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Phi Beta Kappa

Phi Beta Kappa, Epsilon of Minnesota is the Macalester chapter of the national honor society Phi Beta Kappa. The chapter was chartered in 1968, and each year we induct graduating seniors as new members in order to recognize students who exhibit academic excellence in the liberal arts and sciences. The national organization sets the basic requirements for membership. They are as follows:

  1. Eligible students must be candidates for a bachelor’s degree in the liberals arts or sciences.
  2. Weight shall be given to the breadth and depth of study in liberal arts and sciences.
  3. Students must demonstrate knowledge of a second language equivalent to completion of intermediate college coursework. We interpret this to be equivalent to 2 years of college instruction; therefore, this stipulation is automatically fulfilled by completing Macalester’s own second language proficiency requirement.
  4. The candidate’s undergraduate record shall include at least one course in college-level mathematics, logic, or statistics, with content appropriate to a liberal arts and sciences curriculum. Note that neither Macalester’s Natural Science distribution requirement nor the Quantitative Reasoning requirement automatically fulfill this stipulation. This requirement can be fulfilled by taking a course with either the MATH or STAT prefixes (or courses cross-listed with those prefixes), PHIL 111 – Introduction to Symbolic Logic, or PHIL 313 – Advanced Symbolic Logic. Other courses that might employ mathematics or statistics as a method within another discipline will not satisfy this requirement. 
  5. Eligible students should be of good moral character.

The national chapter requires that we limit the number of inductees to no more than 12% of the graduating class each year. Because the number of students meeting the basic requirements exceeds the number we are permitted to induct, we then consider students who meet the national criteria using our own secondary set of criteria. We use a modified GPA-based selection process as a starting point. This system measures academic distinction by rewarding students whose grades stand well above the average grades in courses they have taken. This gives an advantage to students with high grades in courses with lower-than-average grade distributions; it gives less (or no) advantage to students who get high grades in courses with many other high grades. We examine the transcripts of students who score well using these criteria, and Academic Programs checks students’ records for serious academic infractions or other conduct that would raise questions about character.

We are in the process of re-evaluating our selection criteria, both in recognition of the role structural racism plays in affecting students’ GPAs, as well as in light of significant temporary changes in grading policy at the college due to the COVID 19 pandemic. In the 2022/23 academic year we will continue to use the process described above, with the addition that we will solicit and consider suggestions from faculty of students who have demonstrated academic excellence in ways that are not reflected in their GPA. We will post any permanent changes in our selection process as they are finalized by a chapter vote.

Chapter officers:
President: Patrick Schmidt, Professor of Political Science
Vice President: Erik Larson, Professor of Sociology
Secretary-Treasurer: Brenda Piatz, Academic Programs

The 2023 initiation ceremony for new members is Friday, May 12, 2023 at 11:00 a.m. in the Weyerhaeuser Memorial Chapel.