a good average the required work in Greek, Roman and English History and a special examination in some particular subject. The subjects for 1883 are the Reign of Elizabeth and the History of the 18th Century leading to the French Revolution.
The candidate for final honors in these courses must have completed, with an honorable average, the special studies of his course, present a thesis and pass an examination on either Von Holst's United States or the history of Germany leading to the formation of the New Empire.
In Greek and Latin the requisitions for mid-course honors are similar to those at Harvard. The special subjects for 1883 are in Greek, four books of the Odyssey; in Latin, the twenty-first book of Livy and two books of Virgil. It will be seen that these requirements are very much below those at Harvard.
For final honors in these subjects, the candidate, after completing his course and passing examinations similar to our own, must be examined (in 1883) in Greek on Sophocles' O. T. and Plato's Gorgias; and in Latin on Plautus' Rudens, Terence's Andria and one book of Cicero's De Natura Deorum. Here again the requirements appear rather low. The requirements for honors of both classes in the other subjects are similar to those in the subjects already mentioned. In the modern languages special authors are to be prepared for examination, and the history of the country is also included. There seems to be no distinction, such as "highest" and "ordinary" honors, as at Harvard.
Of course it is impossible to make comparisons as to the difficulties of attaining these distinctions at different universities, as a printed announcement of requirements gives no indication of the severity and thoroughness of the examinations. Still the requisitions at Cornell appear to be much inferior to those at Harvard, particularly from the fact that the announcement seems to imply that a man can get honors in Greek without attaining them in Latin, and in French without any special knowledge of German or other modern languages.