Defining World’s Honors College

The term World’s Honors College was originally coined to create a clear and simple idea of what the university aspired to become, especially in ...

Sep 28, 2013

The term World’s Honors College was originally coined to create a clear and simple idea of what the university aspired to become, especially in competing with top universities around the world. However, Josh Fein, NYU Abu Dhabi assistant dean of admissions, said the term has no longer been used as frequently.
“It's important to keep in mind that, at the time, no university had tried to create something like NYUAD, so we were sailing uncharted waters as far as how best to explain what exactly we sought to become,” said Fein.
Fein also said that the term creates confusion in the United Kingdom and other countries with British schools, where ‘college’ typically signifies secondary school, not university.
In the subsections of the university website’s front-page, there is a small box with the heading World’s Honors College and an available link. A quick click leads to information on NYUAD’s mission and vision. However, the term World’s Honors College is not used elsewhere, nor is it ever defined or explained.
Students used the term World’s Honors College to describe, distinguish, mock, amuse and acclaim the student body at NYUAD. Freshmen hear it in Marhaba speeches and info-sessions, then turn around to tease their friends about how they are not acting very “World’s Honors College” when they do or say something regrettable.
Part of an elite class of PR jargon, alongside the likes of cosmopolitan, global citizen and global network, the term has attempted to label the university both internally and externally. But for many students, it is void of meaning  — another weightless catchphrase that has never been clearly defined.
“I think it’s a very vague and abstract term,” said senior Alejandra Pinto. “I remember when I was a freshman, they used to call the school the World’s Honors College [even though] we had just started. There was nothing that could prove that we were the World’s Honors College.”
Pinto recalled hearing the phrase being used when, four years ago, she joined NYUAD as part of its inaugural class. For Pinto and her classmates, the word seemed to set certain expectations.
“It’s not something where we were like, ‘Yeah, I made it to the World’s Honors College,’” said Pinto. “It was more like, ‘Oh, I have to make this the World’s Honors College.’”
Fellow senior Dmitriy Tretyakov also said that the term established a high standard for his freshman year. However, since then, he said that that the term’s popularity and prevalence seem to have decreased.
“It created a benchmark for ourselves [in] freshman year, and now that this benchmark is not needed anymore, we’re not using World’s Honors College as much,” said Tretyakov. “It seems like a pretty reasonable term. I mean, World implies international… And [as for] Honors College, it’s NYU so it’s established that this this is a good academic environment.”
Freshman Martin Slosarik said that the title may be fading as NYUAD gains more students and its self-image begins to solidify.
“I think [four years ago], PR was more important because they were trying to recruit people,” said Slosarik. “They hadn’t created an image yet, so they had to cast one this way. I would like to think [the term is] true. I think the new branch in Shanghai might have similar ambitions, so it might not be sustainable.”
As the term’s impact within the community seem to lessen, students also called into question its authority outside the university.
“I’m not sure how our university is recognized by people outside of the school,” said Tretyakov. “World’s Honors College is something rather subjective. This is not a label we have received from a … committee.”
Sophomore Dean Shaff expressed a similar sentiment.
“I feel like I’ve only heard it here at NYUAD … To me it’s like saying ‘all natural’ on a food label,” said Shaff. “There’s no prerequisite or criteria by which one becomes ‘all natural’ or by which one becomes ‘The World’s Honors College.’ There’s nothing that grants you that status other than just calling yourself that.”
Haomin Lum, a senior who is currently studying abroad in Abu Dhabi from NYU New York, had not heard the term being used very often among either students or administration.
“Before I came I didn’t know it was [The World’s Honors College],” said Lum. “I think a couple people may have told me [the university] was really hard to get into, and it was prestigious. But I think I only got the memo when I got here.”
“It’s definitely harder [here], in my opinion, than NYU New York,” Lum added. “And I think the teachers are more engaged because the student size is smaller. But I don’t know what Honors College means.”
Despite the term’s ambiguity, Pinto thought World’s Honors College may be an appropriate fit for NYUAD’s dedication to academics.
"I guess the World’s Honors College, academically, would suit Abu Dhabi," said Pinto. "Not only [in terms of] academic challenges, but also the interest students show in classes."
As a science student, Shaff maintained a similar opinion.
“I’d say that academics stand up to other fantastic liberal arts schools back in the States,” said Shaff.
However, the term World’s Honors College may demand excellence that extends beyond the academic sphere and goes on to influence a student’s professional aspirations.
“It especially comes up [now that] we’re doing capstones and all of us are very excited because we all want to do amazing, world-challenging projects,” said Tretyakov. “Maybe this will be the year when we proudly say we graduated from the World’s Honors College. But we will be talking about this among ourselves and probably not mentioning this brand to anyone else.”
Josh Fein said that as the growing NYUAD community continues to shape the university’s image, this early phrase is no longer as necessary.
“We have used it less and less often over the years, as our student body and faculty now do a better job of representing who we are than we ever could have hoped to accomplish with a simple tagline,” said Fein.
Zoe Hu is features editor. Joey Bui is news editor. Email them at 
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