By Aïda Rogers
When Ed Munn Sanchez talks about the South Carolina Honors College, two words frequently occur: “interesting” and “fun.” That’s how he describes the students and alumni, his colleagues, and the programs he’s helped plan and implement in his 12 years as assistant dean.
“I don’t think I ever came to this place and not had a good laugh,” says Munn Sanchez, a philosophy professor who arrived at Carolina in 1995 to teach logic. This summer, he will leave USC for the Pierre Laclede Honors College at the University of Missouri-St. Louis—this time as dean.
“I’m not the first person to become an honors dean from SCHC,” he notes. “Leslie Sargent-Jones was my colleague for my first two years and she went from here to become the dean of the honors college at Appalachian State University. I think this is amazingly good preparation because the assistant deans here have so much responsibility.”
Besides managing an annual curriculum of 600 courses, Munn Sanchez has helped guide the establishment and growth of the college’s four Beyond the Classroom programs. Then there’s the growth of the college itself: 2,000 students this fall, a significant increase from about 1,350 enrolled when Munn Sanchez came to the SCHC in 2006. In St. Louis, he will be overseeing a college of 600 students.
“Here we have a built program. Our goals here are about taking the top honors college and finding the next big thing. It’s very much about being a leader nationally and internationally. Where I’m going, it will be more about building a program.”
Close to his heart
On his side are years of experience learning what works. One initiative he plans to take is his beloved Artists in Residence program, for which students applied for stipends to create art—visual, musical, theatrical, literary, and combinations of all four. Munn Sanchez supervised the selection process and advised the student curator, culminating in a gallery reception that included artist talks, performances, and unveilings.
“It’s fun to watch the students stay engaged,” he reflects. “Almost all of the Artists in Residence students have been STEM majors. Some of the work is really exceptional, and then you find out a chemist created it.”
Alongside the Artists in Residence program is another Munn Sanchez favorite, the Experimental Music course. In this SCHC “Cool Course,” students—some majoring in music, others not—studied contemporary music. With some playing traditional instruments and others using unconventional sound-makers, including plastic bags and bottle tops, the students have toured the east coast and presented concerts in Columbia and New York City, the latter in conjunction with the International Contemporary Ensemble. They have had opportunities to work with the composers of the music and record it. One of the recordings was reviewed favorably in a New York Times arts blog.
“Greg Stuart had been teaching a course on Bob Dylan for us, and in a conversation he said experimental music was his passion and what he would like to teach,” Munn Sanchez explains. “From there it was easy. Greg did all of the work, I just encouraged him and helped with the logistics and organization.”
Munn Sanchez also is a musician who plays several stringed instruments. In high school and as a Cornell College undergraduate, he sang in choirs.
“The arts are really close to my heart. Growing up in Madrid I was able to go to the Prado Museum and to all of these amazing architectural sites. We moved a good bit around Europe so I was able to experience all sorts of art and culture. I’m glad we can provide the opportunity to keep our students engaged in these kinds of exceptional experiences.”
‘The idea that ideas matter’
No doubt many Honors students would consider Munn Sanchez’ philosophy course exceptional. “How to Live the Good Life and Be True to Yourself,” with the buzzword “authenticity” in its description, is really a modern title for a philosophy course based on Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Romanticism, he says. In St. Louis, he plans to teach one philosophy course a semester while juggling other duties as dean.
“I’m pretty passionate about undergraduate education and its connection to civic life. I’ve written about it. I take it seriously. It’s kind of nerdy, but I think the idea that ideas matter is something I got into young and never got away from.”
His passion for ideas and the study of them led him from Cornell to Emory University for his master’s and Ph.D. When he arrived at USC, his path seemed clear: teach philosophy until retirement. His detour into administration has been as fulfilling as it’s been surprising.
“I never thought this would be a direction I would go. Now my work in philosophy has shifted. I probably read and think about education as much as anything, and now that’s primarily the place where I read.”
At 55, Munn Sanchez says his “persona” also has shifted—from the “young, hip professor who could easily identify with students” to the “old, crusty professor.” But his drive to help students succeed hasn’t shifted at all, except to become stronger.
“I really am pretty driven by this idea that education can make a real difference in civic life and how individuals flourish,” he says. He will stay his course in St. Louis. “This puts me in a position to improve how education works. To do it at an instructional level is still exciting to me. It’s not just a job, but something powerful.”
Q&A with Ed Munn Sanchez
What you appreciate about the SCHC: “We’re bigger, better organized, better institutionalized, but with the same core of attention to students. We still talk to people face to face.”
What have you learned about yourself by working at the SCHC: “I’m good at organizing things. I never thought of myself as an orderly person, but I do like spreadsheets and keeping track of things, which is good for what I have to do.”
You are grateful to your parents because: “Among many things, they did not laugh when I said I wanted to major in philosophy. Both my parents thought that was really exciting.”
What will you miss about living here: “That is a long list. On the top is the Honors College and the people. One of the best things about working at a university is you rarely work with boring people. I love the Saluda River. I know St. Louis has nice rivers but you can’t be on them year-round. I’m going to miss Beaufort a lot; I think it’s just gorgeous. And the Congaree Swamp. It’s a gem people don’t appreciate.”
Anything else: The Horseshoe, particularly in the spring. When the azaleas are out behind the McKissick, I go out of my way to work in the morning just to see them. I will definitely miss the historic part of the campus, and this is someone from Madrid! I’m never going to have that again.”
Fun tidbit: “My wife, Sue Carstensen, an advisor in the Honors College and my daughter, Anna Maria, who is a student at Hand Middle School, are coming to St. Louis too. But not my son, David, who is a rising junior in the Honors College. He is very much enjoying his time here, doing all the standard Honors College things. He has no interest in being anywhere else.”