Harvard University. Yale University. Stanford University. The University of Southern California. These schools are among the 10 percent of universities nationwide that are part of the selective honor society Phi Beta Kappa, which Chapman may join in August 2018.
The Chapman Board of Trustees plans to raise a $3 million endowment to fund the prospective chapter if Chapman is accepted, according to documents provided to The Panther by peace studies professor Lisa Leitz. Since 2014, Leitz has led the committee in charge of preparing applications for Phi Beta Kappa, a liberal arts and sciences honor society.
“(Phi Beta Kappa) would be like a stamp of quality on the entire school,” said President Daniele Struppa. “I think a chapter here would guarantee that the school is always very committed to the liberal arts.”
The $3 million endowment is broken into six categories, each designated to help develop specific areas – academic and otherwise – that will fund initiatives to help the success of the program, according to the documents. The categories include increasing the number of undergraduates who study abroad, help students who want to apply to graduate schools, fund student attendance to conferences and lecture series, as well as student research for the honors program.
The university has been submitting applications to host a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for about 20 years, Leitz said. Chapman found out in May 2016 that its 2015 application had been successful, which meant that Phi Beta Kappa sent four representatives – professors and Phi Beta Kappa members from other universities – to tour Chapman April 2–4.
“It’s been a very long process,” Struppa said. “This is the first time that we’ve had a visit. The other times that we applied, we were told that we couldn’t make it. So the visit is telling (us), ‘We think you might be able to get it.’”
According to the Phi Beta Kappa website, the selection criteria for starting a chapter include having a curriculum that centers on liberal arts and sciences and focuses on preparing students for graduate study, and having enough financial resources to support academic programs.
“The application covers areas relating to athletics, to the faculty … it also includes financial information,” Leitz said. “It’s a document where we try to make a case.”
If the university is permitted to start a Phi Beta Kappa chapter, Leitz said it expects to initiate about 80 students into the first Chapman class, which would cost about $4,000.
Since its last application, which was in 2009, the university has fulfilled some of the requirements – like having 10 percent of faculty members who are members of Phi Beta Kappa – necessary to be seriously considered by the honor society, Leitz said. There are currently 32 professors on staff who are members of Phi Beta Kappa, according to the documents.
“Not only did we not have enough faculty, we didn’t have physics,” Leitz said. “And so they thought, to be a good university, you need to have physics.”
Leitz said that this is what led the university to create its physics program, which had produced graduates by the 2015 application. Leitz also said that the lab space in the new Center for Science and Technology was useful during the three-year application process, because Phi Beta Kappa prefers sciences that are based on laboratory study.
“Phi Beta Kappa doesn’t look favorably on degrees that are considered technical that lead to one career path,” Leitz said. “You can’t be initiated if the majority of your classes are in something like accounting or any of the film production majors. We’re going to need to take a hard look at some of the Bachelors of Fine Arts to make sure that they’re not overly technical.”