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For a complete history of the Honors Seminars, visit the Seminars page



Dr. Craig Clifford

Professor of Philosophy


Dr. Patricia Zelman

Current: Professor of History, retired, TSU


Dr. Mallory Young

Current: Professor of English and Languages, TSU


Dr. Russell Long

Current: former President, West Texas A&M University

A Brief History of the Presidential Honors Program, 1985-1999

Excerpt from Christopher E. Guthrie's The Legacy of John Tarleton: A History of Tarleton State University, 1988-1999 (Tapestry Press, 1999), pp. 247-49

(Note: This account takes the program up through the spring of 1999. More current information concerning the scholarship amount, the whereabouts of program graduates, and other details that are subject to change can be accessed in other areas of this site.)

Thompson's sponsorship of the efforts of the Speakers Symposium Committee represented only part of his larger effort to promote academic excellence among Tarleton students. In 1982, he asked Dr. Robert Fain and Dr. Eugene Atkinson, an associate professor in the Department of Social Sciences, to develop a proposal for a Presidential Honors Program as a means to attract outstanding students to Tarleton. However, Dr. Russell Long, from the English Department, simultaneously developed his own proposal (loosely based on one already established at the North Texas State University). To the disappointment of Fain and Atkinson, who could not understand why Long had been allowed to develop his plan when they had been given what they thought was the official charge to do the work, Thompson ultimately accepted Long's proposal in the summer of 1983 and it became the foundation for an honors program at Tarleton.1 Thompson named a Presidential Honors Committee in the fall of 1983 to help Long (who had been appointed director) implement the program and determine the courses and programs which would be available to honors students. To help in this development work and to create campus-wide support for the project, the Presidential Honors Committee named a much larger group, drawn from every academic department on campus, to be the "Honors Faculty." (Spring 1984).2

As outlined by Long, the Presidential Honors Program offered a $2500 nine-month scholarship to twenty-five outstanding incoming freshmen from a 100-mile radius of Stephenville. Long's original intention was to enroll twenty-five such students a year until the program contained one hundred individuals.3 However, funding difficulties for scholarships forced him to scale back this original goal to approximately ten honors students per year. In the spring of 1999, the program had twenty-seven students.4 The students would be selected on the basis of their SAT/ACT test scores, their high school grade point average and graduating class rank, their "leadership abilities," and "special ability roles." Participants in the program received a variety of perks in addition to their scholarships: they were given priority in dormitory assignments and course registration, they received special recognition once a year at a reception hosted by the president, the school paid for their attendance at professional meetings in their major field of study, and the university made a special note on their transcripts that they had been members of the program. In addition to their regulars classes, participants were required to enroll in two interdisciplinary honors seminars (one their freshman year and one their sophomore year) taught by members of the honors faculty. During their senior year, honors students were required to participate in an independent research project under the direction of a members of the Honors Faculty.5

The first group of fifteen Presidential Honors students entered Tarleton in the fall of 1985. They were William Cruz, Michel Deloach, Thomas Fleischer, Rex Gamble, Laurie Harveson, Jeffrey Helm, Jr., Joy Henderson, Rachel Howell, Toni Johnson, Greg Lancaster, Michelle Moegelin, Jack Richards, Lori Steppick, Jennifer Stuart, and Scott Walker.6 The program has undergone several changes in directors since Long stepped down in 1988 (Mallory Young, 1988-1992; Patricia Zelman, 1992-1997; and Craig Clifford, 1997- ) and the concept of an Honors Faculty has been abandoned.7 The amount of Presidential Scholarships has increased to $3000. Honors students are still required to enroll in two honors seminars during their freshman and sophomore years but they now are able to take a variety of specially-designated honors courses (in speech, English, computer science, history, political science, chemistry, and biology) during these first two years. Other students who meet the entrance requirements of these courses may also take them for "honors credit." Honors students have formed their own organization, the Presidential Honors Society, which sponsors the "Brown Bag Lunch" speakers series in which students and faculty present talks on a variety of topics every Wednesday at noon.8

Although smaller than originally projected, the Presidential Honors Program has produced a number of outstanding graduates. One such example is physics major David Bixler, who entered the honors program in the fall of 1988. Because of his extraordinary ability, the physics department employed him to teach lower-level labs during his sophomore, junior, and senior years at Tarleton. After graduation, he entered the graduate physics program at Rice University and will shortly receive his Ph.D. degree. Rhett Guthrie, a math major from Santa Anna, was equally successful. During his senior year at Tarleton, he and fellow Presidential Honors scholar, Kevin Hunt, received a grant from the United States Department of Energy to spend a semester studying at the Argonne National Laboratory outside of Chicago. After he graduated from Tarleton, Guthrie earned a masters degree in mathematics from North Carolina State University and currently works as a software engineer for ObjectSpace Inc. in Dallas. Hunt will shortly receive a Ph.D. in chemistry from Indiana University.9


  1. Interview, Dr. Robert Fain, January 17, 1998.
  2. "Honors Faculty Named," The J-TAC, April 26, 1984.
  3. "Presidential Honors Program New At Tarleton," The J-TAC, September 13, 1983.
  4. Interview, Ms Shawndi Wilson, program specialist for the Presidential Honors Program, April 29, 1999.
  5. "Presidential Honors Program New At Tarleton" and "TSU Names New Honors Faculty," The J-TAC, June 29, 1984.
  6. Interview, Ms Shawndi Wilson, April 29, 1999.
  7. See p. 18 of this chapter.
  8. Craig Clifford, "Presidential Honors Program," in Tarleton State University Annual Report 1997, pp. 37-38.
  9. Ibid.

20th Anniversary 

Twentieth Anniversary Celebration
of the Presidential Honors Program

Friday, April 8, 2005

6:00 p.m.
Informal reception and dinner at Dr. Clifford's and Dr. Young's

Saturday, April 9, 2005
Travis Room of the Dining Hall 

9:30-10:00 a.m.
Informal coffee 

10:00-10:45 a.m.
Presentation on history, current state, and future of Presidential Honors
Dr. Craig Clifford, Director, Presidential Honors Program 

10:45-11:00 a.m.

Remarks by Presidential Honors Program graduates 

Scott Walker
Presidential Honors entering class of 1985
Graduated summa cum laude in music with a minor in English in May 1989 

Noble Acuff
Presidential Honors entering class of 1990
Graduated summa cum laude in English with a minor in philosophy in December 1992 

Kristina Guess
Presidential Honors entering class of 2000
Graduated summa cum laude in political science with minors in philosophy and history in May 2004 

12:00-2:00 p.m.
Lunch reception sponsored by
Dr. Dennis McCabe, President, and
Dr. Gary Peer, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost