The Phi Beta Kappa Society, the nation’s oldest and most prestigious academic society, has voted to establish a new chapter at Elon University. The decision was made Oct. 2 at the Society’s 42nd Triennial Council in Austin, Texas. The 57 Elon faculty and staff who are Phi Beta Kappa members will receive a charter, and the chapter will be officially established in spring 2010. Elon’s formal application for the chapter was submitted in November 2006 by Russell Gill, Maude Sharpe Powell Professor of English and chair of the faculty’s Phi Beta Kappa Committee.
“We’re delighted because this is such a wonderful ending to a long and hard journey, but also because this process has been to the benefit of the whole university,” Gill said. “We look forward to setting up the new chapter in the coming year.”
As part of its effort to shelter a chapter, Elon has made substantial new investments in academic programs, additional faculty positions and support for scholarly work, library and learning resources, scholarship programs for honors and fellows students, and facilities for arts and sciences programs. Over the past several years, the percentage of Elon students majoring in the arts and sciences has grown from 37 percent to nearly 50 percent, and more than 60 percent of Elon students have either a major or minor in an arts and sciences program.
Elon’s extensive application to shelter a Phi Beta Kappa chapter detailed the university’s history of excellence in the arts and sciences, producing a comprehensive report on Elon’s mission, students, faculty, curriculum, library and technical resources, financial information, facilities and athletics programs.
“Elon’s journey toward Phi Beta Kappa has always been about the pursuit of academic excellence,” said Steven House, provost and vice president for academic affairs. “Our focus has been to support our outstanding faculty with enhanced facilities, resources and programs, so that they can create an innovative, challenging, and learning-centered environment for our students. I am deeply grateful for the faculty and staff who worked so hard during the entire process. Elon is a far richer university because of this journey.”
About 10 percent of U.S. colleges and universities shelter Phi Beta Kappa chapters, and Elon becomes only the seventh institution in North Carolina to meet the high standards of excellence in the arts and sciences advocated by the Society. Chapters currently are active at Duke University, Wake Forest University, Davidson College, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
In addition to Elon, the Phi Beta Kappa Society approved new chapters at Butler University, Indianapolis, Ind.; The College of Saint Benedict – Saint John’s University, St. Joseph, Minn.; and James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Va. The addition of four new chapters brings the total number chapters to 280 nationwide.
“With the establishment of these chapters, we acknowledge the accomplishments of these institutions in the field of liberal education, and we look forward to a lively partnership in advancing that cause,” said John Churchill, secretary and chief executive officer of the Society.
In evaluating applications for charters, Phi Beta Kappa seeks schools that have “standards that encourage excellence, a system of governance that promotes academic freedom and vigor, a scholarly faculty, a promising student body, a library and other educational facilities serving and complementing the course offerings and an adequate and dependable income sufficient to maintain academic excellence.”
Elon’s faculty and administration were guided by a maxim that “the journey is as important as the goal” in reaching Phi Beta Kappa status. The effort produced a sweeping set of enhancements in academic quality, including the following:
- Increased academic quality of the student body, with higher retention and graduation rates
- Increased number of students pursuing graduate degrees
- Revised Honors Program and a new Fellows Program for Elon College, the College of Arts and Sciences
- Establishment of the Lumen Prize to support outstanding students in their academic pursuits, research and creative activities
- Enhanced undergraduate research program, with new support for summer research
- Appointment of a National Fellowships Director to support students’ pursuit of top academic awards
- Increase in the number of full-time faculty positions, decrease in the percentage of classes taught by part-time faculty, and a reduction in the student-faculty ratio and average class size
- A comprehensive plan to enhance faculty support recommended by the Presidential Task Force on Scholarship, including increased faculty research and professional development funding to support sabbaticals, released time and summer research
- Creation of the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning
- Enhanced language and culture program, addition of a foreign language requirement, tripling of the foreign language faculty and addition of instruction in several new languages
- Increased library’s print collection by more than 30 percent and greatly expanded numbers of journals, periodicals and electronic resources
- New, expanded and renovated arts and sciences facilities, including Lindner Hall as the new headquarters for Elon College, the College of Arts and Sciences; Academic Village pavilions; Arts West; Center for the Arts; and Long, Alamance, Carlton and Powell buildings.
Phi Beta Kappa was founded in 1776 by five students at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va., and over two and a quarter centuries the Society has embraced the principles of freedom of inquiry and liberty of thought and expression. Phi Beta Kappa sponsors activities to advance studies of the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences in higher education and society at large.
Phi Beta Kappa chapters invite outstanding students in the arts and sciences to join the Society each year. Phi Beta Kappa currently has more than a half million members and chapters at 276 colleges and universities. Phi Beta Kappa membership is an emblem of high achievement and is a competitive advantage for members throughout their careers.
Elon will induct its inaugural class of Phi Beta Kappa students in spring 2010 during a special event to mark the establishment of the chapter. The Elon Phi Beta Kappa faculty will determine criteria for selecting students for Society membership. Typically, Phi Beta Kappa students rank among the top 10 percent of arts and sciences majors, and have demonstrated outstanding scholarship, leadership, multicultural awareness and foreign language proficiency.