By Molly Nelson
Joseph W. Gordon, Dean of Undergraduate Education at Yale College, is the first recipient of Phi Beta Kappa’s Judith F. Krug Medal, awarded at the Society’s 43rd Triennial Council in August of this year for his exceptional service to Phi Beta Kappa.
Gordon’s involvement with Phi Beta Kappa is extensive: He served as secretary of and on the executive board of advisors for the Alpha of Connecticut chapter, and is on the New England District Executive Committee. In past years, he has held several national offices, including senator, Vice-President of the Society, Chairman of the Foundation, and President of the Society. He has also served on several senate committees including the Committee on Awards, the Publications Committee, the Strategic Planning Committee, and the Executive Committee of the Senate. He was also on the advisory board of The American Scholar. Gordon has officiated at or been witness to the installation of new chapters at ten universities or colleges. He was an inaugural member and remains today an active member of the Secretary’s Circle, a “friends” organization that supports the Foundation.
Among his many accomplishments within Phi Beta Kappa, his work on the Committee of Qualifications is what Gordon considers his most rewarding experience. “It’s wonderful to get out there and see how eagerly sought after a Phi Beta Kappa charter is among faculty and administrators at the best colleges and universities,” he notes. “They throw themselves into a multi-year — sometimes, a decade-long — application effort, and in the process work to improve their home institution’s commitment to liberal education.”
Gordon recalls watching institutions strive to improve foreign language programs, library and instructional technology resources, freedom of speech policies, and honors programs in order to earn a Phi Beta Kappa chapter. Many of those efforts, he explains, were ultimately transformational for these campuses.
Gordon, however, is quick to praise all aspects of his experience with Phi Beta Kappa. He credits the “energy and devotion” of members for his positive experience. “This is a volunteer organization, and the hours and hours that so many people all across the country give to sustaining the values of Phi Beta Kappa is a real index of how much they value their membership and seek to extend the reach of the Society to more and more students,” he explains.
The Judith F. Krug Medal was named in honor of Judith Krug, a longtime member of Phi Beta Kappa and a colleague of Gordon’s. “I was fortunate to serve on the Senate at the same time as Judith,” recalls Gordon. “I have to say we always had a good time together, even when the problems we tackled were daunting. She was tireless and outspoken. The same bold temperament that brought her such success in championing the freedom to read in libraries and public schools throughout the U.S. was always in evidence at our meetings.”
Krug embodied the values of Phi Beta Kappa; the Society’s motto, “Love of learning is the guide of life,” manifested itself in her fervent efforts to better it. “She could be inspiring one minute and in the next a cagey deal-maker. She believed that people can make the right decisions if they just get the chance to know more and talk things through,” Gordon explains. “She was afraid of no one.”
Molly Nelson is a junior at Carnegie Mellon University majoring in English. Carnegie Mellon is home to the Upsilon of Pennsylvania chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.