Published June 19, 2014
Election to Phi Beta Kappa may well be the capstone of a liberal arts student’s academic career.
“This is probably the most prestigious general honor a student can win in the liberal arts,” says Barbara Bono, associate professor of English and president of UB’s Omicron chapter of Phi Beta Kappa (PBK). “This is what you put on the first line of your CV: summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa.”
Andrew Stott, dean of undergraduate education and director of the University Honors College, notes that less than 1 in every 100 graduating seniors in the liberal arts is elected to PBK. “The honor is awarded only to the best liberal arts students in the best colleges and universities in the country … and so is recognized as a mark of great intellectual distinction and character by colleagues and employers in many fields,” he adds.
Yet in recent years, only about half of UB students elected to join this most prestigious of honor societies accepts the invitation to join, says Bono, noting that this year’s decisions were just announced.
In an effort to increase awareness of Phi Beta Kappa and the importance of the honor—and the number of students accepting the honor—the Honors College is hosting information sessions for students from 2-3 p.m. Feb. 1 and from noon to 1 p.m. Feb. 5 in the college, 106 Capen Hall, North Campus.
The Honors College has been designated the new “home” for UB’s Phi Beta Kappa chapter, Omicron of New York, which was granted to the university in 1938. The chapter, an entity independent of UB, previously had been housed in the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS).
Bono and Stott hope having the chapter associated with the Honors College will help raise its visibility.
“Because the newly refurbished Honors College, where our dedicated staff already works on awareness of a number of other high academic honors, is such a visible site for excellence in undergraduate education on the UB campus, it is the logical home for Phi Beta Kappa,” Stott says.
Bono notes that it was former CAS Dean and Interim Provost Bruce McCombe who suggested PBK move to the Honors College.
“The Honors College has a range of staff whose central concern is undergraduate excellence,” she says. “They know how to do this sort of thing.”
Why the recent lack of student interest in Phi Beta Kappa?
Stott attributes it to “a combination of general information overload, over-recruitment early on by other ‘honor societies’ and a general lack of knowledge about Phi Beta Kappa among students, their families and even staff and the professoriate.” Students “do not recognize the caliber and prestige of the honor,” he says.
Bono agrees. “Most students don’t know what the honor is at all. It’s a little exclusive—not all universities have (PBK) chapters,” she says, adding that the national PBK only awards chapters to the “premier liberal arts institutions.”
“Students should be leaping to accept this, but they aren’t,” she says.
Moreover, students are being deluged with requests to join honor societies, many of which, such as Who’s Who, Bono calls “pseudo honors.”
Others, such as the Golden Key Society, have broader admission requirements and less academic standing than PBK, she adds.
“By the time they get the PBK notice, they could care less; they don’t know what it is,” she says.
Bono heads an elections committee of four faculty members that meets annually to review the transcripts of the rising students who qualify for PBK and extend invitations to those students who the committee members feel best exemplify the honor. The committee may not elect more than 10 percent of the eligible students. Most students are elected during their senior year, with a handful being elected during the junior year.
To be eligible, students must be pursuing an undergraduate liberal arts degree program, defined as a BA or BS degree program in the College of Arts and Sciences, the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, the Department of Biochemistry or the Department of Biomedical Science. Students must have completed 100 credit hours with a cumulative grade point average of 3.65 or higher, or 85 hours with a GPA of 3.75 or higher at all colleges that the student has attended. At least 60 credit hours must have been completed at UB.
The committee also evaluates transcripts for the breadth and depth of the candidate’s liberal arts studies.
Students who are “invited” to join PBK are notified in late January or early February via email and formal letter. This year, the formal induction ceremony will take place at 2 p.m. March 1 in Lippes Concert Hall in Slee Hall, North Campus, having been moved from commencement weekend.
Stott will be elected as an honorary member of PBK at the ceremony—he received his academic degrees from institutions in Great Britain and was not eligible to be elected to PBK, a distinctly American honor society—and will deliver the keynote address.
Students who accept the honor will have their names printed in the university commencement program and will be recognized during the annual Celebration of Student Academic Excellence.
For more information about Phi Beta Kappa, visit the national website For more information about UB’s Omicron chapter, visit the Honors College website, send an email to PhiBetaKappa@buffalo.edu or call the University Honors College at 645-3020.