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Though many professors are working to curb grade inflation at the College, one sophomore is on a crusade to garner more honors for Harvard students.
Sarah M.G. Otner ’06 is lobbying Harvard administrators to allow the University to become the fifth Ivy League school to allow its first and second-year students who have a 3.4 GPA for at least one term to join the Washington, D.C.-based National Society of Collegiate Scholars (NSCS), an honors society.
Otner wants the College to start a chapter of NSCS, which was founded in 1994 and recognizes “outstanding academic achievement among first- and second-year college students.”
Cornell, Dartmouth, the University of Pennsylvania and Princeton are among the 200 schools with chapters of the society. It claims 400,000 lifetime members nationwide.
Efforts, some as recent as two years ago, to start a chapter of the honor society have failed at Harvard.
“There have been several attempts to start a chapter at Harvard, but the rules there are pretty restrictive,” said NSCS Director of Chapter Development Thomas W. Smith. “Harvard has its own way of doing things and its own view on outsiders.”
Chartering an official student organization within the college requires a group of at least nine interested students. Otner said her current list of students exceeds that number.
“I suspect that the NSCS has its own standards for membership and its relationship to a host institution, and we would need to review those carefully,” Associate Dean of the College Jeffrey D. Wolcowitz wrote in an e-mail.
Otner also needs to find a faculty sponsor—someone she said she is still searching for.
“I talked to a professor I had last semester, but she declined. She wasn’t against the idea of it, she just had too much on her plate,” Otner said.
After finding a faculty member, Otner will then be able to submit the organization for official review by the College. But because of its nature as an academic honor society, NSCS will be put under the microscope, Wolcowitz wrote in an e-mail.
Smith said that the failure of previous attempts hinged on the University’s view of the high caliber of its students.
“I think one of the arguments they use is that they don’t need an honor society because all of the students are honor students,” Smith said.
Otner concurs with Smith, suggesting that the same reasoning applies to Harvard’s lack of other traditional programs of recognition.
“It’s probably the same reason we don’t have a Dean’s list—too many people would qualify,” said Otner. “But I don’t have a problem if too many people qualify.”
Beyond simply recognizing students, NSCS offers internships, community service opportunities, merchant discounts and scholarships as benefits of membership, according to the society’s website.
Otner, who said she first heard about the NSCS when her friends at other schools were recently inducted, found out more about the society from the site.
Despite the long road ahead to get College recognition, Otner said she is up to the task. And Smith said that both he and the executive director would be willing to come to Harvard and meet with administrators to mediate any problems or concerns University officials may have.
For now, Otner said she will continue to collect names of interested students that have responded to e-mails she sent out over house open lists last week, as well as cement a faculty sponsor.
She said that she hopes the administration will give NSCS a fair chance before deciding its fate at Harvard.
“To stop it dead in its tracks because they don’t want too many people involved is totally unfair,” she said. “To shoot it down now is like working with blinders on.”
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