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Life of the Mind

May 1, 1999

Mary Ann Travis

The university is about the life of the mind," says Robert Sherer, university archivist and secretary of Tulane's Phi Beta Kappa chapter. That's why Sherer wants recognition for initiates to Phi Beta Kappa, the national honors organization for graduating students.

"These students have impressive academic accomplishments that deserve attention," says Sherer. Phi Beta Kappa recognizes excellence in academics, and, Sherer says, "It's important to acknowledge remarkable students who have done outstanding work."

To get elected to Phi Beta Kappa, students must have majored in the liberal arts and sciences and they typically have 3.7 or higher grade point averages. No courses in studio art, theater, dance and music are considered in the calculation of grade point average, and neither are courses in ROTC, architecture, business or engineering.

Tulane formed its Phi Beta Kappa chapter in 1909, and until 1977, it was the only Louisiana university to have a Phi Beta Kappa chapter. Tulane can, by its charter, admit the top 20 percent of the graduating class to membership in Phi Beta Kappa.

The university, however, prefers to follow recent, more stringent guidelines from the national organization, which restrict membership to the top 10 percent of graduates. This year, Tulane initiated 63 Phi Beta Kappas. Kenneth Harl, professor of history and a Phi Beta Kappa from Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., presented a talk, "Classical Canons of Excellence for the New Millennium" at the induction ceremony on May 13.

Harl irreverently says, "Phi Beta Kappa recognizes the best students who got the message that the grades on your transcript count." He counts organization and hard work as much as brilliance as factors for achieving academic excellence.

Working with a 200-person mailing list, Sherer wants to foster community among Phi Beta Kappas who are Tulane faculty and staff as well as other members of the New Orleans community. "I want staff members to know they are welcome at our events," says Sherer.

Sherer encourages faculty or staff members to get involved in electing new members and attending initiation ceremonies. Also, he hopes Phi Beta Kappa will sponsor guest lecturers on campus in the future.

"Some of the new initiates don't understand the significance of acquiring the Phi Beta Kappa key [the symbol of the organization]," says Sherer, "but they learn as they get older how prestigious this achievement is."

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