Phi Beta Kappa is the nation's oldest and most widely known academic honor society. Five students at the College of William and Mary founded Phi Beta Kappa in 1776, during the American Revolution. For over two and a quarter centuries, the Society has embraced the principles of freedom of inquiry and liberty of thought and expression. These ideas are symbolized on Phi Beta Kappa's distinctive gold key.
Phi Beta Kappa celebrates and advocates excellence in the liberal arts and sciences. Its campus chapters invite for induction the most outstanding arts and sciences students at America's leading colleges and universities. The Society sponsors activities to advance these studies — the humanities, the social sciences, and the natural sciences — in higher education and in society at large. The University of Tennessee's chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, officially known as Epsilon of Tennessee, was formally installed in 1964.
The criteria for membership used by the University of Tennessee Chapter are based on the "Stipulations Concerning Eligibility for Membership In Course" adopted by the Phi Beta Kappa Council in 1952.
Students do not apply for membership. Those students eligible for election are automatically considered each year by the members-in-course committee. The primary criterion for election is academic excellence in the liberal arts.
Students who are candidates for a bachelor's degree in the College of Arts and Sciences are eligible for election. Students must have earned a minium of 60 semester hours at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. This includes advanced placement credit, study abroad in a UTK-sponsored program, and proficiency credit in foreign language.
Students must show competency in mathematics and foreign language. Mathematics competency can be shown by appropriate high school credit or by mathematics courses at the college level. Foreign language competency requires two years of courses at the college level, or the equivalent.
Grades earned in applied or professional work are not counted in computing the grade-point average for the purposes of eligibility. Courses taken outside the College of Arts and Sciences are generally excluded as are applied or professional courses, such as applied music and studio art, taken in the College of Arts and Sciences.
A significant fraction of courses must be in the liberal arts. The exact total depends on the total number of hours attempted, but the minimum number for election is 65. The minimum GPA also depends on the total number of hours, but is always greater than 3.55. Weight is also given to the breadth and proportion of a student's program taken outside of the major.
Students judged eligible for membership are invited to join the chapter. An invitation is not equivalent to becoming a member. Students must accept the invitation, pay the required initiation fee and register with the national Phi Beta Kappa Society through the auspices of the local UT chapter (Epsilon of Tennessee). Students are encouraged to attend the formal initiation, but those unable to attend can be initiated in absentia.
The University of Tennessee's chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, officially known as Epsilon of Tennessee, was formally installed in 1964.