Phi Beta Kappa Should Prove Its Commitment to Free Speech: Part 2

By January 30, 2006

In a Wall Street Journal article published earlier this month, writer Daniel Golden tackled the explicitly evangelical Wheaton College, which recently fired a professor for converting to Catholicism. In that article, Golden mentions that the honor society Phi Beta Kappa (PBK) objects to colleges’ violations of free speech and open inquiry. He wrote:

Phi Beta Kappa, the honors society, hasn’t established a chapter at any of the evangelical colleges that make up the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, including Wheaton. Kelly Gerald, a spokeswoman, says the society wants to uphold what it sees as the values inherent in the liberal arts and sciences, such as tolerance for diverse points of view.

But if PBK really wants to uphold free speech and freedom of inquiry, as has been suggested, then why has the honor society not stood up to its numerous member institutions that have illegal and immoral speech codes governing acceptable speech?

FIRE is still waiting for PBK to respond to a nine-page letter sent back in November, in which we called the society out for supporting institutions with immoral or even illegal speech codes. One such speech code is from Pennsylvania State University, which will not tolerate acts of intolerance, defined as any “attitude, feeling or belief in furtherance of which an individual acts to intimidate, threaten or show contempt for” members of protected groups (emphasis added).

FIRE appreciates that PBK claims to hold its institutions to high standards of academic freedom and free speech, but until it addresses its members institutions’ speech codes, the society’s claims will continue to ring hollow.

Schools: Pennsylvania State University – University Park