Phi Beta Kappa has some merit

In last week’s Record, Judd Greenstein ’01 questioned the appropriateness of the communal recognition of Phi Beta Kappa inductees during Convocation and criticized the society’s presence on campus. The irony Greenstein points out escaped my attention during the ceremony because I am not a very critical thinker, especially on Saturdays, and I was thinking more about how I’d like to have bagpipers play at my wedding and funeral than about the implications of the juxtaposition of President Schapiro’s address with Phi Beta Kappa-related things. I am however, glad to have been presented with this opportunity to share my views regarding Phi Beta Kappa and its members.

First, I’d just like to say that I don’t like anyone feeling dissatisfied or disgruntled or anything that doesn’t feel good, so I am sorry that the select presence of Phi Beta Kappa members at the Isaac Stern dinner last fall evoked some negative feelings. Judd is absolutely correct to assert (and all six of my friends would concur) that my membership in Phi Beta Kappa has not automatically made me an especially scintillating dinner companion.

I do not think, however, that the role of Phi Beta Kappa in bringing distinguished and accomplished guests to campus should be discredited or overlooked; had members of Phi Beta Kappa not attended the dinner last fall – or other such previous and upcoming events – it would be as if someone decided not to go to his own birthday party. Any organization or department that helps to bring guests to campus has the responsibility to extend hospitality and show appreciation for the guests’ efforts to share their experiences with Williams College students and faculty. I’m sorry that this may seem an unfair privilege, and I can provide no argument to the contrary.

I can, however, protest Greenstein’s claim that Phi Beta Kappa and/or its members do not and cannot represent “the vision proposed by our new president.” President Schapiro exhorts members of our academic and social community to enter “an unfamiliar arena” with “noble efforts to learn something new.”

Greenstein implies that the members of Phi Beta Kappa have failed to embody the president’s message by asserting that Phi Beta Kappa members have accomplished what “they set out to do…getting high grades at Williams” while perhaps “remain[ing] stuck on the obvious paths.” While I invite Judd’s opinions – however erroneous or incomplete – to be directed toward me personally, I object to the generalization he has applied to the group inclusive.

Nineteen majors – six Division I, seven Division II, and six Division III – are represented by the 26 seniors recently elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and 65 percent of those elected are double-majors in different divisions.

Furthermore, the inductees have been leaders of or participants in more than 30 campus and community groups. From both an academic and social perspective, breadth of experience clearly has neither succumbed to nor overwhelmed depth of experience.

While Judd is correct to say that election to Phi Beta Kappa does not confer intellect or character to its members, election to the society does not preclude development or demonstration of the those qualities in a manner consistent with the vision of Williams College espoused by President Schapiro.

Caitlin Carr ’01

President, Phi Beta Kappa

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