Phi Beta Kappa Responds

November 30, 2005

Check out The Chronicle of Higher Education’s article on the letter we sent to Phi Beta Kappa yesterday. Our letter asked for the prestigious honor society’s help in battling campus speech codes. The Chronicle was able to reach John Churchill, the secretary of Phi Beta Kappa, for his response:

The honor society said on Tuesday that, while it supported free speech, it could not enforce civil liberties on college campuses. “Clearly Phi Beta Kappa is interested in freedom of inquiry and freedom of expression,” said John Churchill, secretary of the society. But “it is not one of our functions to police and patrol the practices of institutions that have chapters,” he said. The society does not “undertake that kind of investigative activity.”

Interesting. So if you abuse free speech before you have a chapter, Phi Beta Kappa may refuse you one—but if you do so after you have a chapter there, Phi Beta Kappa can’t do anything?

It may be true that Phi Beta Kappa does not have the resources necessary to conduct in-depth investigations of universities that already have chapters. Fortunately, FIRE does. In our letter we present evidence of multiple member schools with seriously problematic speech codes and other violations. Since we have taken care of the investigating part (and we would be happy to provide Phi Beta Kappa with our primary documents and research) we hope that the honor society will help us pressure its member chapters to respect free inquiry and academic freedom. FIRE urges Churchill and all Phi Beta Kappa members to review our case archive and Spotlight to see the litany of abuses that have taken place at other Phi Beta Kappa member institutions.