Phi Beta Kappa

Background of Phi Beta Kappa

Phi Beta KappaOn December 5, 1776, a group of young male students of the College of William and Mary in Virginia, meeting in the Apollo Room of the Raleigh Tavern, Williamsburg, formed the Phi Beta Kappa Society, which they dedicated to high purposes with eighteenth-century eloquence.

The first members debated such subjects as "The cause and origin of society," "Whether a wise state hath any interest nearer at heart than the education of the youth," "Whether anything is more dangerous to civile liberty in a free state than a standing army in a time of peace," and "Whether theatrical exhibitions are advantageous to states or ye contrary." Fraternal sentiments were fostered, occasional meetings were held for social purposes, and anniversaries were celebrated.

The establishment at Yale in 1780 and Harvard in 1781 of New England branches ensured the perpetuation and propagation of the Society. During the following half century four more chapters were founded. The need of a closer unity and greater uniformity of practices led, in 1883, to the organization of the national body, the United Chapters of Phi Beta Kappa. At present there are 262 chapters.

In 1875, the Society extended the privilege of membership to women. In 1926, the 115th anniversary made the occasion for raising an endowment fund and for exploring ways of encouraging scholarship in educational institutions across the country. More recently, the Society has joined in the defense of freedom of teaching and inquiry and of the liberal ideal in education.

Phi Beta Kappa is recognized as not only the oldest but also the most prestigious honor society in the United States. For more than 200 years, election to Phi Beta Kappa has been a recognition of intellectual capacities well employed, especially in the acquiring of an education in the liberal arts and sciences. The objectives of humane learning encouraged by Phi Beta Kappa include intellectual honesty and tolerance, range of intellectual interests, and understanding—not merely knowledge.

For more information about the chapter or about eligibility for membership, contact Sabrina Grondhuis, assistant professor of psychology.

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History of the Millsaps Chapter

Efforts to secure a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa at Millsaps College were begun in 1931, in the administration of Dr. David Martin Key. Hopes for an early approval were defeated by lack of sufficient endowment, in the eyes of the National Society, to support an academic program of truly first quality. Also there was not a sufficient number of Millsaps faculty who were themselves members of Phi Beta Kappa. Before these deficiencies were corrected, American involvement in World War II led the National Society to suspend the granting of new chapters for a time. After the war was ended, the issue of racial segregation came rapidly into focus on the national scene, and it became clear that the National Council would not charter any institution that was racially segregated.

In 1965, the Millsaps Board of Trustees approved a policy of admissions without regard to race, and a renewed effort to secure a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa was inaugurated in the late 1970s. With Millsaps' increased resources, improved curriculum, the attainment of the requisite number of Phi Beta Kappa faculty, the National Society approved a visitation by the Committee on Qualifications. This visit took place in early 1987. Its members recommended the granting of a chapter at Millsaps; the recommendation was approved by the Senate of Phi Beta Kappa and referred to the Council of the United Chapters for final action on the matter. Meeting in San Antonio, Texas, on October 29, 1988, the Council voted well over the required two-thirds majority to approve a chapter at Millsaps.

The installation ceremony was performed on March 4, 1989, by the National President of Phi Beta Kappa Society, Dr. Otis A. Singletary. By appropriate coincidence, Dr. Singletary (who also served as president of the University of Kentucky from 1969 to 1987) received his B.A. degree from Millsaps College in 1947.

The charter members of the Millsaps Chapter (Alpha of Mississippi) were Priscilla Fermon, Alan Graves, George M. Harmon, Robert H. King, Frank M. Laney, Jr., Richard P. Mallette, Suzanne Marrs, Judith W. Page, Lee H. Reiff, Edward L. Schrader, Elise L. Smith, Steven G. Smith, and Austin Wilson.

Elected to Phi Beta Kappa at the Installation Ceremony for their own distinguished achievements and as representation of those contributing to Millsaps' high scholarly ideals were five Foundation Members: Ross H. Moore, representing faculty; Homer E. Finger, Jr., representing the Methodist Church; Nathaniel S. Rogers, representing the Board of Trustees; Gwin J. Kolb, representing scholarship; and Eudora Welty, representing the creative arts.

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Requirements for Membership

  1. The student must be a candidate for a liberal arts degree (B.A., B.S.) with a liberal arts and science major (all majors at Millsaps except accounting, business administration, and education). At least three-fourths of the work required for a degree must be in liberal arts and sciences.

  2. A minimum of one-half of the work required for graduation must be completed at Millsaps.

  3. The student must have had, or be taking in the spring of their senior year, one course in mathematics, Survey of Calculus (MATH 1210) or above, which must be taken for a letter grade. AP credit is currently not accepted for this election requirement, but the following change will be implemented for students graduating in December 2016 and later: Evidence of proficiency in mathematics at the level of Survey of Calculus (MATH 1210) or above. The mathematics requirement will be met through Millsaps course credit that appears on a student's academic record. That credit can be earned through courses taken at Millsaps or at another institution of higher learning, or through AP, IB, or A-level exam credit that has been applied to a student's record as Millsaps course credit, or through a score on a departmental proficiency or placement exam, provided that the student places at a level above Survey of Calculus.

  4. The student must have had, or be taking in the spring of their senior year, one course in a foreign language at the intermediate level (2000) or above, which must be taken for a letter grade. AP credit is currently not accepted for this election requirement, but the following change will be implemented for students graduating in December 2016 and later: Evidence of proficiency in a foreign language at the intermediate level (2000) or above. The language requirement will be met through Millsaps course credit that appears on a student's academic record. That credit can be earned through courses taken at Millsaps or at another institution of higher learning, or through AP, IB, or A-level exam credit that has been applied to a student's record as Millsaps course credit, or through a score on a departmental proficiency or the appropriate SAT-II language exam, provided that the student's score merits exemption from intermediate-level language study. Students who complete their high school educations in a language other than English may submit their transcripts and evidence of language competence to the chapter for consideration, normally no later than their junior year.

  5. A student must have a minimum cumulative grade point average of 3.70 based on seven or more semesters of work (Grades earned in courses for applied or professional work that are intended primarily to develop skills or vocational techniques are not counted in computing GPA for the purpose of election to Phi Beta Kappa).

  6. Transfer students must meet the GPA requirement both on work done at Millsaps and on their college work as a whole.

  7. No more than 10 percent of the liberal arts and sciences graduates may be elected to Phi Beta Kappa from a graduating class. The requirements above are only the minimum requirements for eligibility and do not necessarily guarantee election to membership. The limitation of electing no more than ten percent of a graduating class necessarily implies that more stringent criteria will have to be applied if the number of candidates who meet the minimum requirements exceeds that percentage in any year.

  8. With the help of the Office of Records and the Dean of Students, a committee of the chapter goes through student transcripts of prospective graduates in the spring, recalculating GPA where necessary, and determines the pool of students who meet the minimum requirements. Records and the committee calculate the number that would represent no more than 10 percent of the likely liberal arts and sciences graduates. The chapter then meets and considers the pool of eligible candidates ranked by GPA but without other identifying characteristics (i.e., no name or major is indicated) and determines those who will be invited to become members. An initiation ceremony for new members followed by a chapter banquet is held toward the end of spring semester each year.

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Faculty and Staff Members

George Bruhn, Physics

Lee Ann Bryan, Institutional Advancement

Sue Carrie Drummond, Art

Stacy Dezutter, Department of Education

Priscilla Fermon, Department of Modern Languages

Blakely Fox Fender, Else School of Management

Laura Franey, Department of English

Eric Griffin, Department of English

Sabrina Grondhuis (President), Department of Psychology

Kathryn Hahn, Psychology

Monica Jovanovich-Kelley, Art History

Tanya Newkirk, Study Abroad Programs

Rob Pearigen, President of Millsaps College

Michael Pickard (Vice President), English

Shadow Robinson, Department of Physics

Elise L. Smith (Historian), Department of Art

Steven G. Smith, Departments of Religious Studies & Philosophy

Kenneth Townsend, Special Assistant to the President and Department of Political Science

Jennifer Lewton-Yates (Secretary/Treasurer), Department of Classics

For more information about the chapter or about eligibility for membership, contact Sabrina Grondhuis, assistant professor of psychology.

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