Honors Program Suspended

Jessie Langenfeld, Contributor


On August 22, Augsburg’s honors students received an email from Provost Karen Kaivola announcing that the honors program would be suspended for two years following a review into the practices, problems and the purpose of the honors program. The review was held after honors Director and Professor Phil Adamo used racial slurs in a freshman honors course.

The honors program allowed students to graduate with distinction, receive scholarships, and enroll in harder classes. In these classes, students wrote and produced plays, put books on trial, simulated the beginnings of democracy and more. The honors program consisted of an extra 28 credits as well as 200 or more hours of research. Participation in the program required students to live on campus for at least two years and maintain a 3.5 grade point average.

Sophomore Danny Reinan was one of the honors students who was involved in the review team. They, along with three other honors students and four faculty members, conducted a review of all aspects of the program; syllabi, class structure, governing structure, the honors council, the houses desk worker position, program graduation requirements and mission statement. Reinan described how review members heard from involved faculty, discussed known issues and finally surveyed honors students. After examining the information, the review team created a comprehensive overview of what they had found and gave the information to their superiors. A decision was made by the superiors to suspend the program.

The decision brings a number of changes to campus. To start off, no freshmen students were accepted into the honors program this year. Students currently enrolled will still be allowed to graduate with honors if they complete the program. The requirements to complete the program have also been relaxed. The number of extra credits was lowered and the research hours as well as the requirement to live on campus have been removed. Scholarships given to honors students will not be affected.

Nine days after this announcement was made, Adamo announced on his blog that he had made the decision to retire. Despite the pressure from many students for his resignation, he wrote that his decision “was made freely and by me alone.”

Though Adamo had been under fire for alleged racist remarks multiple times during his career at Augsburg, the tensions heightened during the fall semester of 2018. Reinan was in the class where the controversy started.

We had just been reading The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin,” Reinan recounts. “The author recalls and tells in detail his many experiences with racism. When talking about a time in which he was called a racial slur, Baldwin doesn’t censor himself, as is his right by having the slur used against him. When reading the passage aloud, Professor Adamo also said the slur and used it a second time when asking the class whether or not we should be able to say slurs in academic context. Only two students in the class were black. One did not speak and the other did not want the slur used. The class agreed that the slur should not be used. Yet, Professor Adamo treated it as if the classmate pressured the class into agreeing with them, asking ‘who’s going to make the choice for you next time?’”

Adamo’s decision to retire affected more than just the honors program.  He was offering a history course this semester. This course, a class about medieval history, is a requirement for many history majors. Senior Tate Barton, a medieval history major, was signed up to take his class. Barton remarks that “Phil Adamo’s retirement was the worst possibly timed thing in existence”. He learned the day before classes began that he had to find another class to fulfill that requirement.

This article was originally published in the September 20, 2019 issue.