Phi Beta Kappa at Birmingham-Southern College
Founded in 1776 at the College of William and Mary, Phi Beta Kappa is the oldest academic honor society in the United States. Birmingham-Southern College’s chapter, Beta of Alabama, was established in 1937 under the leadership of BSC President Guy Snavely.
Phi Beta Kappa celebrates excellence in the liberal arts and sciences. The ΦBK Society sets high standards for the establishment of chapters, as well as for election to membership. Only ten percent of the nation’s institutions of higher education shelter Phi Beta Kappa chapters, and Birmingham-Southern College is one of only three sheltering institutions in the state of Alabama.
Election to Phi Beta Kappa is based upon academic achievement, but it is not a simple award for a high grade point average. Just as important as academic achievement is a demonstrated accomplishment in a broad range of liberal arts and sciences. Students are elected by the resident members of Phi Beta Kappa after a careful analysis of grades and course distribution in accordance with the Society’s Stipulations for Eligibility. Students aspiring to election to Phi Beta Kappa should have a natural interest in a range of disciplines, including the study of the humanities, the arts, the behavioral sciences, the natural sciences, mathematics, and foreign languages. In its preamble to the stipulations, the Phi Beta Kappa Society notes that those invited to membership should reflect the Society’s commitment to:
- Academic excellence
- Rigorous pursuit of the liberal arts and sciences
- Breadth of intellectual perspective
- Cultivation of capacities of deliberation and ethical reflection
- “Love of learning as the guide of life,” which is the phrase the initials Phi Beta Kappa represent.
Candidates for election are typically seniors in the top ten percent of their graduating class, who are pursuing a liberal arts degree and who have done at least three-quarters of their work in the liberal arts and sciences. Candidates for degrees other than Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science are considered only if they have fulfilled the general program for the liberal arts degree. High grades alone, particularly if earned in a narrowly conceived vocational or pre-professional program, are not sufficient reason for election.
A Phi Beta Kappa initiation and banquet is held in the spring of each year, and new members are recognized at the College’s Honors Day Convocation. They join the ranks of the 17 U.S. Presidents, 38 Supreme Court Justices, and 136 Nobel laureates who are members of the Society.
ΦBK also sponsors a Visiting Scholars program; recent lecturers at Birmingham-Southern include:
- Ronald Mellor, UCLA Distinguished Professor of History
- Loch Johnson, Regents Professor of Public and International Affairs at the University of Georgia
- Alejandro Garcia-Rivera, Professor of Systematic Theology at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley
- N. Katherine Hayles, UCLA Professor of Literature
Click here to view a list of past ΦBK Society members from BSC.