“When I was an undergraduate, everybody knew what Phi Beta Kappa was.
I want students today to know…that they’ve been selected into the most
prestigious honorary in the country.”
— Harold A. Drake
By Melissa Immel
Harold (Hal) Drake’s impressive career and outlook on life exemplify Phi Beta Kappa’s motto “Love of learning is the guide of life.” He has consistently been thoughtful about his choices, which has allowed him to be a successful historian, professor, and ΦBK member.
After being inducted into Phi Beta Kappa and graduating from University of Southern California’s journalism program in 1963, Drake began working for United Press International in Los Angeles, California.
Drake quickly discovered that he knew a bit about a wide variety of topics, but he was not an expert in any one area, a state of knowledge he calls both the strength and the weakness of the American higher education system. This realization led him to pursue a doctorate in history, which he earned at the University of Wisconsin in 1970. Immediately after, Drake began his academic career at University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB).
Drake’s research, focused on Roman history during the fourth century A.D., concerns the shifts that followed from the emperor Constantine’s transition to Christianity. His work includes Constantine and the Bishops: The Politics of Intolerance (2000) and Violence in Late Antiquity: Perceptions and Practices (2006), among many other publications that have earned him significant recognition in his field.
In addition to his research as a historian, Drake has proven himself an especially effective teacher. He believes that his diverse background allows him to have a perspective on how to teach history, especially to students who are not history majors, in a way that engages students from all fields.
Drake’s students have demonstrated their appreciation for his teaching style throughout the years, as he received the UCSB Associated Students’ Outstanding Teacher Award in both 1973 and 1974, the Academic Senate’s Outstanding Assistant Professor Award in 1976, the UCSB Alumni Association’s Distinguished Teaching Award in 1996, and the Academic Senate’s Outstanding Graduate Mentor Award in 2007, among a host of other prestigious recognitions.
Drake has also played an integral role in the growth of Phi Beta Kappa’s Lambda Chapter at UCSB. He joined the board as Treasurer during his first year on campus.
Drake is proud of UCSB’s selection process for its Phi Beta Kappa chapter. While some schools have begun to digitally select the top students for Phi Beta Kappa membership, Drake has ensured that UCSB continues to physically analyze each candidate’s transcript throughout the decision-making process to guarantee that each student not only has an excellent GPA, but also demonstrates commitment to Phi Beta Kappa’s values of inquiry, integrity, and well roundedness.
When Drake was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa, he knew it was a significant honor. Today, many students do not recognize the value of the distinction, likely due to the increase in financially motivated, unremarkable, quasi-faux honor societies that bombard high-achieving students. Drake’s heavy involvement in Phi Beta Kappa at UCSB stems largely from his desire to maintain Phi Beta Kappa’s status and visibility, as well as to advise students to accept the invitation to join, should they be selected for membership.
Drake’s dedication and inspiration has prompted the Lambda Chapter at UCSB to create a special award in his honor. The Hal Drake Honor Key award will annually go “to the initiate majoring in history or the history of public policy who best demonstrates the highest ideals of Phi Beta Kappa,” one of four similar honors the chapter awards at each spring initiation.
Drake, who was surprised by the establishment of the award, hopes that the recipients will be students who embody Phi Beta Kappa’s motto and values, as he has striven to do throughout both his professional career and his personal life. His work will forever live on in the form of the Lambda Chapter at UCSB’s membership selection process, the Hal Drake Honor Key, and the students that follow his lead to become active, engaged members of Phi Beta Kappa.
Melissa Immel is a graduating senior at University of California, Santa Barbara majoring in political science. UCSB is home to the Lambda of California Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.