About the College
Committed academic leaders, visionary alums, and a dedicated corps of faculty created and sustained The Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College (SMBHC) from 1997 through 2007. Jim and Sally Barksdale had indicated their desire to make a profound difference on the campus of The University of Mississippi, so Chancellor Robert Khayat and Provost Carolyn Staton met with the Barksdales to discuss the idea of the Honors College. That discussion became a reality in 1997 when the Barksdales committed what was then the largest gift to The University to make The McDonnell-Barksdale Honors College a change agent on the Ole Miss campus. The faculty shaped and guided the emergence of the Honors College by molding the courses, by choosing the great texts that focused on self and society, nature and the cosmos, and by crafting the guidelines of the capstone project, the senior thesis. As with many a visionary notion, this leap forward owed a great deal to the people and programs that preceded and, in many ways, grounded it while enabling significant growth in focus and impact. Our present Honors College grew out of a national movement that took root at Ole Miss in 1952.
The College of Liberal Arts at The University of Mississippi instituted our first Honors education in 1952. Generous monies given by the General Education Board under an agreement with the Board of Trustees of the Institutions of Higher Learning provided the opportunity to create “a special program to meet the requirements of the best students” and to bring to campus “nationally known and distinguished lecturers and professors” to interact with these and other students. The 1953-1954 Bulletin of the University of Mississippi noted that “The College itself had instituted a Scholars program to provide special instruction to superior students….” Students from the first years of the Scholars program fondly remember the Preceptor for the Scholars Program, Assistant Professor Doris Raymond (A.M., University of Chicago; Ph.D. Johns Hopkins University), as one who engaged her students with wit, zest, and intellectual rigor. During the second decade, Assistant Professor Anita Hutcherson served as the Preceptor of this demanding program. Thus, the Scholars Program became a permanent feature of The College of Liberal Arts, offering a set of core courses and encouraging a special project in the scholar’s major field of study.
In Fall 1974, under the direction of Professor George Everett, the University Scholars Program replaced the Scholars Program and soon these opportunities became available to all of the top performing students including and in addition to those in the College of Liberal Arts. In 1983, the University Honors Program emerged to offer students the ability to take a set of core courses together, and then to contract work on an individual basis with professors to graduate with Honors from Ole Miss. Professor George Everett directed this program through 1995.
In 1996, the Provost created a committee to design an Honors College that would build on these past achievements at Ole Miss and create more opportunities for our high-performing students to study and work together. Students would take courses together, not on a contractual basis, but in a small, seminar format for the majority of their program for the first two years. Students would then explore their world through internships, study abroad, directed readings, and/or research in a laboratory. Honors scholars would cap their senior year with a thesis that emerged from their individual departments and would demonstrate distinction in writing and research. The Committee also asked of each student to give back to the community through voluntary work a certain amount of time each semester to integrate their learning into active commitment to our society. Thus, Honors College scholars would spend an invaluable portion of their undergraduate career with other scholars in active learning both inside and outside the classroom.
In fall 2007, the Ole Miss community celebrated both the ten years of the Honors College and the fifty-five years in work with high performing students who demonstrated a commitment to the academy and to their world. Jim and Sally Barksdale made the idea of an Honors College possible, enabling the purchase and renovation of the Alpha Delta Pi sorority building to house the new Honors College. That first gift also endowed sixteen scholarships and provided funding for operating expenses. Other generous donations included endowments from the Pichitino and Parker estates to fund scholarships, and from Lynda and John Shea to support study abroad fellowships. In Fall 1997, the McDonnell-Barksdale Honors College opened its doors, under the direction of Professor Elizabeth Payne. Douglass Sullivan-González followed in 2002 and currently serves as its Dean. With the unfortunate death of Sally McDonnell Barksdale in December 2003, the Honors College was renamed in her memory in Spring 2004 as the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College.
Today, the SMBHC hosts 1,050 undergraduate students from all of the schools and colleges that comprise The University of Mississippi. The resources provided initially and in later gifts by the Barksdales and by other generous donors support an increasing number of challenging courses, opportunities for experiential learning in the U.S. and abroad, and avenues for effective engagement with community concerns. The Readers Digest recognized the SMBHC as one of the outstanding honors colleges in the nation in 2005, and, for the last two years, more than 300 freshmen, averaging a 30 ACT and 3.85 High School GPA, have joined the SMBHC. Indeed, the SMBHC has become one of the cornerstones of The University of Mississippi’s claim be a great American public university.