TU names Dr. Jennifer Frey inaugural Dean of Honors College

Under Frey’s leadership, the new Honors College promises to offer students accelerated liberal arts education and increased opportunities for campus involvement

Early this month, President Brad Carson announced Dr. Jennifer Frey as the next leader of TU’s Honors program, soon to be expanded into a full Honors College, with the arrival of Frey in July. Frey, who currently teaches philosophy at the University of South Carolina, brings over 20 years of expertise in ancient Greek thought to TU. She is particularly active in researching topics of happiness, virtue and what it means to be human.

“I think about questions having to do with what a good life is,” she says when describing her scholarship. “[I study] what character traits equip a human being to be able to flourish.”

In considering what allows humans to “flourish,” she emphasizes the development of the human character, not only as an individual, but within a community. She investigates how character and community interact especially in the context of education. In the tradition of ancient philosophers of education, she studies how character development plays a critical role in academic learning.

“Reconnecting knowledge and virtue makes sense in higher education,” Frey argues. She claims that education should not serve only to strengthen students’ factual knowledge, but it must enable them to grow as responsible individuals by promoting virtues such as patience, humility and respect in the classroom. It is perhaps the development of these traits in an intellectual context, above learned factual knowledge, that makes a university education so valuable in modern society.

Frey’s theories on education factor into recent discussions about the liberal arts’ role in education more broadly. As several universities neglect humanities programs in favor of technical and professional programs, Frey asserts that the liberal arts are essential for meaningful university education: “A truly liberal education is supposed to make those who seek it free in an interior and fundamental sense,” she says. “[Learners should be] able to discover, for themselves, the authentic purpose or meaning of their own lives, to understand what constitutes their own flourishing and to find ways they can creatively contribute to the common good of their communities.”

TU’s plan to expand the Honors program into a full Honors college can be seen as a response to attacks on the value of the liberal arts – such as those that came from TU itself a few years ago. The mission statement of the Honors college makes clear its intention to recentralize the liberal arts – alongside the necessity of intellectual virtue – in higher education:

“The mission of the Honors College at the University of Tulsa is to offer an excellent and accelerated liberal arts education, focused on the study of classical texts in the liberal arts tradition, in a vibrant intellectual community that fosters friendship, growth in excellent habits of mind and character, and service to the common good.”

Frey reveals some of the practical aspects of the program that will help it achieve its mission. The most significant piece of the curriculum is its heavy emphasis on classroom discussion in seminar classes. Frey says that “by focusing on the liberal art of dialectic, the Honors College at the University of Tulsa will train its students to search for the truth together in a community where the dignity of every participant is valued and respected.” Disagreement in these discussions, as will inevitably occur, is also essential for the success of the program. Frey continues that “there is no expectation that students will agree about contemporary political or moral issues, but there is the expectation that in spite of deep and abiding disagreement, they will learn to discuss and investigate their own humanity with one another, in ways that speak to a mutual recognition that everyone belongs in the conversation and has an equal stake in it.” In learning how to “navigate the complicated, complex space” of classroom discussion in their seminar-style classes, students will be able to form “intellectual friendships” that encourage them to continue pursuing truth even well outside a scholarly setting.

The Honors College also offers students opportunities for character growth in its new emphasis in campus involvement. Frey shares her dedication to “scale up” student life experience in the Honors College through sponsoring several events outside the classroom, including monthly guest speakers, weekly community “intellectual events” and required service for all Honors College students. Frey explains her special attention to extra-curricular involvement, describing her vision for the college as “not just programs, not just coursework, but creating intentional community.”

Dr. Frey is not new to the TU campus. After striking up an accidental friendship with President Carson on Twitter, she was invited to campus last fall to speak about the value of a liberal arts education. In a full Chapman Hall lecture room, she unapologetically defended the liberal arts’ place in higher education. She declared that the “fundamental human desire to know and to understand—ourselves, our world, our history, and one another—is the real reason we are here; it is the raison d’etre of the university. We are not here to educate for a life of work. We are after something higher.”

Frey will be coming to TU alongside her husband Dr. Christopher Frey, who will join the faculty of the Department of Philosophy and Religion as the McFarlin chair. Frey will also be bringing her podcast “Sacred and Profane Love” to Tulsa, on which she will continue to investigate human happiness and the meaning of life.

Post Author: Celeste McAtee