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Robert K. Thomas

Dr. Robert K. Thomas, Professor of English, founded the BYU Honors Program in 1960. After joining the BYU faculty in 1951, he became a vocal advocate for an Honors Program at the University. He wanted a space at BYU where the best and brightest could gather and create a community of scholars. Professor Thomas was largely inspired by his own undergraduate experience as an Honors student at Reed College in Oregon, and knew an Honors program at BYU could provide students with life-changing educational experiences. Specifically, Thomas advocated for smaller and more specialized classes that could facilitate valuable discussions between students and professors. Dr. Richard Poll, the first Honors Associate Director, said of Robert K. Thomas, “He felt a special affinity for the aspiring few and truly believed they would set a standard that would raise the level of academic achievement throughout the university.”

Because of his advocacy, years of support, and professional accomplishments, Professor Thomas was appointed as the first Honors Program Director. He lead the program from 1960-1967 and in 1967 he was named an Assistant Vice-President. Later he became an Academic Vice-President of the University. He was well known for his article A Literary Analysis of the Book of Mormon and the 5 volume series he co-edited titled Out of the Best Books. In the later part of his career, Professor Thomas stated that he considered one of his greatest achievements at BYU as “getting the idea of an Honors program rather widely accepted.”

Robert K. Thomas retired from BYU in 1983 and was called to serve as a mission president in Melbourne, Australia. He passed away in 1998 at the age of 80, and shortly afterwards the Robert K. Thomas professorship was created in BYU’s J. Reuben Clark Law School in his Honor. In 1999 an anonymous donor endowed a generous scholarship fund in Robert K. Thomas’ name to be granted to Honors students to commemorate his memory. As of 2019, over 200 students have benefited from a Robert K. Thomas Scholarship.