After two years on the varsity swim team at UNC, junior John Paul Gaylor retired from swimming to pursue a passion for gene therapy research — inspired in part by his involvement with Honors Carolina.
But because of budget cuts, certain classes in the program might not be offered in the future.
Gaylor first became interested in gene therapy during his BIO 101 honors course with biology professor Jean DeSaix last spring.
“She essentially walked us through the research process,” Gaylor said. “She even had us interview people working in the field.”
Gaylor now works in a lab researching gene therapy for eyes.
DeSaix said she loves to teach her honors course, but due to budget cuts, the course was not offered this fall and will most likely not be in the spring.
Assistant Dean for Honors Carolina Ritchie Kendall said departmental and University budget cuts affect the number of faculty that can teach honors courses.
The UNC system has seen nearly half a billion dollars erased from its state funding since 2011, including about $65 million in fresh cuts in the 2013-14 budget.
“There is no question that there is a much greater strain on departmental courses,” Kendall said. “Honors (classes) are, with very few exceptions, always faculty taught — that is a strain.”
Despite budget restraints on the University level, Kendall said in recent years Honors Carolina has doubled the number of new students because of fundraising gifts to the program.
Senior and co-president of the Honors Student Executive Board Sam Jones said these gifts are used in part for endowed professorships.
“It helps the University out a whole lot,” Jones said. “Even when departments have to cut budgets, they can keep on endowed professors.”
He said departments with endowed professorships are required to offer a certain amount of honors courses each semester.
Kendall said the courses are the heart of Honors Carolina.
DeSaix said she was able to develop a close relationship to the students in her honors classes, which is capped at 20 students, and even invites them to her house for dinner. She said the class size also allows for more discussion and exchanges of ideas.
Gaylor said he also enjoys the interaction between peers and faculty in honors courses.
“These professors have become great friends of mine, and I know those relationships will be important to me throughout my life,” he said.
Jones said in addition to offering special honors courses, Honors Carolina uses its independent funding to bring back alumni, hold discussions with speakers and offer unique study abroad experiences.
While honors students are given first priority, other students at UNC have the opportunity to sign up for honors courses and to participate in Honors Carolina study abroad if space is available.
“We are using Honors Carolina to attract students to the University and to create an environment to stimulate intellectual curiosity,” Kendall said. “We have never wanted to create an exclusive domain.”
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