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Honors Societies

13 Aug Posted by in Academics, Faculty | 1 comment
Honors Societies

At a meeting a week ago (amusingly held in a robber baron lair in Palm Beach), the Phi Beta Kappa organization voted to approve a chapter for George Mason. We were delighted to be able to join the still fewer than 300 institutions nationwide that have a chapter.

Phi Beta Kappa is not the only important honors society to have an active branch at Mason. We opened a Phi Kappa Phi chapter a couple of years ago, which has proved quite successful with a slightly different mission from that of PBK. And we have a vigorous Golden Key society and many other disciplinary honors groups. Collectively, these associations link Mason to wider national efforts to acknowledge talented students and, I hope, provide important recognition to the students themselves.

Phi Beta Kappa, while not alone, was a particularly challenging target. Like many other schools (including one of my own prior locations, which finally won through after several false starts), Mason had failed in some earlier application processes, which meant that our recent success was a relief as well as a reward. Lots of people put in significant effort over recent years toward our application. Marion Deshmukh, from History and Art History, was a persistent sponsor and goad, and we benefited also from strong support from our almost 100 faculty members who belong to the organization. Staff time was crucial, initially from Wendy Payton in my office but more recently from Robin Parker, who put together a truly massive document that proved persuasive. Thanks are also due to several staffers as well as Council members in Phi Beta Kappa, who offered valuable advice and support.

I had the privilege of being admitted to Phi Beta Kappa when I was an undergraduate, and have always valued the honor involved. Amusingly, when I took my college research advisor to a PBK dinner soon after admission, he confided that he’d been offered membership when he was younger but had turned it down because of concerns about elitism (he’s since denied that this was his reasoning, but I certainly remember being surprised both at his decision and about the fact that it had never occurred to me).

The purpose of our pursuit of PBK and the other important honors groups has always been our desire to provide suitable recognition to the top groups of the very good students we have at Mason. Of course the result does single out something of an elite, but we already do this in various facets of the educational process—beginning with differential grades. We certainly want to call recognition opportunities to wide student attention, so we make decisions on as broad a base as possible. If anything, we still have too few ways to draw attention to academic achievement, so I don’t lose too much sleep over the elitism angle. And, with my many faculty colleagues who have supported this particular campaign, I am certainly pleased to be able to comment on the successful result.