Unusual Job Requirement

Philosophers consider implications of requiring applicants to be members of Phi Beta Kappa.
November 26, 2007

Brian Leiter, a professor of law and philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin, blogged that it might be "the oddest job ad of the season."

And over at A Philosophy Job Market Blog, scholars have been weighing in on a job announcement by Mississippi State University for a tenure-track position, teaching three courses a semester. Areas of specialization appear fairly standard and flexible. But one thing jumps out: "Applicant must be a member of PBK...."

The anonymous blogger who noted the requirements was taken aback. "Wait. What? Applicants must be a member of Phi Beta Kappa? You might think, what the fuck for?" wrote the blogger. "In fact, that's exactly what I did think when I read that ad. Now, via a trusted friend of PJMB comes word that, yes, applicants must be members of PBK. Apparently Mississippi State's got some initiative going where, for god knows what reason, they're trying to increase the number of faculty who are PBK members. So get this: the line is contingent on the new hire being a PBK member."

Commenters then weighed in on whether such a requirement is appropriate, with critics noting that the requirement would favor older, traditional colleges' graduates over other institutions, and questioning whether Phi Beta Kappa membership has any relevance to teaching philosophy. Some light-hearted philosophers declared themselves to be PBK in the sense that they once worked at Burger King and so were "Post Burger King."

As it turns out, the job requirement relates to a specific goal at Mississippi State: Winning a Phi Beta Kappa chapter. One of the requirements is that 10 percent of professors in arts and sciences fields be Phi Beta Kappa members (or 10 professors at colleges where 10 percent would be fewer than 10).

A spokeswoman for Mississippi State said that to support the university's goal of winning a Phi Beta Kappa chapter, departments have the option of making Phi Beta Kappa membership a "preferred credential." In addition, some departments (including philosophy) have been told that if they make Phi Beta Kappa membership a requirement, and hire someone with the credential, they can get support for a new faculty slot, "provided all other requirements are met and the hire would in fact strengthen scholarly capacity of the department."

The spokeswoman said that that the policy wasn't new, but that she thinks the philosophy opening may be the first time it is receiving attention.

John Churchill, secretary of the Phi Beta Kappa Society, said he was unaware of the Mississippi State position requirements and couldn't discuss any negotiations with the university about setting up a chapter because of confidentiality requirements.


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