Phi Beta Kappa is the oldest academic honor society in America – almost as old as the United States itself – as it was founded at the College of William and Mary in December of 1776.
In its lengthy history, PBK has had more than half a million members, including 17 U.S. Presidents, 40 Supreme Court Justices and around 140 Nobel Laureates.
Now, the University of South Florida is joining the fraternity as it and three other schools were voted in during PBK’s recent meeting in Boston.
WUSF's University Beat spoke to USF Provost Ralph Wilcox about the honor.
“The alignment between the core values of USF and the core values of Phi Beta Kappa are palpable,” said Wilcox. “Our commitment to academic excellence, our recognition and dedication to ensuring free speech, free enquiry across campus is critically important, perhaps at this time like no other in recent American history.”
“We’re exceedingly delighted that Phi Beta Kappa is coming to USF and we will join 286 other fine university and college chapters across the country,” he added.
The top ten percent of graduates in USF’s College of The Arts and College of Arts and Sciences will be eligible for entry to PBK. The inductees, known as “key holders,” will be eligible for scholarships and will have access to the group’s national network of professionals. In addition, PBK will send alumni lecturers to USF through its Visiting Scholars Program.
USF’s election to PBK is a bit of a rarity for a number of reasons.
Only 36 percent of the members are public institutions like USF, and the average founding date of members is 1860, almost a century before USF’s founding in 1956.
USF was joined by Chapman University, Loyola Marymount University and Mississippi State University in being voted into PBK by other members during its recent meeting in Boston. The organization adds new members every three years.
“The decision in the Boston was the culmination of three years of hard work and focused effort on the part of Phi Beta Kappa members at USF,” said Wilcox. “Some might say it’s painful, I think the rewards at the end of the day to those deserving students graduating from USF make it well worth the effort.”
USF will be known as the Eta – Greek for “seventh” – Florida chapter, as it joins Florida State University, University of Florida, and Florida International University as the state’s public school members. Stetson University, University of Miami and Eckerd College are Florida’s public university members in the group.
“Our Phi Beta Kappa faculty will be partnering with their colleagues across other universities to bring greater visibility and interconnectedness to Phi Beta Kappa-sponsored programs across the state,” said Wilcox.
Wilcox added that USF has 63 faculty members in the College of The Arts and the College of Arts and Sciences who are PBK members. Faculty in other colleges, like Engineering, who are members don’t count toward that total according to PBK rules.
USF will host a formal installation chapter of its PBK chapter during the fall. The first group of students will be inducted next spring.