WMU News

WMU granted Phi Beta Kappa chapter

Oct. 3, 1997

KALAMAZOO -- Phi Beta Kappa, the oldest and most widely recognized academic honor society in the country, has granted a charter to the Phi Beta Kappa faculty at Western Michigan University.

WMU's was one of seven new charters approved Sept. 27 at the 38th Triennial Council of Phi Beta Kappa in Chicago. WMU joins 254 other colleges and universities -- including seven in Michigan -- that have chapters. The last time a Michigan institution received a charter was in 1980.

"This is simply one more recognition that marks us as a university of genuine national note," said Dr. Timothy Light, provost and vice president for academic affairs, himself a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Yale University. "While particularly identified with the arts and sciences, the Phi Beta Kappa designation is a recognition of the high quality of the University as a whole, and it is a recognition of which all of us are right to be proud."

The purpose of the honor society, which was founded in 1776, is to foster and recognize excellence in undergraduate liberal arts and sciences education. Members are elected by the chapters from candidates for degrees in the liberal arts and sciences, usually from the top 10 percent of the graduating class. Notable Phi Beta Kappa members include six of the current Supreme Court justices, presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush, authors James Michener and John Updike and polio vaccine inventor Dr. Jonas Salk.

WMU's quest to earn a charter was set in motion 28 years ago by Dr. Russell H. Seibert, then vice president for academic affairs. "The process leading to acceptance in Phi Beta Kappa is long, strenuous and complicated, and many WMU people have been involved in this task for many years," Light said.

Phi Beta Kappa's council meets only every three years to consider applications. The organization's Committee on Qualifications received 47 preliminary applications three years ago for this triennial cycle. WMU was one of 10 institutions selected for intensive review and one of nine that eventually submitted reports and were given campus visits.

"The site visit that is included in the road to acceptance in Phi Beta Kappa examined the complete University, and all who have contributed to its current excellent condition and its beautiful physical appearance share in this achievement," Light said.

In the report it prepared following its March 1996 visit to WMU, the site team noted in particular: the continuing expansion and beautification of the campus that has been "an important factor in the region's economic revitalization"; "positive and collegial" relations between the University's administration and faculty; the high quality of the senior papers and the students who wrote them in WMU's Lee Honors College; and the broad access to technology available in campus instructional and residential buildings.

In recommending approval of WMU's charter, the Committee on Qualifications acknowledged the campuswide commitment to the quality of undergraduate teaching and noted that the University was "acclaimed for the excellence of its programs in the liberal arts."

Tentative plans are to conduct installation ceremonies early in the winter semester and for the first initiation ceremonies for students to be late in the winter semester.

Members of WMU's application committee were: Dr. John W. Petro, chairperson of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics and of the committee; Dr. Laurel A. Grotzinger, professor of University libraries; Dr. Arthur R. McGurn, professor of physics; Maria A. Perez-Stable, professor of University libraries; Dr. Joseph G. Reish, dean of the Lee Honors College; Dr. Judith F. Stone, the Mary U. Meader Professor of Modern European History; and Dr. Camille Vande Berg, associate professor of foreign languages and literatures. All were selected as members of Phi Beta Kappa at their undergraduate institutions.

Petro noted that other key supporters in the project were: WMU President Diether H. Haenicke, who is a member of Phi Beta Kappa; Light; and Dr. Elise B. Jorgens, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. Former provost Nancy S. Barrett and former arts and sciences dean Douglas P. Ferraro also played significant roles in launching and guiding the process.

The other Phi Beta Kappa chapters in Michigan and the years of their charters are: the University of Michigan (1907); Albion College (1940); Wayne State University (1953); Kalamazoo College (1958); Michigan State University (1968); Hope College (1971); and Alma College (1980).

The other schools receiving charters at the 38th Triennial Council were: Hendrix College in Arkansas; Lewis and Clark College in Oregon; the University of Maryland of Baltimore County; St. Mary's College in Maryland; Spelman College in Georgia; and Willamette University in Oregon.

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