Pepperdine University was sent a rejection letter by Phi Beta Kappa (PBK) on June 10 after applying to have the prestigious honor society on their campus. PBK said that the reason the school was rejected is due to their tenure policy and its application to “faculty autonomy,” according to the Pepperdine Graphic. LMU received a PBK chapter on campus last year.
Pepperdine’s Tenure Policy cites an “acceptance of Christian values” as one of the factors that is considered for tenure positions. Dean of Pepperdine’s Seaver College of Liberal Arts Michael Feltner wrote a response to Frederick Lawrence, PBK CEO, voicing his concerns over the rejection. Feltner was unhappy that the rejection letter referenced Pepperdine’s Christian mission, specifically their tenure policy, as one of the reasons the school was rejected, according to the Pepperdine Graphic.
LMU’s tenure policy does not contain any religious clauses that would prevent faculty from being promoted, according to the faculty handbook.
PBK, founded in 1776, is considered to be the most prestigious honor society in the nation, according to their website. Only 10% of the nation’s universities have a PBK chapter on campus, according to their website. They also stated that PBK’s founding principles are “academic freedom” along with “free expression” and “free inquiry.”
Professor Christopher Soper, a Pepperdine faculty member and leader of the university’s application, responded to the rejection by questioning the existence of PBK chapters in other religious institutions, such as LMU and Baylor University. “The reality is that most of the religiously-based universities PBK has granted chapters to in recent years are ones that have made some different choices than Pepperdine,” said Soper, according to the Pepperdine Graphic. “While they’re still connected to their religious tradition, the connections are more tenuous — less apparent in the day-to-day life at the institution.”
Soper said that when Baylor received a chapter, PBK had a “different set of values.” Baylor University received their chapter in 1976, according to Baylor’s website.
José I. Badenes, an LMU Spanish professor and associate provost for undergraduate education, does not think that LMU’s religious relationship is tenuous. Badenes, who is a Jesuit, believes that evidence of the religiou relationship is found not only in the University’s mission, but in its core curriculum as well, as it asks undergraduate students to take courses in Theological Inquiry and Faith and Reason. He believes that at LMU, our faith is more of a “lived creative experience,” rather than a “dogmatic adherence to a creed.”
Badenes cleared up the misconceptions that can sometimes arise out of a misunderstanding of the Jesuit tradition. “What others within and outside the Catholic Church throughout history perceive to be the Ignatian tradition’s ‘tenuous’ relationship with faith stems partly from the Society of Jesus’ other-centered and creative missionary spirit to enter into a culture, rather than impose on it — ‘finding God in all things’ rather than bringing God to them,” said Badenes.
Professor Nicolas Rosenthal, an associate professor of history as well as president and member of LMU’s Phi Beta Kappa chapter, feels that this is an unfair response and that LMU has earned its PBK chapter. He emphasized that the application process was difficult. The process took three years through multiple rounds and votes from PBK committees, according to Rosenthal.
Rosenthal does not agree that LMU received a chapter due to its more “tenuous” religious tradition. “Our mission is derived from our Loyola and Marymount traditions,” he said. The PBK representative that visited LMU was impressed by how “pervasive [LMU’s] mission is, how it is understood and embodied in the work of our students, faculty and our administrators,” said Rosenthal. The mission, he said, is also “intentionally pluralistic” in a way that is “consistent with PBK’s focus on academic freedom.”
This past April, LMU welcomed nine students to join the 288th Omega of California chapter of PBK. The students “excelled in a wide range of liberal arts and sciences coursework, including foreign language study and mathematics,” according to a PBK press release.