This is the season when two core aspects of our Phi Beta Kappa mission converge: the recognition of academic excellence on our campuses and our advocacy for the liberal arts and sciences, representing the myriad benefits that liberal education bestows on American society.
For most members of Phi Beta Kappa, commencement season calls to mind their own induction, as they recall the emotional buoyancy of their college graduation. I am struck by how many key holders, whether their induction was recent or decades ago, can conjure up that moment with great clarity. With all induction ceremonies returning at last to in-person events, I was able to share the particular joy of academic attainment with a diverse cohort of students across the country. In celebrating these accomplished liberal arts and sciences students—as Phi Beta Kappa has done for nearly a quarter of a millennium—we articulate and testify to the significance of liberal education to our society and the world.
This season also calls upon the Society and its members to advocate for the future of the liberal arts and sciences, at both the state and federal level. As you are likely aware, several states have considered and enacted legislation this year that would limit areas of inquiry, study, and faculty scholarship on public university campuses. Such legislation not only raises grave questions about the foundational principles of academic freedom, but if passed, it also necessarily damages the public good of a liberal arts and sciences education. I urge you to review the educational resources and opportunities for action that we have brought together on our academic freedom webpage, under the “programs” menu at pbk.org. Your voice is critical in these debates.
With respect to the federal budget process, now a year-long endeavor, we encourage you to reach out to your members of Congress this summer to request their support of the National Endowment for the Humanities, which the Society helped found. Members like you helped the nation’s cultural endowments secure an historic funding increase last year. It is crucial that we maintain robust funding. To ensure that the liberal arts and sciences are available for all, the Society is committed to asking Congress to double the Pell Grant, the primary source of federal financial aid for low- and moderate-income students and one of the most impactful federal scholarship programs since the GI Bill. Lastly, please urge your elected officials to support federally funded science, which contributes to the nation’s human and economic growth. Please visit the National Arts & Sciences Initiative Toolkit on our website to learn more.
Your membership is a measure of your commitment to the future of the liberal arts and sciences; we invite you to join us both in welcoming our newest members and in championing the value of the liberal arts and sciences. We are grateful for your support. It has never been more crucial.
Frederick M. Lawrence
Secretary and CEO