Phi Beta Kappa: faculty and new members

Molly Wierman, News Editor

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The University of Dallas has a long history with Phi Beta Kappa. Photo by Marquel Plavan.

The University of Dallas chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, the Eta Chapter of Texas, has nominated this year’s new members and undergone a change in faculty leadership as of the past few weeks.

The top 10 to 15 percent of the graduating senior class, along with six juniors, have been invited to become members of the honors society.

Members are chosen on the basis of GPA, demonstrated devotion to the liberal arts and well-rounded accomplishments.

Outgoing president Dr. Gregory Roper, associate professor of English, said that the prestige of being a member of Phi Beta Kappa remains with members throughout their lives.

“It’s the most well-known honors society in the country, and the respect really travels with you for the rest of your life,” Roper said. “[People will] see it on your resume and know that it means devotion to a broad-based liberal arts education.”

Founded in 1776 at the College of William and Mary, Phi Beta Kappa is the oldest honors society in the United States, as well as the most prestigious.

Only about 10 percent of American institutes of higher education have Phi Beta Kappa chapters.

Incoming president Professor Stefan Novinski, associate professor of dram, said that universities are awarded Phi Beta Kappa chapters through a rigorous review process that first requires the university to have enough professors in Phi Beta Kappa who can then request a chapter.

Phi Beta Kappa then sends a team to investigate the university.

Members of the society include 17 U.S. Presidents and more than 130 Nobel laureates, according to the Phi Beta Kappa website.

UD’s Phi Beta Kappa members are in charge of “The University Scholar” journal and the Phi Beta Kappa symposium, held in the spring.

One year, these students assisted in the Association for Core Texts and Courses (ACTC) conference hosted at UD.

Faculty officers assist students in these responsibilities and in organizing the Eta chapter.

Besides the election of a new president, a new vice president and a new secretary have been elected for Phi Beta Kappa.

Dr. Bainard Cowan and Dr. Kevin Saylor, both of the English department, have been elected vice president and secretary, respectively.

Previous faculty officers have included Dr. Bernadette Waterman-Ward, associate professor of English, and Dr. Paul Phillips, associate professor of math.

Roper said that one of the most meaningful things he has done during his tenure as president has been overseeing UD’s participation in the Phi Beta Kappa Society Visiting Scholar Series.

The lecture series, started in 1956, allows universities to bring in top-notch scholars for a small fee to give public lectures and, more importantly, to visit and spend time with students and participate in the life of the university, Roper said.

“It’s a really near thing we’ve been able to do,” Roper said. “The idea [of the series] is to bring scholars from big research institutions, as well as the resources that they have, to small schools.”

Roper said that both scholars they have brought to the university have been as impressed by UD students as the students have been by them.

Not only does the series promote the university, but the relationships that students form with the visiting professors have provided them with invaluable networking opportunities.

“I love that cross-fertilization,” Roper said. “It’s a good way for students to create contacts with these excellent scholars.”

Roper said that the assistance of Provost Dr. C.W. Eaker has been critical to the success of the series, because Phi Beta Kappa has no budget and requires financial assistance from the administration.

The series may be put on hold next year because no suitable scholar has been found yet, but Novinski has his own ideas for Phi Beta Kappa in the coming years.

“I want to make Phi Beta Kappa an even more integral part of the conversation about the liberal arts at UD—I want Phi Beta Kappa to lead this conversation,” Novinski said. “There should be a silly, wonderful frivolity about it all.”

One of Novinski’s ideas is a costume party where costumes are inspired by the Core.

“Be it a Corinthian column, Aristotle, a Brancusi painting — the weirder the better,” Novinski said. “People should have to ask who you are.”

Novinski said one of his emphases will be celebrating the liberal arts with gusto.

“I would be interested in challenging the other honors societies on campus to raise the level of irreverence in celebrating the liberal arts,” Novinski said.

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