Honors College gets an overhaul

When the Robert D. Clark Honors College opened its doors in 1960 as a channel for challenging Oregon’s smartest students, the best and brightest were taught in the rather dim basement of Friendly Hall.

The oldest honors college in the country with a four-year curriculum, the Clark Honors College (CHC) bided in that basement for 18 years.  

In 1978, a $30,000 gift from Tom Autzen enabled the college to move to Chapman Hall, which was built in 1939 with WPA funds. Since 1939, Chapman Hall has undergone only minor updates. This year, however, CHC has taken over the entire building, and with Chapman’s first major renovation complete the college is on its way to having the home it deserves.

To celebrate the unveiling of the first leg of Chapman’s overhaul, CHC is having a grand opening at 4:30 p.m. on Friday, May 31, in the newly renovated space. The event is free and open to the public.

Clark Honors College Dean David Frank says the renovation will allow the college to better serve its students through updated classrooms with the necessary technology to meet today’s needs.

“This renovation is the first of several steps the college plans to take in redesigning a classic building for our global scholars," says Frank.

The majority of CHC students reside in the new Global Scholars Hall, which is infused with modern amenities. When those students come to class on Chapman’s third floor, they walk into rooms designed decades ago to teach home economics students how to cook and sew.

“With a 98 percent retention rate for students who entered fall term, we are doing something right,” says Frank. “Now, we need to have a building worthy of that achievement.”

The college began a fundraising campaign for the renovation in 2007. To date, CHC has raised $4 million of the necessary $11 million to complete the project. All of the funds have been raised through private donations.

Clark Honors College Development Director Andrew McNall credits Frank, the college’s first dean, with CHC’s remarkable expansion.

“He effectively guided the transition of the CHC from a program in the College of Arts and Sciences to its own college within the university,” says McNall.

McNall says during Frank’s five-year tenure as dean, CHC student enrollment has grown to 700 students and their academic qualifications rival those at the nation’s finest private and public institutions. The number of tenure-track faculty has expanded to 15 and private donors have contributed more than $7 million to the college.

“Any one of these achievements alone would be sufficient to have a successful run as dean,” says McNall. “To accomplish all of them in the span of five years is exceptional.”

Frank is stepping down as dean and returning to the faculty this summer. To honor his achievements and to add to Friday’s festive atmosphere, the college will unveil the installation of the first Keena Shaw Northrop Dean Art Award. Northrop graduated in 1950 from the School of Architecture and Allied Arts with a degree in Fine/Applied Arts. She did some of her coursework in Chapman Hall, using the project drawers in what is now the Clark Honors College Library to store her work.

The award will be offered for the next 10 years for a student to produce a work of art to install in Chapman Hall for one year.

- by Aria Seligmann, UO Office of Strategic Communications