Legacy of Excellence
History of the University Honors Program
Honors Program Directors
The establishment of an Honors Program at Tennessee State University (TSU) is credited to the vision of its second president, Dr. Walter S. Davis. After recognizing that universities throughout the country were creating programs designed for academically-talented students, he appointed a committee, chaired by Dr. Charity Mance, to study the trend. The result was a final recommendation to establish an Honors Program at TSU.
The Honors Program was initiated in 1964 and, at that time, only included entering freshman students. From 1964–1965, two Woodrow Wilson Scholars, Dr. Jack O'Neal and Mr. Patrick Gilpin, were the co-directors of the University Honors Program, along with Peter Wengert and Lelia Garner, who served as Woodrow Wilson advisors. From 1965–1966, Mr. Patrick Gilpin and Dr. McDonald Williams were the co-directors of the program. These students, based on entrance exam scores and overall high school GPA, were written letters of invitation. Students selected joined as a matter of their choice.
The overall strategy was to designate Honors sections of classes from the freshman common core, which made changes to a number of course designations such as English 101 to English 101H. Following 1964, Honors courses expanded to include sophomores (1965), juniors (1966) and seniors (1967).
After just one year, O’Neill decided to leave TSU to concentrate on completing his degree. Gilpin continued to serve, and discussed adding another co-director with Lurelia Freeman, a faculty member in the Department of Foreign Languages. She recommended English professor, Dr. McDonald Williams. Once Gilpin left TSU to complete his Ph.D. in History at Vanderbilt University, McDonald stepped up as the full-time director.
Under McDonald’s leadership, the program continued to grow over the years. While physical facilities were limited at the outset to a room in the Agricultural Building and later to the ground floor of the “Old Library Building,” space was arranged to house offices for the director and secretary as well as study and recreational provisions for students.
The director and his wife, Dr. Jamye C. Williams (former professor of speech and head of the Department of Communication) met in Atlanta with Dr. Lothar Tresp of the University of Georgia, Dr. Joseph Pusateri of Loyola University and others to establish the Southern Regional Honors Council. McDonald Williams was elected as the council’s third president.
The Honors Program’s involvement grew with Honors faculty and students participating in and chairing workshops and holding elected offices in the National Collegiate Honors Council, the Southern Regional Honors Council and the Tennessee Honors Council, to name a few. Students’ academic efforts were recognized through student awards, presentations of the Honors Key, the design of a three-tassel gold cord worn at graduation and through the Commencement program.
During the years McDonald Williams served as director, the university presidents who followed Dr. Walter S. Davis were supportive of the growth and development of the Honors Program. In 1988, under the presidency of Dr. James A. Hefner, the Tennessee Board of Regents granted the university approval to name the Honors Program for McDonald Williams.
Presently, Alpha Kappa Mu National Honor Society, Golden Key International Honour Society and the Honors Society of Phi Kappa Phi are housed in the Honors Program.
Since its inception in 1964, the University Honors Program has thrived with leaders committed to excellence: