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UW Phi Beta Kappa Chapter Celebrates 75 Years

November 25, 2015

Thanksgiving 2015 (Nov. 26) marks the 75th anniversary of the University of Wyoming’s membership in Phi Beta Kappa, the nation’s oldest and most prestigious academic honor society.

Only about 10 percent of the nation's institutions of higher learning have Phi Beta Kappa chapters. Only about 10 percent of the arts and sciences graduates of these institutions are invited to join the Phi Beta Kappa Society for a lifetime membership, which makes the invitation process extremely selective. Last spring, UW’s Phi Beta Kappa Society elected 41 seniors and four juniors, roughly 5 percent of College of Arts and Sciences graduates.

UW Chapter Treasurer and Department of Art and Art History Library Specialist Betsy Bress says, “It is often mistakenly assumed that election to membership in Phi Beta Kappa is based solely on grade point average. In fact, a very high GPA is only one of a handful of conditions that Phi Beta Kappa candidates must meet.” 

There are currently five stipulations that constitute the minimum requirements for membership, including course requirements in the liberal arts and sciences; number of courses taken outside of the students’ majors; demonstrated knowledge of a second or non-native language; a course in mathematics, logic or statistics; and demonstrated good moral character.

UW also requires a minimum 3.5 GPA for seniors or 4.0 for juniors, plus completion of two upper-level courses outside of the students’ majors.

One unusual local approach to applying Phi Beta Kappa’s membership rules has been in place for several years at UW. Reflecting a state constitutional requirement that a UW education be “as nearly free as possible,” the UW Alpha Chapter has made continuing efforts to also ensure that membership in Phi Beta Kappa be as nearly free as possible by covering the cost of lifetime membership for newly elected students ($65 each, from private funds).

The UW chapter also provides funds from the Louise A. Lee Johnson endowment to fund scholarships for juniors with a 4.0 GPA who are inducted into Phi Beta Kappa and return for studies the following fall. Johnson participated in the UW chartering of Phi Beta Kappa in 1940.

Perhaps the most visible of the chapter’s contributions is the Visiting Scholar series, through which Phi Beta Kappa arranges for distinguished lecturers in the arts and sciences to speak at UW on topics of intellectual interest.

This year, the national Phi Beta Kappa Society honored UW as one of the nation’s top two public university chapters during its recent Triennial Council meeting in Denver. In making the selection, the society considered the initiation rate (100 percent at UW, almost unheard of in public universities) and programming that included a strong track record of visiting scholars, relations with the university and quality speakers at the initiation ceremonies, among other factors.

Nearly 300 delegates from the nation’s top colleges and universities meet once every three years to conduct the society’s business, charter new chapters, confer awards and elect the members of the PBK senate, the general governing body of the Phi Beta Kappa Society. UW Chapter Secretary Eric Nye, a professor in the Department of English, was elected as UW’s first-ever representative to the senate. The senate consists of only 24 senators, each serving a six-year term, who sit as the board of directors and guide the society in matters of policy, setting the direction for Phi Beta Kappa's future.

“The values prized by Phi Beta Kappa have never been more needed by our nation or our institution and, once chosen, we never cease to be members of Phi Beta Kappa,” Nye says.


college students posing as a group

These students from Wyoming in spring 2011 were initiated into the UW chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. Each year, only about 5 percent of UW College of Arts and Sciences graduates are invited to join the honor society. (UW Photo)


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Chad Baldwin

Institutional Communications

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Email: cbaldwin@uwyo.edu

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