Furman's Phi Beta Kappa
Beginning in 1924, in anticipation of nearly every triennium of the Council of United Chapters of Phi Beta Kappa, Furman had submitted inquiries or preliminary applications for a chapter.
For almost 50 years the application failed, for various reasons - financial difficulties, disproportionate emphasis on vocational training, inadequate facilities, a disproportionate outlay of athletic grants-in-aid to academic scholarships, failure to integrate. Only in 1950 did Furman's application even advance to the second stage of consideration.
These early failures spurred President Gordon Blackwell, who came to office in 1965, and Dean Francis W. Bonner to make securing a chapter a major goal for the university. The move to the new campus had coincided with rapid growth and improvement in Furman's academic programs and standards, and by 1971 the university was able to advance to the final stages of consideration. Two members of the Phi Beta Kappa visiting committee came to the campus in late 1971, and in January 1973 a recommendation to award a chapter to the university was presented to the triennial council.
However, several delegates to the council raised concerns about what they saw as denominational (Baptist) limitations on academic freedom, pointing specifically to a limitation clause inserted in faculty contracts in 1941. Furman responded that the clause in question had already been deleted from recently revised faculty contracts. After several people spoke strongly on behalf of the university, the council voted to award Furman a chapter. The university's Gamma chapter was the third in South Carolina and 214th in the nation.
On December 5, 1973, the Furman chapter was installed at a ceremony presided over by John Hope Franklin, president of the United Chapters of Phi Beta Kappa. The university's first members in course were initiated April 23, 1974, and Charles Hard Townes, Noble Prize-winning physicist and member of the class of '35, was the first alumnus elected as an honorary member.