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USF checks another big box: a Phi Beta Kappa chapter

Students walk near the reflecting pool at the University of South Florida in Tampa. The school on Friday was awarded a chapter of the prestigious Phi Beta Kappa Society after a three-year application process that examined USF's students, faculty, academics, campus life, financial stability, administration and governance. USF is the seventh Florida school to receive the honor. [Times (2016)]
Students walk near the reflecting pool at the University of South Florida in Tampa. The school on Friday was awarded a chapter of the prestigious Phi Beta Kappa Society after a three-year application process that examined USF's students, faculty, academics, campus life, financial stability, administration and governance. USF is the seventh Florida school to receive the honor. [Times (2016)]
Published Aug. 3, 2018

TAMPA — The University of South Florida has notched another achievement on its way to national recognition.

The school on Friday was awarded a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, the prestigious national honor society. It joins six other Florida schools with the same honor — Eckerd College, Florida International University, Florida State University, Stetson University, the University of Florida and University of Miami.

"So many of the leaders of our nation have achieved this remarkable accomplishment, and now USF students will have the opportunity to do so as well," USF provost Ralph Wilcox said in a phone interview as he waited to fly home from Boston, where USF had been voted into the organization.

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Students will be able to join the school's chapter this coming academic year, Wilcox said. To do so, they must meet the organization's nationwide stipulations:

• Students must be candidates for a bachelor's degree, with coursework in liberal arts and sciences equivalent to at least three-quarters of the credits needed for a degree.

• The breadth and depth of a student's study in those fields will be considered.

• Students must know a second or non-native language.

• Students must have taken at least one course in math, logic or statistics.

• Students must be "persons of good moral character."

"Being home to a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa validates USF's growing national reputation," USF System president Judy Genshaft said in a statement. "It gives our students and faculty access to a prestigious network of peers across the country, which will serve them now and well into the future."

The honor society awards chapters every three years, according to a USF news release, and only 36 percent of its member institutions are public. The average member school was founded in 1860, almost 100 years before USF's creation.

Wilcox called the society "reserved for the crème de la crème of private and public universities across the United States."

USF went through a three-year application process that reviewed its students, faculty, academics, campus life, finances, administration and governance, according to the news release. It was an effort spearheaded by USF Honors College Dean Charles Adams and a committee of USF faculty members who have graduated as Phi Beta Kappa members. Earning a chapter requires a two-thirds vote of the organization's membership, Wilcox said.

The chapter award comes just weeks after USF was designated a "preeminent" university in Florida. USF's next target in its quest for prestige: membership in the Association of American Universities, a selective collection of 62 institutions. Each of those schools has a Phi Beta Kappa chapter.

"We believe that the values that they embrace and the performance expectations they demonstrate … are consistent with the path that we're on," Wilcox said.

A reputation can take decades to build, the provost said, and USF has had to compete against much older institutions.

"But we don't have centuries to wait," he said. "We believe Tampa Bay and our students deserve, and have earned, a world-class education, and we are determined to bring it to them."

Contact Justin Trombly at jtrombly@tampabay.com. Follow @JustinTrombly.