For the first time in history, the Phi Beta Kappa Society is considering Mercer University to shelter a chapter. This oldest and most widely-known academic honor society was the first college society to use Greek letters for its name, and includes members such as Condoleezza Rice, Bill Clinton and Glenn Close within its ranks.
In the College of Liberal Arts at Mercer alone, there are approximately twenty faculty members who were inducted into PBK when they were in college.
“This is a major initiative on part of the university,” said Dr. David Davis, one of the faculty who helped prepare the application for shelter status. “This is reflected in the university’s strategic plan.” Mercer has been applying for shelter status since 2000, and this year marks the first time that the university has ever been accepted past the preliminary application phase. This past week, visitors from the society’s Committee on Qualifications visited the Macon campus to assess the university.
“Phi Beta Kappa is one signifier of an excellent university,” said Davis. “The most compelling reason to do this is to make it clear to everyone that Mercer’s best students are among the very best students in the nation. That’s why we’ve put years worth of time and thousands of dollars worth of money into this process. Because we believe our students are among the best.”
The application committee consisted of the following Mercer faculty: Dr. Jeffrey Denny, associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts; Dr. Mary Alice Morgan, senior vice provost; Dr. Miranda Pratt, professor of psychology; Dr. Katharine Northcutt, professor of biology; Dr. Sarah Gardner, professor of history and Dr. Lori Johnson, professor of political science. However, all of the university was involved in gathering data for the application.
“All across the university, everyone has really come together on this, and has been a single push forward,” said Denny.
“It’s normal for a university to apply multiple times before sheltering a chapter. If anything, our progress has been very good along the way,” said Davis. “We’ve made very, very good progress.”
However, this is not just something wanted by the faculty and administration. “There are students involved in the process,” said Denny. “[The members of the committee] are especially interested in meeting and speaking with the students and getting to know the students. That’s what we think is one of the best things, because we believe in our students and we want them to meet our students.”
After the site visit, the committee members will convene at a later time and discuss whether they are able to recommend any schools to the Phi Beta Kappa Senate, which will meet in December 2014. Any schools who are given an affirmative recommendation from the Senate, and are later voted in by a two-thirds vote by the representatives of the current existing chapters and associations will then be granted shelter status. If that happens, Davis has confirmed that Mercer would be ready to begin inducting students as soon as shelter status is granted. “The class of 2016 would be our inaugural class.”
Though membership in Phi Beta Kappa is restricted to those who are pursuing a liberal arts track in college, there are benefits for those in other schools. “The benefit I would say is the stamp of excellence that you get when you have a chapter,” said Denny. “So I think that’s important to realize, so that even if you’re not eligible, not doing the liberal arts course of study, you still benefit.”
“This has been a difficult and long and time-consuming process, and Dean Denny deserves an enormous amount of credit that he’s never going to ask for, but he really deserves, for running this process.” said Davis. “ I think that any person would look at our application and think this is a school that deserves this image.”