University Reapplies for Phi Beta Kappa Chapter

Posted: January 7, 2004 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Fran Rensbarger

George Mason recently reapplied to house a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa Society (PBK), the nation’s oldest and most prestigious honor society.

“We expect to hear back from them this spring. If they accept the preliminary application, PBK will ask us to submit the formal application, called the General Report,” says Wendy Payton, director of special projects in the Office of the Provost.

Founded in 1776 at the College of William and Mary, the society is the nation’s oldest and largest academic honor society, with 270 chapters and more than half a million members. Its mission is to champion liberal arts education, recognize academic excellence, and foster freedom of thought and expression. The chartering of a chapter, granted to the Phi Beta Kappa members of the faculty and administration of the sheltering institution, is a recognition of the university’s excellence in the liberal arts and sciences.

“I think we missed by a whisker last time. The committee that visited us recommended our membership. It’s just that this is a somewhat conservative organization, and it’s not unusual to fail your first time around,” says Provost Peter Stearns. “There are several things that have changed since the prior application.”

The major reasons given for the rejection of the first application were the university’s aggressive growth plan and the committee’s uncertainty about where George Mason will be several years from now; the university’s heavy reliance on adjuncts for freshman and sophomore classes; and the Board of Visitors’ (BOV) past interference in faculty governance.

“I think the faculty-BOV relationship is much less troubled than was the case at the previous application point,” Stearns says. “I think [the committee] would be hard-pressed to point to cases where the faculty has not been able to maintain adequate voice in academic matters. I think that’s a big change.”

The adjunct issue remains, but we have all sorts of adjuncts, adds Stearns. “Some clearly enhance our educational strength.”

At the same time, Stearns notes, the university’s application is bolstered by the quality of Mason students. “The lack of a Phi Beta Kappa chapter is even more distressing than it was three years ago,” he says. “These are the types of students in liberal arts fields that they should want to welcome into the society’s membership.”

If the preliminary application is approved, the university will submit a General Report in the fall. Once that is approved, a PBK subcommittee will visit the campus in the spring of 2005. A final decision will be made by the society in the spring of 2006.

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