Oregon State University

Historical Overview

A group of students at the University of Maine made a suggestion that led to the founding of the Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi. They proposed to the University’s president, A. W. Harris, that the ten highest ranking seniors be identified and recognized in some manner.From this proposal grew a local honor society in 1897, at first called Lambda Sigma Eta and in 1899 briefly known as the Morrill Society. In 1900 President Harris invited President G. W. Atherton of Pennsylvania State College (now University) and President C. W. Dabney of the University of Tennessee to join the University of Maine in founding an honor society on a national basis.

With vision and foresight these three presidents accepted fully a concept that was by no means generally recognized in their time. They believed that there is an equality among all branches of knowledge. They believed in the blending of the classics, humanities, sciences, and applied sciences in higher education.

They agreed that the society they proposed to establish would be different from any other honor society then in existence in that it would be restricted neither to narrow fields nor to the traditional classical patterns of higher education. Their new society came into existence as one honoring equally those who distinguished themselves in the study of art, economics, history, engineering, religion, agriculture, literature—students in all areas of the liberal arts and sciences and in professional fields.

In this breadth of concept lies the strength and suitability of this honor society to a modern world whose welfare so clearly depends on a mutuality of interest and understanding between physicist and political scientist, chemist and sociologist, geneticist and nutritionist, and agriculturist and economist.

The founders of this broadly conceived new honor society selected as a motto the Greek phrase “Philosophia Kratei Photon,” The love of learning rules the world. As a name for the society they took the initials of the motto, the three Greek letters ΦΚΦ.

In 1969 a Special Convention of the Society reconsidered the motto and adjusted it to reflect a hope rather than an accomplishment: Let the love of learning rule mankind. The Greek motto now reads, “Philosophia Krateito Photon.” During 1986-87 the officers of the Oregon State University chapter decided to make the motto gender neutral for local purposes and modified it so that it now appears on all chapter stationery as Let the love of learning rule humanity. In 1995 this change was accepted as the motto for the National Society.

The original chapters at the University of Maine, Pennsylvania State University, and the University of Tennessee were joined by chapters at the University of Massachusetts (1904), the University of Delaware (1905), and Iowa State College (now University; 1911). Chapters were installed at the University of Florida and the University of Nevada in 1912. From then on new chapters were added nearly every year as the Society spread across the country.

During the last several years the Society has experienced a significant growth in number of chapters and members. In early 2000 there were 281 chapters and approximately 1,000,000 individuals who have been recognized for academic excellence. There are chapters in every state, the University of the Philippines, and the University of Puerto Rico.