The establishment of a Phi Beta Kappa honor society chapter at the College – one of 276 among the thousands of colleges in the United States – is an important step in our institution’s slow transformation from a little-recognized state teaching school into a nationally renowned school.
Assistant Provost Nancy Freudenthal commented last week that the award was something of a reaffirmation of the type of intellectual community that exists at the College.
While this is a gross administrative overstatement, the award does signal one of the first important achievements in the College’s serious intellectual development.
For years since the ascendancy of President R. Barbara Gitenstein, we have seen the College trying to posture itself as one of the premier academic institutions in the country. While certainly the buzz about the College has increased – peaking, perhaps, by the New York Times accolade that we are “the HOT college” – we often find ourselves questioning the integrity of these claims.
A Phi Beta Kappa chapter, however, is something we can really sink our teeth into.
More substantive than annual rankings or an upward trend in incoming freshmen SAT scores proving little more than our increasing aptitude in test-taking, being awarded a Phi Beta Kappa indicates that the type of intellectual community the College has hoped to foster through initiatives like its academic transformation has really taken root.
Proof of our palpable improvement comes in the fact that our last attempt at gaining Phi Beta Kappa membership in 2000 was denied.
All this aside, the award is a testament to the intellectual community gestating on this campus. We are consistently impressed by the engagement a lot of our students present in the process of learning. We are constantly learning, both in class but also (mostly) out of class.
But what makes us unique is not only our high academic standards but also our groundedness. We do not exist in an intellectual ether, but we are able to apply our learning to the world immediately around us.
For the most part, we are a student body that tends to come from humble upbringings and we are able to bring our learning to bear and relate to those communities.