Last week, Judd Greenstein ’01 denounced the role of Phi Beta Kappa in the Convocation ceremonies as hypocritical and unwarranted. The first thesis of his argument is based on the vision that President Schapiro advocates: that students ought to challenge themselves by taking classes whose subject matter is new or difficult for them, rather than taking classes in fields with which they are already familiar or in which they know that they can excel.
This argument is sound, until it links itself to grades. Why are lower grades necessarily paired with the unfamiliar fields, and higher grades with the familiar fields? Ironically, many of my lower grades have been in fields that were familiar to me, because I was used to thinking about topics in those fields in a certain way based on my earlier academic training in high school. I have discovered that it is just as difficult, if not more so, to broaden my thinking and reevaluate my ways of understanding in fields that I already know as it is to learn new material and new modes of thought.
Ultimately, the claim that lower grades and unfamiliar classes are linked is unfounded. Thus, Greenstein cannot conclude that Phi Beta Kappa awards those who don’t challenge themselves or take the road less traveled. And yes, he did say he didn’t want to imply that Phi Beta Kappa members didn’t challenge themselves, but denying that implication is the same as saying “you’re wrong, but I don’t want you to think that I think you’re wrong.”
Greenstein may be right to challenge the linkage of grades and success at Williams, which is his second main point. As an honor society, perhaps Phi Beta Kappa ought to reevaluate its standards for admission to include criteria that allow for excellence in leadership or community service to weigh in on the admission process.
Dan Perttu ’01