To the Editors of the CRIMSON:
In his letter of September 26 attacking Phi Beta Kappa's final election procedures, Mr. Charles R. Chester '66 indulges in the pitiable fallacy of supposing that a student's average course grade, his general examination grade, and his thesis grade are "objective" measures of his academic prowess in some more apodictic sense than the common judgment, based on all that information and more, of the 24 of his peers and several faculty members who assist at the June election meetings.
There is no more reason for PBK to be bound by the sum of random variables numerically coded on a transcript than there is for the admissions committee of Harvard College to be bound by its applicants' high school grades and College Board scores. Grades, whether of course work, generals, or theses, are humanly devised estimates of human performances, and are therefore themselves always subject to further human evaluation.
I would like to think that the atrocities Mr. Chester cited ("Men with under 9. averages had been elected, while those close to 11. had been rejected; cum laude candidates had been elected over magna candidates...") all occurred because the electors of PBK refused to couch the administration of honor in Mr. Chester's Procrustean bad. Having been present at the June elections in 1963, '64, and '65, I can vouch that the great majority of these apparent reversals favored a heterogeneity of interests, favored signs of intellectual flare and excitement, over that massive but dull competence which gets its own reward in grades, grades, and more grades.
Mr. Chester is simply incorrect when he says that "each member has 'blackball' power over any candidate." No one does. I have seen both faculty and administration members outvoted by the student electors; one man, one vote. On the other hand, it was true, at least when I was in the Society, that "faculty recommendations carry strong weight" (though it requires contemplation to understand how a weight can be strong rather than heavy). Does Mr. Chester want the Society to reply soley on the grades faculty members give, and not on their more finely articulated comments?
Without doubt, in some cases, candidates who had friends in the Society had an advantage over those who did not, but only because those friends could inform the Society of candidates' academic and intgellectual activities that escaped the transcripts and faculty comments. The solution to this problem is fuller information on all candidates, not abdication to a mindless formula.
And without doubt, Phi Beta Kappa simply makes mistakes in trying to select the 90 intellectually most powerful members of a class in which six or seven hundred graduate with honors. No one claims PBK is infallible. But neither, fortunately, is it as significant as Mr. Chester inclines to believe. If Mr. Chester is on the losing end of one of PBK's mistakes, let him take consolation in knowing that membership in PBK neither bestows nor rewards greatness. Joel E. Cohen '65, 1G
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