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Jeffrey Hart '69

At the Heart of Honors
Hart is an assistant professor of political science at Indiana University. Most of his research in the past 25 years has focused on the politics of international economic competitiveness in the advanced industrial nations. Currently, he is working on a book about the politics of the Internet and one about politics and film.
My honors examinations were a mixed bag. I had a political science examiner, and also one in economics and mathematics. The math exam was a disaster - I had not mastered complex analysis (although I had done OK in finite math). From that point on in my academic life, I stuck with finite math and avoided anything even faintly connected with calculus. The economics exam went a little better. My examiner was an eminent mathematical economist who asked hard but reasonable questions, and I was pleased not to fail the exam. The political science examiner was a well-known scholar of international politics. My exam was, for him and therefore, for me, a triumph, so they awarded me honors even though the overall performance was not stellar.

Twenty-five years later, when political science professor Ray Hopkins invited me to come back to be an examiner, I was pleased to accept. I tried to deal with being on the other side of the examination table from an empathetic perspective. The students turned out to be rather unlike the graduate students I had worked with at Princeton and Indiana. They were smart, of course, but not very deep (that was me, too, when I was an undergraduate, but I had forgotten). I was a little disappointed with the performance of these particular students, but their work was passable, so I did not have to fail anyone. I realized later that I had an inflated view of how much we had learned in honors seminars.

It was strange to see all the examiners assemble after the testing and engage in bargaining over who would receive high and highest honors. I did not realize that would be part of the exercise. When I was a student, I assumed that a small group of god-like professors made the decision and that it was obvious to them and required no bargaining at all. I was naïve.