A Semester in Oxford

Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), Oxfam, British Parliament, world class professors, highly focused seminars, and individual tutorials. These are just a few of the opportunities for students participating in the International Honors (IHON)-Oxford Program on social justice. The 2014 inaugural year of the program was better than we could have imagined. Among other things, students learned that their PLU education prepares them to engage with the very best of their peers.

I often get asked if PLU students are as good as Oxford students. One motivation for this question is the prestige of Oxford University and the excellence demanded of students who attend. I could answer this by elaborating on the maturity of our Honors students and how this is a key to their academic success. I could also expand on the inquisitive energy each student brings to pressing questions such as war, violence, security, and humanitarian work. An Oxford tutor, however, best described PLU students in a way that is worth repeating. In all of her years tutoring students, both those enrolled at Oxford and those like our students who are visiting, she said that her PLU student was in the top 5% of all she had tutored. To those outside of PLU, this might raise eyebrows. I mean, it is Oxford after all, right?  To those of us who have the good fortune of teaching PLU students, this comes as no surprise.

So, what might this anecdote suggest?

First, PLU continues to recruit the very best students for what is without a doubt one of the most unique Honors program around. Second, if what the 2015 cohort says is accurate, the IHON-Oxford program plays a significant role in attracting these best students. These students understand how offering a program like IHON-Oxford distinguishes PLU from virtually all other universities on the West Coast. Finally, it suggests PLU’s reputation is growing beyond the Pacific Northwest to the far reaches of the UK. In particular, as our students represent us in Oxford seminars and tutorials, others begin to see how PLU exemplifies the best of US Liberal Arts education, in general, and educating lives for service, in particular.

Additionally, the IHON-Oxford program reflects PLU’s growing dedication to what has been called “disciplined interdisciplinary.” On the one hand, students are introduced to specific disciplinary methods and questions around social justice issues like humanitarian intervention, the ethics of war, and efforts to promote peace and strategic non-violence. On the other hand, students learn that others approach these questions with different disciplinary commitments.  Instead of reinforcing rigid disciplinary boundaries, then, the IHON-Oxford program intentionally and proudly brings together the best of what various disciplines have to offer with the goal of producing the best theoretical and practical responses to pressing issues of the day.

The IHON-Oxford program is a unique opportunity for students to study at one of the world’s leading universities. It is also an opportunity for others to see the kind of work that has long characterized what it means to be a member of the PLU community.

— Greg Johnson, Director