Mississippi State to house Phi Beta Kappa chapter


From left, Mark Keenum, Robert West and Sid Salter

From left, Mark Keenum, Robert West and Sid Salter



Isabelle Altman



After 40 years of trying, Mississippi State will soon house a chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa Society. 


The organization voted to grant the chapter Friday at Phi Beta Kappa's 45th Triennial Council in Boston, according to a MSU press release.  


Founded at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, during the American Revolution, Phi Beta Kappa is the nation's oldest and one of its most prestigious academic honor societies.  


MSU first began trying to bring a chapter to Starkville's campus in 1976 when Morris "Bill" Collins, founder of the university's Stennis Institute of Government, submitted an application. Other MSU faculty led application initiatives in 1982, 1985, 1988, 2000 and 2003, according to MSU's press release. 


"The granting of a Phi Beta Kappa chapter to Mississippi State is a testament to the outstanding faculty and administrators who have been working toward this most significant achievement," MSU President Mark Keenum said in the released statement. 


Keenum, Executive Vice President Judy Bonner, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Rick Travis and English Professor Robert West all attended the council in Boston where the announcement was made, said university Chief of Communications Officer Sid Salter. 


"Really from Day 1 of his tenure as president, Dr. Keenum has tried to partner with the faculty, staff and students to create a academic environment that is conducive to Phi Beta Kappa status," Salter said. "As he closes in on the 10th anniversary of his tenure as president, (Friday) that partnership bore fruit in Boston." 


Salter also credited West, who has led the application effort since 2007, with the accomplishment.  


West, himself a PBK member who was inducted his senior year as an undergraduate at Wake Forest University, called the vote an honor for MSU. 


"This has been an effort on behalf of our students, especially undergraduates majoring in the liberal arts and sciences," he said in an email to The Dispatch. "Soon we'll be able to honor those who have excelled in those programs by inducting them into the nation's oldest and best-known academic honor society. They'll have that membership for the rest of their lives and should take great pride in that." 




What it means 


To approve a chapter, Phi Beta Kappa's Committee on Qualifications examines a university's finances, faculty, academic demands on students and opportunities for honors students, and "takes due precautions to prevent issues of governance, athletic, religion or politics from subverting the integrity of the institution's dedication to liberal education," according to Phi Beta Kappa's website.  


Students inducted must be candidates for bachelor's degrees with a certain number of credit hours in arts and sciences courses, speak at least one non-native language, have taken at least one college-level mathematics, science or logics course and be a person of "good moral character."  


For MSU to continue housing its local chapter, at least 10 percent of the full-time arts and science teaching faculty must be made up of PBK members, MSU's press release said. 


Both West and Salter said the university is still learning how to go about organizing the chapter and inducting students, but added they hope to induct the first class in the spring 2019. 


Salter added the inclusion in Phi Beta Kappa could also help MSU achieve other academic honors, such as the Association of Research Library status for Mitchell Memorial Library.  


Both University of Mississippi and Millsaps College in Jackson house PBK chapters, said Salter. 


"Phi Beta Kappa has always centered their activities on campuses with strong liberal arts backgrounds and traditions," Salter said. "And of course as a land grant institution and a research and STEM university, it's even more of an accomplishment, I think, for our liberal arts -- arts and sciences -- segment of the university to distinguish themselves in this way. 


"This is such a celebratory piece of news because the fight has been so long and I think back to other MSU presidents I've known and other great academic leaders who have now retired and I think back to how many of them have had a part and parcel of this," Salter said. "And as someone who works with Dr. Keenum on a daily basis, I am so just pumped for him to have been able to set that goal a decade ago and then put together a team that could make it happen. It's a great day. As he likes to say often, 'It's a great day to be a Bulldog.' Today, that's never been more true."




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