The Phi Beta Kappa Society is an academic honor society with the mission of fostering and recognizing excellence in undergraduate liberal arts and sciences. Founded at the College of William and Mary on December 5, 1776 as a student society devoted to the pursuit of liberal education and intellectual fellowship, it is the oldest academic society in the United States. Membership is granted to approximately 1% of college graduates, and today there are 283 chapters at America’s leading colleges and universities and over half a million living members. No member school may induct more than 10% of its arts and sciences graduates, and most chapters invite a smaller percentage to membership. Phi Beta Kappa is generally considered to be the most selective and prestigious of all college honors societies, so election to membership is one of the highest honors available to undergraduate collegians. Occasionally, outstanding Ph.D. graduates are also invited to join the Society. The Phi Beta Kappa national office sponsors several awards, fellowships, lectureships and scholarships, and works with other institutions to advance the liberal arts and sciences. It publishes two journals, including The American Scholar.
The Texas A&M University chapter (Kappa of Texas) inducted its first class in the spring of 2004. Because Texas A&M does not have a “College of Arts and Sciences,” its Phi Beta Kappa members come from across the campus, but all inductees have excelled in an extensive range of challenging courses in the humanities, performing and visual arts, mathematics, natural science, and social and behavioral science. As Phi Beta Kappa graduates, they join the ranks of 40% of U.S. Presidents, 136 Nobel laureates, seven of the nine current U.S. Supreme Court Justices and one third of all past Supreme Court Justices, and some of America’s most accomplished scientists, artists, and athletes. Included among that number are John Quincy Adams, Daniel Webster, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Oliver Wendell Holmes, John Dewey, Theodore Roosevelt, W. E. B. Dubois, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Stephen Sondheim, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Ralph Nader, Gloria Steinem, Kris Kristofferson, Francis Ford Coppola, Tom Brokaw, Steven Chu, Glenn Close, Condoleezza Rice, Ben Bernanke, Sonia Sotomayor, George Stephanopoulos, Ashley Judd, Elena Kagan, and Peyton Manning. Currently, there are 146 Phi Beta Kappa “members in residence” on the faculty and staff of Texas A&M.