Centre’s Phi Beta Kappa chapter maintains commitment to excellence
Twenty-eight seniors and three juniors were initiated into the Beta chapter of Phi Beta Kappa (PBK) at Centre College in 2012, demonstrating the continued commitment to academic excellence that the College and its students embody. For a full list of this year’s initiates, click here.
Phi Beta Kappa was founded in 1776 at the College of William and Mary and remains the oldest and most respected undergraduate honors organization in the United States. Those undergraduate juniors and seniors selected as members of PBK must have achieved scholastic success in the liberal arts and sciences while also maintaining broad cultural interests.
Centre is the only private liberal arts college in the Commonwealth with a Phi Beta Kappa chapter. At the time the Beta chapter was established, Centre was among five of the smallest schools in the nation with a PBK chapter, and remains among the smallest today out of 280 schools.
“PBK signifies outstanding scholarship,” says Phil Lockett ’71, professor of physics and among the first initiates into Centre’s Beta chapter. “Centre and the University of Kentucky have the only chapters in Kentucky and other Kentucky colleges have gone to great lengths trying to establish chapters without success. It is an honor that Centre should treasure.”
Beyond signifying a dedication to academics and maintaining standards of achievement, PBK also brings enrichment opportunities to Centre that benefit everyone on campus.
“PBK has been responsible for leading national scholars to visit Centre for two day periods. During this time they present convocations and other talks and visit classes,” Lockett says. “These visits would not be possible without the financial support of the National PBK organization. Chapters are not guaranteed visiting scholars each year, but Centre has been fortunate to have three scholars visit in the last five years.”
Centre was granted its chapter of PBK in 1970, and the Beta chapter was inaugurated on March 12, 1971, with 13 students in its first class. Eleven faculty members who were elected to PBK as undergraduates served as members of Centre’s board, with Dr. Frank Heck, professor of history and former Centre dean, as acting chairman. Dr. Eric Mount, now the Nelson D. and Mary McDowell Rodes Professor Emeritus of Religion, prepared the 90-page application to the PBK society.
“Frank Heck tapped me to be the secretary of our petitioning group, and we went about collecting all of the data needed to write a report that seemed as hefty as a self-study document that Centre submits to the Southern Association for continued accreditation,” Mount remembers. “Having submitted the voluminous report, we were visited by a committee to evaluate us, and we were then voted on at the triennial meeting of Phi Beta Kappa, which includes representatives of all the chapters in the country. We were approved, and our chapter was inaugurated in 1971.”
When Centre was granted a chapter of PBK, Heck said, “The establishment of a chapter at Centre constitutes a recognition of the quality of our academic program and will enable the local members in turn to accord deserved recognition to selected Centre students, outstanding for scholarship and broad intellectual interests. It is a great satisfaction, after many years of preparation, to receive word of the council’s action.”
Having the Beta chapter of PBK at Centre was very important to many on campus at the time, and remains so.
“It means a lot to me to be a member of PBK, especially since I was part of the inaugural class of 1971,” Lockett says.
The Beta PBK chapter continues to speak to the quality of education and high levels of student success at Centre.
“I consider our PBK chapter an indication of the value we place on a broad education in the liberal arts and sciences,” says Jason Neiser, assistant professor of physics and president of Centre’s Beta chapter. “The Phi Beta Kappa motto is ‘Love of Learning is the Guide of Life,’ which sounds decidedly similar to Centre’s motto, ‘Learning is the Light of the Mind.’ Both institutions advocate and defend a broad education where the final product—if there is such a thing—is a student that knows how to think and adapt, and values learning in and of itself.”
“Having a Phi Beta Kappa chapter puts us in the company of the most distinguished schools in the land and marks us as an institution devoted to the liberal arts and sciences and not to so-called vocational education,” he says. “It no doubt puts us on the radar of excellent students selecting a college, and in Kentucky it sets us apart.”