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HonorSociety.org: An academic honor or a rip-off? By Sammy Gibbons FEATURES EDITOR

Marilyn Sallee checked her Wiscmail account throughout the previous year to find, on several occasions, emails from an organization called HonorSociety.org. The messages commended her “academic achievements” and accepted her into the society. The catch? Sallee attends classes at UW-Madison as a senior guest auditor, meaning she does not receive grades for or any measurement of such “achievements” as normal students do. Sallee said, “the claims about my high grades qualifying me for this Honor Society were very suspicious.” This was among many other characteristics attached to the organization that may raise red flags. HonorSociety.org is, as their emails read, “the preeminent organization dedicated to recognition of student success.” The organization operates heavily through their website, particularly for members from institutions like UW-Madison where there is no physical chapter. According to HonorSociety. org Executive Director Michael Moradian, not everyone at UW-Madison receives an email from them, but everyone is eligible to join. He said they work directly with the university to determine who they send the emails to. Because the university is a public institution, directory information, including email addresses, “is releasable under state open records law upon request,” according to UW-Madison spokesperson Meredith McGlone. GPA is not available for public access, but awards such as Dean’s Lists are, although individuals like Sallee do not appear on Dean’s Lists. However, she said there has not been a directory-information

KATIE SCHEIDT/CARDINAL FILE PHOTO

Many students at UW-Madison have received emails from HonorSociety.org, recognizing them for their acceptance into the society. Some university officials, however, have called the site a “rip-off.” request from HonorSociety.org in the last three years. Anyone can make a request, though, so an individual may have requested the information without naming the organization. “UW-Madison does not have any institutional relationship with HonorSociety.org nor do we endorse it or encourage students to participate in it,” McGlone said in an email. The Association of College Honor Societies, which is described on their website as “a visibly cohesive community of national and international honor societies,” does not include HonorSociety.org as a member of its community. According to a USA Today article, most professional honor societies are certified by ACHS. They have a warning posted on their website that

encourages students to thoroughly research organizations they receive invitations from, like HonorSociety. org. And they offer a checklist that describes criteria for determining whether an honors society is legitimate or not. ACHS Executive Director Lisa Wootton Booth said HonorSociety. org, as well as similar organizations, “call themselves honor societies without even meeting the most basic of these standards around minimum scholastic criteria.” “They are merely for-profit groups happy to accept membership fees from any and all students regardless of accomplishments or lack thereof,” Booth said in an email. “Belonging to their organization does not actually confer any sort of genuine honor.”

HonorSociety.org does charge a membership fee of $50 bi-annually. Moradian said fees are necessary in order to ensure members are “invested in the society.” He said the money goes toward building programs and serving members, as well as funding scholarships and other benefits members receive, which include dining and health discounts. According to Sabine Gross, director of the UW-Madison College of Letters & Science Honors Program, it is not unusual for “reputable Honors societies” to require such a fee, but these societies then have “clear admissions criteria,” which HonorSociety.org lacks. Moradian said this is a move for their mission to become more inclusive. “To be a member it’s just quite simply taking the initiative to join,”

Moradian said. “It’s an open process, and it’s purposely not prohibited. We don’t want to turn people away. We’re looking to build an inviting culture.” He added other benefits the organization offers, which academic scholarships, as well as leadership and networking opportunities. Alison Rice, an undergraduate scholarships officer in the College of Letters and Science, listed several questions to ask when evaluating honor societies—one was “is there an active local chapter?” and another “is there a local contact that I can call?” UW-Madison first-year nursing student Abbey Vadnais, a member of HonorSociety.org who received a scholarship through the organization, said she has not been in communication with other members or leaders associated with HonorSociety.org. However, her scholarship—which she was applied for by writing a short essay—was legitimate. Logging onto the HonorSociety. org website today, you will not find UW-Madison in the list of chapters. Moradian said this is due to new features and upgrades they are installing over the summer, which include a new app, additional social networking features and an Honor Society Rewards Credit Card. Booth and Gross both said they urge students to thoroughly research HonorSociety.org and ask questions before forking over membership fees to what Gross called a “rip-off.” “It’s analogous to invitation to ‘publish your poetry’ for a fee, or invitations to submit one’s bio to a ‘national directory of scholars’ for a hefty sum,” Gross said in an email. “I can see how unsuspecting recipients might be taken in or at least wonder—but [HonorSociety.org] fails every serious test of credibility.”

UW employees to complete program against sexual harassment and violence By Lawrence Andrea CAMPUS NEWS EDITOR

Starting this July, all UW-Madison employees are now required to take an online sexual violence prevention education course as part of the university’s efforts to crack down on sexual assault and harassment. “Promoting Equity at UW– Madison by Preventing Sexual Harassment and Sexual Violence” is a one-hour training module aimed to teach UW-Madison faculty definitions of sexual harassment, assault and stalking, as well as prevention strategies and how to report incidents.

“The way we start to change [the growth of sexual violence] is to make faculty aware of what is acceptable behavior and to hold each other accountable.” Bret Payseur member UW-Madison Sexual Assault Climate Survey Task Force

This introduction comes just over a year after an Association of American Universities survey found

high rates of female professional and graduate students reporting sexual harassment by UW-Madison professors. Survey results showed just 4.1 percent of female undergraduates reported sexual harassment by university faculty compared to 32.9 percent of female graduate or professional students. The online training program— hosted in Learn@UW—was created in response to federal, state and UW System expectations, but was also influenced by recommendations made by the Sexual Assault Climate Survey Task Force, according to UW-Madison genetics professor and task force member Bret Payseur. Payseur said that after the task force survey found “a remarkable rate of sexual harassment of graduate and professional students by faculty members,” they offered recommendations about how to deal with this issue. One solution was to increase awareness and training for employees on campus. “Faculty are charged with educating students, but they are also charged with keeping them safe,” Payseur said. “I think it is fundamental that we are aware, as faculty, of the

scope and nature of this problem and that we are part of the solution. This means knowing how to effectively respond when a student approaches a professor and reports an experience they’ve had.”

“Faculty are charged with educating students, but they are also charged with keeping them safe.” Bret Payseur member UW-Madison Sexual Assault Climate Survey Task Force

Payseur acknowledged that sexual violence and harassment has become a growing problem at UW-Madison but said that this prevention program is a part of the solution. “The way we start to change [the growth of sexual violence] is to make faculty aware of what is acceptable behavior and to hold each other accountable,” Payseur said. UW-Madison employees will be required to take a refresher course every three years. The university plans to have the program available in different languages by 2018.

CAMERON LANE-FLEHINGER/CARDINAL FILE PHOTO

UW-Madison employees will be required to take an online sexual violence prevention education course as part of the university’s efforts to crack down on sexual assault and harassment on campus.

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