Founded in 1776 at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, Phi Beta Kappa is the nation's oldest honorary society, with chapters at 248 of the foremost institutions of higher education across the country. Almost all members are elected by the chapters from candidates for degrees in the liberal arts and sciences, usually from the top 5 - 10 percent of the graduating class.
Phi Beta Kappa was the first to adopt Greek letters for a name and to introduce the features that have characterized such organizations ever since, including mottoes in both Latin and Greek, a code of laws, and an elaborate form of initiation. The Society's name is formed by the first letter of the phrase Philosophia Biou Kybernetes, translated as "love of wisdom, the helmsman of life".
Based on the tenet that the test of education lies not in what people know but in what they are, the objectives of Phi Beta Kappa include not the mere acquisition of knowledge, but also the development of intellectual honesty and tolerance, a broad range of intellectual interests, and understanding. To this end, the Society continues to sponsor a number of programs and awards, including the Visiting Scholar Program, several scholarships and professorships, and three book awards for contributions in the sciences, literature, history and philosophy.
The Baylor University Chapter, Zeta of Texas, was approved December 6, 1976. Formal installation of the chapter took place April 12, 1977 in Bennett Auditorium, with Bruce Cresson of the Department of Religion designated to be the first president. There were 12 charter members of Zeta chapter: Karen Bell, Bruce Cresson, Wallace Daniel, Morse Hamilton, Clifford Knape, Maureen Lassen, Barbara Lauren, Robert Packard, Darden Powers, Robert Ray, Henry Robinson, and Patricia Ward. The first initiation ceremony was held April 29, 1977 with 26 initiates.
Currently, Baylor has one of eleven chapters in the state of Texas, joining the University of Texas, Rice, Southern Methodist, Texas Christian, Trinity, University of Dallas, Southwestern, Austin College, Texas A & M, and Texas Tech. As of September 2007, the present living membership of the Baylor chapter is about 750 men and 1025 women.
In addition to electing new members each year, the Baylor chapter sponsors the Roy Albaugh Phi Beta Kappa Lectureship, hosts an annual reception for the National Merit Scholars at Baylor, awards the Henry L. Robinson Memorial Scholarship each year, and sponsors a variety of lectures and presentations on campus. There are 68 faculty and staff members currently in the Zeta chapter.