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James McKusick
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Emailmckusickj@umkc.edu

Institution: University of Missouri-Kansas City

Location: Kansas City, Missouri

Phone: 816-235-2181

Institution Type: 4-year public, research; 9000 undergraduate enrollment

Program Type: institution-wide

Program Enrollment: 300

Present Position: Dean, honors college (2015-present)

Previous Honors Positions:

  • Dean Davidson Honors College, University of Montana, 2005-2015
  • Director, Honors College, University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), 2002-2005

NCHC Member Since: 2002


Program Reviews and Consultation

  • 2016: External Reviewer for the Honors Program, Seton Hall University, New Jersey
  • 2014: External Reviewer for the Honors Program, University of Wyoming
  • 2014: External Consultant to review the new Gipson Fellows scholarship program at the College of Idaho
  • 2012: External Reviewer for the Honors College, University of Texas-Arlington
  • 2009: External Consultant and faculty retreat facilitator for the Honors Program at Westfield State College, Massachusetts
  • 2006-11: External Consultant for faculty at Flathead Valley Community College in their development of a two-year Honors Program, implemented in 2009
  • 2006-07: External Consultant for faculty at Montana Tech, the engineering campus of the University of Montana, in their development of a college-wide Honors Program, implemented in 2007

NCHC Activities Related to Honors Program/College Assessment & Evaluation:

  • November 2014: “Honors to Honors: Transfer Articulation Agreements.” Panel presentation, NCHC conference, Denver
  • November 2013: “Honors Advisory Boards: Are They Worthwhile?” Panel presentation, NCHC conference, New Orleans
  • November 2012: “Maximizing the Honors Budget in Difficult Economic Times.” Panel presentation, NCHC conference, Boston

Activities in other areas or organizations related to assessment or site visits, workshops, etc.: 
  • 2016: Invited reviewer for National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) five-member panel in Washington, DC, to evaluate Fellowship Programs for Independent Research Institutions
  •  2016: Attended the Finance Academy for Academic Leaders, University of Missouri
  •  2016: Attended the Focus on Fundraising Workshop, Association of Fundraising Professionals, Kansas City, Missouri
  •  2012: Attended the Institute for Management and Leadership in Education, Harvard University
  •  2011: Appointed by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to serve as the External Reviewer for the National Humanities Center in Durham, North Carolina 

Self-Identified Areas of Special Interest and Experience

  • External Fundraising
  •  Honors Research Projects
  •  Honors Scholarships
  •  Honors Faculty
  •  Honors Study Abroad Programs
  •  Honors Internship Programs
  •  Service Learning Programs
  •  Honors Program Review and Assessment 

The Role of an NCHC-Qualified Site Visitor
Based on my own observation of Honors programs and Honors colleges in several parts of the U.S., I have invariably found that their deans and directors are talented, highly motivated individuals who have chosen to become Honors administrators for all the right reasons: they are capable leaders who have not lost touch with their faculty roles and their professional commitment to the ideal of a liberal arts education. Running such programs in the midst of a fundamental transition in the nature of American higher education has proven difficult, however, since many U.S. colleges and universities are becoming so focused on workforce development, the promotion of graduate education, and the advancement of externally-funded research agendas, that the essential mission of the university – to produce well-rounded, inquisitive, liberally educated undergraduates – is becoming more difficult to sustain. So I have found that many Honors colleges and programs are swimming upstream against the challenges of flat or decreasing budgets, declining institutional commitment to excellence in the liberal arts and sciences, and reduced availability of faculty to teach Honors courses.

In light of this situation, my sense of the proper role of an NCHC-qualified site visitor is not only to provide a fair and objective review of the Honors college or program, but also to serve as an advisor, mentor, and advocate for the often-beleaguered dean or director. The site visitor needs to acquire a thorough understanding of the challenges that the Honors program faces in the total institutional environment of the college or university. The site visitor’s report, if based on a prior self-study report and grounded in a broad and thorough series of interviews with all stakeholders in the Honors college or program, should result in a set of recommendations that serve the interests of those stakeholders and convey to upper administrators a persuasive statement of the value of sustaining the achievements and nourishing the possibilities of Honors education on that campus. A site visitor should be a welcome, supportive presence within the Honors program offices, a persistent, inquisitive investigator who finds the “real facts” of a program and its broader institutional context, and a passionate advocate for the role of Honors education in his/her meetings with the Provost and President. The site visitor must clearly articulate the challenges and external threats faced by an Honors program, and most important, envision realistic, cost-effective ways of addressing those challenges and creating opportunities to move the program forward. It’s always best for the site visitor to present just a few detailed, concrete proposals for improvement, rather than a long list of impossible goals! A good site visitor not only evaluates what’s currently in place, but also imagines things that are not there, and helps the dean or director (and other program stakeholders) to become engaged in truly transformative change.

A good site visitor is above all an educator. He or she must help the Honors program dean or director understand where their program stands in the context of national best practices. And an effective site visitor will also find ways to share contextual information about best practices in Honors education with upper administrators, whose essential motivations in creating and sustaining Honors programs have generally been based upon the most fundamental historic purpose of American higher education: to inform and enlighten students from all walks of life and prepare them for leadership in the real world.

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