Published June 19, 2014
The UB chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, Omicron of New York, formally inducted 152 new student members during a ceremony held on March 1 in Lippes Concert Hall in Slee Concert Hall.
Joining the new inductees were Barbara Bono, current PBK president and associate professor of English; Claude Welch, past PBK president and SUNY Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Political Science; and electors Victoria Wolcott, professor of history, and Patrick McDevitt, associate professor of history.
Numerous family and friends also filled the hall, applauding enthusiastically when the PBK pledge was administered to the inductees on stage.
The ceremony also was marked by the induction of English Professor Andrew McConnell Stott, director of the UB Honors College and dean of undergraduate education, as an honorary member. Stott received his degrees in the UK, and therefore was not eligible for election as an undergraduate to this distinctive American honors society.
In his keynote address, “For the Love of Alchemy,” Stott reminded the audience that Phi Beta Kappa was founded in 1776 as a secret society—not because it was exclusionary, but rather because it valued freedom of thought above all else and resisted censure or surveillance.
In a period when autocratic governments were still the rule, Stott said Phi Beta Kappa advanced an Enlightenment agenda that allied it with the spirit of America’s founding fathers; for example, PBK admitted women and African-Americans well in advance of their general acceptance in American public life.
A colorful historical piece that riffed on the utopian ideals of early modern alchemy and magic, and playfully taught the new inductees the Phi Beta Kappa secret handshake, Stott’s address ended with a call for the new inductees to “think of the importance of education in the winning and maintenance of your rights and freedoms.”
The inductees will have a chance for some further recognition when they convene again on April 24 for a chapter meeting and informal reception. There the Samuel Paul Capen Award will be given to that undergraduate "who best exemplifies the spirit of free inquiry and expression” and the Hildegarde F. Shinners Memorial Prize will be awarded for "an essay . . . [that is] a critical treatment of a significant problem, theory, book, poem, or other appropriate topic."
At that meeting, the chapter also will confirm officers for the upcoming academic year and make plans for next year’s speaker series and outreach projects. The honor also will be noted on this year’s general commencement program.
Bono remains disappointed that more of UB’s academically distinguished juniors and seniors who are invited to join the chapter do not accept membership. She reminds students who were invited this year that there is still time to accept the invitation.
“This year, because of particular vigorous recruitment efforts on the part of many people, our acceptance rates are up from about 50 percent to 60 percent,” she reports. “However, that is still a poor return for the original, premier and most-recognized honors society in America, one that numbers 17 U.S. presidents, 38 U.S. Supreme Court justices and 136 Nobel laureates among its members. Clearly we have to do an even better job at getting the word out—and students should be clamoring for acceptance.”
Visit the Phi Beta Kappa website for a list of the new inductees