Letter: What PBK Really Means

To the Editor:

I am writing in response to your editorial published on March 29, 2012, “What Does Junior 24 Stand For?”

I disagree with a lot of what was said in this article. First is the view, perpetuated by this article, that Phi Beta Kappa or any other system of distinguishing students, is naturalized and objective. According to the article, the process of selecting students who take diverse classes helps to separate the truly brilliant from the rest. However, PBK is still, as this article itself indicates, fundamentally based on extremely high grade point averages. To uncritically equate the highest levels of brilliance and intellectual growth to this number is to ignore the vast genius and competency of those who knowingly forgo these GPAs for growth outside of formal courses. The most thoughtful and intellectually intrepid students I know do not get into PBK precisely because their education moves them away from the pedantry of academic work. These students can write and articulate their ideas just as well as PBK students but they choose to act on their education, to be involved in improving the social realities they learn from it. To declare the PBK 24 as the most naturally intelligent is to ignore those of that group who knowingly sacrifice GPA and those who arbitrarily get disregarded because of the quirks and politicking within this system.

Ultimately, PBK identifies a very particular type of student. The student must, generally speaking, be willing to place their own academic self-interest beyond everything else. The PBK student is focused on detail and unwilling to remove themselves from their work to engage in out of classroom learning. They must, on average, be more immersed in academia than other students. When our systems of selection elevate the individualist, action-neglecting students what exactly is our society valuing? I do not see honor societies for the most dedicated activists or the most able public servants. These should exist and these should be venerated as the PBK is in your article.


Mihir J. Chaudhary ’12

Cambridge, Mass.