Submit Nominations for Western District Chair and Secretary

We will vote for a new Western District Chair and Secretary at the District Meeting planned at Triennial. The primary duties include compiling input from the Western District Chapters and Associations into a newsletter; chairing the District Meeting at the 2009 Triennial; and forming a nominating committee if and when the District Senator seat is open. Please e-mail information on nominees for the positions of Chair and Secretary as soon as possible to

Submit Recommendations for the Forty-First Triennial Council of 2006

If you have recommendations or issues you wish to discuss at the Western District meeting, please email me, , with details that I may add these items to the agenda. Also, please be sure that the PBK Society has current contact information for your officers to ensure that your organization receives all pertinent information.

Fortieth Triennial Council of 2003

Many of you have already read the details of the Fortieth Triennial Council in 2003 as summarized in a past issue of The Key Reporter.

The full Minutes are available here

Highlights included the election of Niall W. Slater, President; Donald S. Lamm, Vice President; and John Donor, Western District Senator. Also, eight new PBK Chapters were approved: Alfred University, Eckerd College, State University of New York, College of Geneseo, Roanoke College, Saint Michael’s College, University of San Diego, Texas A&M University at College Station, and Valparaiso University. We congratulate and welcome these new chapters.

The issue of levying District dues was raised at the Western District meeting. A motion was passed to assess each District Chapter and Association $30 per Triennial. However, in light of the significant increase in the annual Society assessment of Associations, levied subsequent to the 2003 Triennial Council, Jean Paule, Western District Secretary and I decided against imposing District dues so as not to pose an additional burden on Associations.

Highlights of the Western District Meeting, August 7, 2003, Seattle

Merrill (Mel) Shattuck chaired the Western District Meeting on August 7, 2003, and Mary Hanel served as Secretary. Western District Senator Gerald L. Alexanderson, of the Santa Clara University Chapter submitted a written report noting that a recent back problem had prevented him from attending the 40th Triennial, and unfortunately also caused him to decide against remaining a candidate for reelection as Western District Senator.

The Nominating Committee selected Professor John E. Doner, President, UC Santa Barbara Chapter, to replace Gerald Alexanderson on the ballot for Western District Senator. Mel Shattuck was also a candidate for Western District Senator.

A two-page excerpt from the 2003 Western Key Newsletter was distributed. The newsletter was published on the web by PBK Northern California Association webmaster Ray Hendess. The full newsletter is available here.

Mel Shattuck announced that after serving two terms as Western District Chairman, he had decided to step down and called for nominations from the floor for the position. Two nominees were presented: Bette Napoli Harris, Past President of both PBK Alumni in Southern California and PBK Northern California Association; and Susan Fedel of Alpha Association of Colorado. After a vote of 17 to 12, Bette Napoli Harris was elected Western District Chair.

Jean Paule, PBK Alumni in Southern California was the sole nominee for Western District Secretary to replace Mary Hanel. Ms. Paule was elected by unanimous voice vote.

Mel Shattuck raised the issue of assessing dues from each of the associations and chapters in the Western District to defray the cost of printing and mailing the Western District newsletter and for other mailing expenses. In the past, District dues had never been formally charged, however donations had been requested for such purposes.

Letter from the Western District Chair Bette Harris

Dear Western District Representatives,

As in past years, the Phi Beta Kappa Western Key Newsletter is published shortly prior to the upcoming Triennial. The forthcoming Triennial Council is scheduled for October 25-29 in Atlanta, Georgia. Enjoy reading about your colleagues in other Chapters and Associations. Feel free to borrow their ideas to improve your own organizations.

In light of the many stories of Phi Beta Kappa’s “lost cachet,” I would like to draw your attention to an interesting trend reported by Professor Herb Kaesz, longtime President of Eta Chapter of California (University of California, Los Angeles). Apparently, a number of graduates, who had declined the invitation to join PBK when the offer was initially extended years prior, later contacted UCLA’s Chapter office asking if they could accept the honor belatedly. It seems they eventually realized the value of the PBK designation e.g. it would add significantly to one’s resume when vying in a competitive job market. According to Professor Kaesz, “Eta Chapter has assisted approximately a dozen such graduates in their belated acceptance of the designation, just in the past couple of years. Most recently, Eta received a request to retrieve records for a possible election from 1939!”

While on the subject of UCLA, I had the opportunity to attend Eta Chapter’s initiation this year with a colleague from my Association, Phi Beta Kappa Alumni in Southern California (Alpha Association). We congratulated the initiates, presented our Association’s Graduate Study Award and extended an invitation for a complimentary one-year Association membership. The program was most enjoyable -- held outdoors on a balmy afternoon with musical accompaniment by the Versailles Quartet, followed by a lovely reception. Members of Alpha’s Council try to provide representation at the initiations held at the Southern California Chapters, whenever possible.

Alpha Association also does outreach at the high school level to raise PBK’s profile. Association liaisons present awards to the scholarship recipients at select inner city schools. Each year, it is my pleasure to present awards to the four scholarship recipients at Theodore Roosevelt High School in East Los Angeles, who have demonstrated love of learning through their outstanding academic achievement.

I would like to thank all of the Chapter and Association representatives, who responded to my request for news of your organization. This newsletter would not be possible without your valuable input. I would also like to thank Ray Hendess of the Northern California Association for his assistance in making the newsletter accessible by linking it to his association’s website: Ray has served as Western District Webmaster for nearly a decade. We greatly appreciate his help.


Letter From Western District Senator John E. Doner

Math Department, University of California, Santa Barbara

I'm pleased to report that our national organization is in fine shape. The new headquarters building is working out very well---you should drop in for a look any time you're in Washington D.C.; it's at 1606 New Hampshire, NW---and the staff impresses me as highly competent. The Society has excellent leadership in the persons of Niall Slater, our President, Donald Lamm, Vice President, John Churchill, our Executive Secretary, and Scott Lurding, our new Associate Secretary---those of you who attend the forthcoming Triennial Council will have a chance to meet him.

The management of the Society's finances is in very good hands. I am always impressed by the list of names on the advisory board for our endowment, and their advice has been prescient, to say the least. The endowment is invested in ways entirely appropriate to an organization of this kind, and earns a comfortable return at minimum risk.

As you may already know, the 2006 Triennial Council will be held Oct. 25-29, 2006, at the Westin Peachtree Plaza in Atlanta, Ga. As for the choice of the Southeast as a venue, this is in accord with the long-standing policy on geographic rotation. You'll be receiving further information about the meeting in due course.

Significant improvements in the PBK web site, and in electronic communications within the Society, are forthcoming. You'll be hearing about them in the near future.

The American Scholar is doing well under its new editorial leadership. Substantial steps have been made in reining in expenses while maintaining the quality and content we are accustomed to.

I'll devote the rest of this article to what is to me the most compelling issue, one which represents a very serious problem for the Society: This has recently been brought to the fore by a feature article in the Wall Street Journal of Friday, Nov. 4, 2005, entitled "Phi Beta What?" My understanding and interpretation of the spirit of the article was: Incredibly, many students are declining membership in Phi Beta Kappa. At first, many people saw the article as an attack, but it soon became clear that it wasn't; instead, it points out a problem which we have discussed several times in recent years, without much idea as to what to do about it: too many students decline membership when it is offered.

The article of course has other things to say about Phi Beta Kappa. Happily, most of them are positive, there are few errors of fact or omission, and I think that overall the article did us more good than harm. In fact, it says, "To anyone who graduated more than 10 years ago, the idea that a student would turn down a Phi Beta Kappa invitation is ludicrous.” Surely, a reader is going to get the message that if one aspires to belong to an honor society, Phi Beta Kappa is the one.

The problem of declining acceptance rates may be ludicrous, but it is also very real. There is great variability in the acceptance rate from campus to campus, just as there is variability in the election rate, the percentage of students with liberal arts programs who are actually invited to join PBK. Sometimes there are fairly obvious and remediable reasons for a low acceptance rate, but often, no particular cause is apparent. It does seem clear, however, that large public universities tend to have substantially lower acceptance rates than small private colleges. But even this is hard to sort out: some large institutions, such as my own UC Santa Barbara, or UC Irvine, have excellent acceptance rates close to 100%, whereas others that should be comparable get below 50%.

Geographically, it is clear where the biggest problem lies: in the Western District. In our district, there are relatively more large public institutions, and fewer private ones. This partly explains the disparity, but doesn't explain why there are lower rates in the first place. My guess is that several factors are responsible: (1) we have many more students who are first-in-the-family to attend college, and among this group, awareness of PBK is lower; (2) we have many students of foreign origin, who again have low PBK awareness; (3) we have many more students of limited financial means, so that the initiation fee poses a serious obstacle; (4) like all districts, we face competition from other groups calling themselves honor societies, e.g., Golden Key, which have lower requirements, invite students earlier, and charge higher fees---I suspect the PBK invitation, coming after a series of invitations by these other groups, often simply goes in the trash.

What can be done about it? For one thing, publicity efforts pay off: for example, if a university's public affairs office notifies hometown newspapers of a student's election, that student is likely to hear about it. If a Chapter is able to defray part of the initiation fee for students with limited finances, that should help a lot. Public recognition of electees on campus is bound to be noticed by other students, who then acquire a better idea of what PBK is about.

Efforts to acquaint undergraduates with Phi Beta Kappa and its requirements are particularly valuable---after all, we not only want to recognize those who have distinguished themselves in a liberal arts education, we want to encourage as many students as possible to pursue such an education. Getting PBK and its requirements mentioned in the catalog, and giving pep talks to freshman or sophomore level students are effective steps.

Can Associations help? Oh, yes! At some places, a Chapter and an Association keep in touch, and Association members help in contacting new invitees to explain to them what PBK is and why they should join. They should all be encouraged to join not only the Society itself, but also one of the Associations. Helping students for whom the fee is an obstacle is very useful. Just bringing PBK into the public eye is a valuable service.

I'm your representative to the PBK Senate. I need input from Western District Chapters and Associations. If you have concerns, or want to communicate suggestions, please send me an email.

A note from the Webmaster, Ray Hendess

The Western District includes all those Chapters and Associations in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

I am really excited to see how many Chapters are now having activities other than induction of students. Seventeen Chapters and six Associations responded to this newsletter. Not as good as 2003 (21 and 8) but really great response. If your Chapter or Association has not yet submitted information about your organization, it is not too late. I will be happy to post any information as it is received. This is one of the many nice features of a web-based newsletter.

This is the third time we have done our newsletter completely electronically. There are numerous advantages, including: no cost to the organizations; corrections and late postings can be made; wider distribution possible, virtually unlimited space. A few have lamented the loss of hard copy; clearly not everyone is comfortable with reading on the computer monitor. Please print these three pages and distribute them to those members.

A newsletter is the best way we can keep informed of what is going on in other organizations within our district, and share our successes and failures with others. It's also good to see how many organizations now have a web presence. I ask those who do have a web site to provide a link on it to this newsletter at, this adds value to our site and yours, and is the best way to get higher rankings in search engines such as Google. Incidentally, our website is a subdirectory on the Northern California Association's website, and we thank them for this.

Finally, I would like to comment about using email addresses in this newsletter. Many people are loth to put their address on the web, and for a very good reason - spam. I have used a technique called Javascript to encode the email addresses, so that although you can click on an address and send an email, they cannot be collected by "spam-bots" since nowhere in the newsletter is there anything that looks to the bot like an email address. Of course, in order to get the full beneft from this website, you need to have javascript turned on. You can get more information about that here.

Some organizations did not provide an email address; if you want to contact one of them, the addresses for Chapters and Associations are on the Society site: Chapters, Associations

, Chair
, Secretary
, Webmaster