George Mason University

News at Mason

Mason Approved for Phi Beta Kappa Chapter

August 7, 2012

By Robin Herron

George Mason University will have a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, considered the most prestigious of the academic honor societies.

The Phi Beta Kappa Society voted on Aug. 3 to establish a chapter at Mason. New chapters are announced only once every three years.

Founded in 1776 at the College of William & Mary, Phi Beta Kappa is the nation’s oldest academic honor society for the arts and sciences and has more than 500,000 members. With the latest additions, the total number of chapters is now 283 nationwide, according to the society.

“This is extremely welcome news, obviously a recognition of the university’s commitment to a liberal education and of the quality of our top students,” says Provost Peter Stearns. “And it represents success for the faculty and staff that worked hard on the process.”

One of those faculty members is Marion Deshmukh, professor of history, who shepherded the university’s application. Deshmukh and Stearns attended the society’s meeting in Florida where the decision was announced.

Deshmukh says the three-year application process is “almost like a SACS (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools) accreditation.” The process involves collecting and submitting data about all aspects of the university and hosting site visits from Phi Beta Kappa representatives. Factors considered include admissions standards, student SAT scores and retention, student-faculty ratios, the ratio of full-time to part-time faculty, budget, library facilities and athletics, among others. To qualify for a chapter, 10 percent of the faculty in the arts and sciences must be Phi Beta Kappa members. The final report submitted ran to some 300 pages.

Mason has applied for a chapter multiple times, going back as far as the 1980s, and Deshmukh says she learned that it is more the rule than the exception for schools to have to apply several times. What finally tipped the scale for Mason was its strong and steady improvement over the years, she believes. “The whole point is that we have some really good students,” she says.

The timetable is for an installation ceremony in early 2013, and the first undergraduates will be inducted next spring. Deshmukh says that a delegation from William & Mary has promised to attend the installation ceremony. “We’re all excited,” she says. “We’ll have the oldest and youngest chapters in Virginia represented.”

Nominees for induction are usually tapped in their senior year, although outstanding second-semester juniors are sometimes invited, Deshmukh explains. The top 10 percent of the graduating class will be eligible for membership, which provides opportunities for prizes and scholarships and offers access to a visiting scholars program that brings renowned speakers to campus.

Marcy Glover, program coordinator for undergraduate education in the Provost’s Office, will manage the operational aspects of establishing the chapter. She is now updating the list of Mason faculty and staff who are Phi Beta Kappa members and can be reached at mglover2@gmu.edu.