The L&S Honors Program was founded at the request of UW-Madison students. On May 28, 1958, a group of 172 University of Wisconsin-Madison students presented the President of the University, Dr. E. B. Fred, with a petition, the contents of which were published in The Daily Cardinal the following day. Within two years of the petition’s submission, the first honors course was taught at the university. The text of the petition as reproduced in The Daily Cardinal is provided below.
Students Protest Standards
To Officers, Regents, and Faculty of the University of Wisconsin:
We undersigned students at the University of Wisconsin are sincerely concerned with the problems faced by the University. It is our belief that students and faculty should work together to find solutions to the problems which are shared alike by all members of the academic community. It is this interest in the community which prompts us to seek your understanding as we strive to make the University of Wisconsin a great academic leader of the nation.
The conclusions we have reached about education at Wisconsin are offered in this light. We believe that no mirror of a university is so adequate as its students, especially its upperclassmen and those who have risen to responsible positions in the student community. We are confident that you need and value insights offered you by students about the University. In a way, we are the yardstick by which you can measure the success of your educational program.
The primary purpose of any university is to create an academic atmosphere and to engender in its students the desire for knowledge. On the basis of our observation, however, we feel that the University does not hold the position of eminence that it could enjoy in the world of education and that it must step beyond itself into new realms of educational creativity.
Although the University is constantly making attempts to improve its standards, we believe that it has failed to challenge its students sufficiently. In many senses, it is too easy for thousands of students to “get by” and never learn to become critical, analytical thinkers or to achieve an understanding of the world around them. Students on all levels of attainment feel that they have not worked to the limits of their ability and time.
The University must raise its standards. In some cases this means simply requiring more work; in many more it means emphasizing an improved quality of work and an intelligent, analytical approach to the subject matter.
Students must extend themselves to achieve a deep and meaningful understanding of material. But this is possible only if the faculty seeks to help us by challenging us more fully.
Whenever possible, we think that more courses and examinations should be aimed at challenging students to go beyond mere memorizing and to spend much more time working with an understanding the ideas that are basic to their fields of knowledge.
In more courses definite facilities should be established to enable those students with intensive interest in a subject to probe beyond the attainment requirements of the course, which are in most cases aimed at providing only a general survey of the subject matter.
Facilities should be provided for the students who wish to delve more deeply into the entire subject matter of their particular field, as well as for students who wish to pursue a specific aspect of the course material.
We would like to see more students learn to handle the independent asking and answering of questions which is the only way to a critical understanding of any subject.
We realize that many of us have failed to accept the academic challenge offered by the University. We must accept a good share of the responsibility for our failure to reach the limits of our potential. But the University must assume its measure of responsibility as well. Many standards throughout the university program seriously need a regeneration in excellence.
We hope that secondary schools of the state would be encouraged to follow the lead of the University in raising academic standards.