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July, 2019

New Program Director Is Passionate About Honors

By Lisa Carroll

Christopher Kaczor meets with students to discuss the university’s honors program.

Christopher Kaczor is an expert on bioethics who is comfortable speaking in the classroom and being interviewed on television. But a couple decades ago when he left Seattle to become an undergrad at Boston College, he felt the same emotions many freshmen experience: loneliness and homesickness. If it wasn’t for his participation in his university’s honors program, which enabled him to bond with a smaller segment of his class, he says he might have left the university.

His experience there was so positive that he cites it as one of the reasons he came to Catholic University this fall to take the position of director of the University Honors Program, replacing Associate Professor Ingrid Merkel, the program’s first director.

“Hopefully I can help other students have that experience for themselves. It really did change me. I wouldn’t be in academia at all if it weren’t for the orientation I got within an honors program,” says the new program director (whose last name is pronounced “KAY-zor”).

In college, Augustine’s Confessions and Aristotle’s Ethics made big impressions on Kaczor, and he went on to get a Ph.D. in medieval philosophy from the University of Notre Dame. He says that the opportunity to be associated with CUA’s School of Philosophy also attracted him to CUA, as did the university’s Washington, D.C., location.

“As a philosopher, for me to come to a school of philosophy with such a rich and ongoing tradition as Catholic is exciting,” he says. “I’ve known about the school since I was an undergraduate and I have read books by various philosophy professors from CUA.”

The honors program, started in 1985 with a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, offers courses in the following six subjects: philosophy, the humanities, social science, environmental studies, media studies, and contemporary Catholicism. To be designated a “university scholar,” students must take 12 honors courses — four in each of three subject areas — as well as a capstone course in which they complete and present a research project.

Kaczor cites the program’s flexibility as one of its strengths and what makes it unique.

“Most other honors programs have a curriculum that’s preordained. You don’t really have many options as to what you’re going to study,” he says. “Our program is different because you can tailor it to a person’s interests to a greater degree than any other program of which I’m aware.”

To be accepted into the program, students must have a 3.5 high school grade point average and a minimum score of 1300 on the SAT exam. “An ideal candidate is someone who is a well-rounded leader and interested in life in general, not just in grades,” Kaczor adds.

Ten to 15 percent of each freshman class is typically admitted to the program. Once at CUA, honors students are expected to maintain a 3.5 GPA and receive grades of B or higher in honors courses.

All the hard work comes with a few rewards. Every spring break the honors program leads weeklong educational trips abroad (at the students' expense). At CUA, honors students live in the Honors Residential Community located in Regan Hall, where they get unique opportunities to attend lectures and discussion groups. Finally, honors courses are usually smaller in size, which allows for more classroom discussion in which students can hone communication skills.

Kaczor's areas of expertise include bioethics and the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas.

In addition to being director of the program, Kaczor is also a faculty member in the School of Philosophy. Before coming to CUA, he taught philosophy at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles for nine years and became the Robert H. Taylor Chair in Philosophy. He is both a Thomist and a specialist in medical ethics, his most recent book being Life Issues, Medical Choices: Questions and Answers for Catholics, co-written with Janet Smith and published in 2007 by Servant Press.

Kaczor’s interest in bioethics — the ethics of biological science and medicine — goes back to his elementary school years. When he was in fourth grade, he debated a classmate about abortion. Although he admits to losing that debate, his interest was aroused so he learned more about the topic.

“Bioethics brings together unchanging ethical principles and changing concrete situations, so it's always an interesting combination,” he says.

He willingly shares his expertise in bioethics beyond the classroom. This month, he’ll appear on EWTN-TV to talk about Life Issues, Medical Choices.

“I enjoy speaking to the media because it is like having a gigantic classroom and being able to engage thousands of people at once,” he says.

He has also recently written a booklet titled How to Stay Catholic in College, published by Catholic Answers Press. He got the idea for the booklet when his college-bound sister asked people to write advice for her in a small book. A letter he wrote for another family member headed off to college ended up being the first draft for the booklet.

“I think the topic is so important because college really is a time of crisis — a time of decision that can deeply shape a person for years to come,” he says.

Kaczor “is a respected scholar in several fields, but especially in bioethics,” says Timothy Shanahan, Kaczor’s former colleague and a professor of philosophy at Loyola Marymount University. “His books are rigorous yet accessible — a difficult feat to accomplish. Perhaps the word that best sums up his efforts is ‘prolific’ — he’s the father of seven children and almost as many books. He also cares deeply about the craft of teaching and doing it well. When I was chair [of the philosophy department], I had to turn away many students who wanted to be added to his popular at-capacity course on Ethics of Love and Marriage. He was frequently the main advocate in the department for embracing and enhancing the Catholic character of Loyola Marymount University, playfully comparing Catholics in the university to walnuts in a walnut salad.

“Chris occupied the office next to mine at Loyola Marymount for many years. Thanks to insufficient soundproofing, I probably know him better than even he realizes. Alas, I have not a shred of information with which to blackmail him. He's the great guy he appears to be.”

As for the future of the honors program, Kaczor has some plans in mind. He’s met with former students, current students and faculty to address the goals of the program and how those goals are being met.

“This will be an ongoing conversation," he says. "It could be the case that we decide we need to alter our goals. On the other hand, we could say that we like the goals that we already have but that we have to work on reaching them more effectively or we have to come up with a different way of measuring how effective we are at reaching them."

Kaczor also wants to raise the program’s profile, especially in areas outside the school’s typical mid-Atlantic recruiting grounds.

Already, he’s working on highlighting the achievements of honors students and alumni. He has started profiling their achievements on the program’s Web site ( The site also lists graduate schools and career paths that honors students have gotten into after graduating from CUA.

“Our students and alumni are doing a lot of amazing things. I want to raise the profile of that,” he says. “If students see other people’s achievements, it can inspire them.”

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Last Revised 31-Oct-07 03:13 PM.