By Audrey McMillion
The official charter for Phi Beta Kappa’s Beta of Arkansas Chapter at Hendrix College hangs in the atrium of Fausett Hall, a space that I’ve walked through many times to reach my English and Spanish literature classes. I finally paused to examine the document the other day. The charter begins, “Members of Phi Beta Kappa greeting,” and it addresses the members of the Hendrix faculty who were ΦBK members at the time that the charter was granted, informing them that Hendrix is “possessed of the character and standing which make it particularly worthy of admittance into this association and friendship.” This document is common to all chapters, and specifically, it is the product of the hard work of the faculty at Hendrix College over many years. The date of charter, April 15, 1998, does not tell the full story.
Hendrix College was established in Altus, Arkansas in 1876 and moved to Conway in 1890. During these early years, the school saw many changes, including the merging of other schools like Galloway Women’s College and Henderson-Brown College with Hendrix, though not all of these changes were permanent. During the 1920s, the school began to consider pursuing the addition of a Phi Beta Kappa chapter, but a charter was not granted for the applications from 1935, 1938, and 1941. In 1941, the application was suspended because of the attacks on Pearl Harbor. Then, the desire to gain a Phi Beta Kappa chapter lay dormant until the 1980s when John Churchill, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the College at Hendrix at the time and current ΦBK Secretary, began to once again gather the qualifications necessary to apply for a charter.
One important qualification for a school applying for a chapter is that ΦBK members must make up ten percent of the total faculty and number no less than ten faculty members. Because Hendrix is a relatively small school, this quota was sometimes difficult to fill, as seen by the eleven names on the charter that hangs in Fausett Hall. Britt Murphy, the librarian at Bailey Library of Hendrix College who joined the faculty a few years after the Hendrix chapter was established, notes with pride the status of Phi Beta Kappa at Hendrix, saying that this chapter is a haven of intellectualism within the state of Arkansas. The Hendrix chapter is one of only two in Arkansas, the other established at the University of Arkansas in 1932.
Chapter charters are granted every three years, and the application process requires all three of those years for preparation. Applications that are due in one year are reviewed early the following year by the Committee on Qualifications. Members of the Phi Beta Kappa Senate make site visits to become more informed about the quality and energy of the school that is seeking a chapter. Under Churchill’s guidance, Hendrix applied in 1985, 1988, 1991, and 1994, each year bettering their application. The 1994 application was finally approved.
Through its Phi Beta Kappa chapter, Hendrix participates in the Visiting Scholars Program, which brings prominent American scholars to campus to lecture and meet with students. Because there is no ΦBK association for the greater area of Arkansas, it is sometimes difficult for the members of the Hendrix chapter to participate in the Society’s national events, but being inducted by the Hendrix chapter provides graduates with an extensive network of ΦBK alumni across the United States. The chapter is certainly a mark of pride here on campus. The ΦBK faculty are among the most involved, and each year about 30 members of the graduating class are admitted to the Society.
Audrey McMillion is a senior at Hendrix College majoring in English. Hendrix College is home to the Beta of Arkansas Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.