The primary objective of the Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi is the recognition and encouragement of superior scholarship in all academic disciplines. The Society is convinced that in recognizing and honoring those persons of good character who have excelled in scholarship, in whatever field, it will stimulate others to strive for excellence. Moreover, the Society serves the interests of the student capable of excellence by insisting that in order to acquire a chapter of Phi Kappa Phi, an institution provide the means and atmosphere conducive to academic excellence.
The criteria and limits observed in electing persons to membership are determined by each individual chapter, but always within the framework of the Society's Bylaws. The conditions set forth in the Bylaws may be summarized as follows: top 7.5 percent of juniors and the top 10 percent of seniors and graduate students.
The Society is governed ultimately by the Biennial Convention, supplemented by any interim-though rare-special conventions deemed necessary. Each chapter may send one official delegate to a convention. Between conventions, the business of the Society is conducted by the Board of Directors, composed of 12 directors, of whom nine are elective (president, president-elect, a national vice president, five regional vice presidents, and the immediate past president) and three are appointive (executive director of the Society, regent and director of fellowships). The executive director is in charge of the Society's national office.
Every chapter must hold at least two meetings a year and is encouraged to be active in various ways. Many chapters cite students for excellence as early as the freshman year. Many of them grant awards or give scholarships to students and researchers doing work of scholarly quality. Some also extend recognition to superior teachers. The aim, however, is not to give the recipient something which may encourage complacency, but to challenge the member to continued excellence.
The Society publishes a quarterly journal for distribution to its active membership. Each issue of Phi Kappa Phi Forum is devoted to a significant theme and addresses prominent issues of the day from an interdisciplinary perspective. The journal features articles by scholars inside and outside the academic community. In addition to timely articles, each issue of Phi Kappa Phi Forum contains selected poetry and reviews of current books and periodical literature.
Active members of the Society also receive bimonthly issues of the Phi Kappa Phi Newsletter. The Newsletter features news items of interest to members on both the national and local levels.
The Phi Kappa Phi Foundation was incorporated in 1969 to promote academic excellence and achievement by means of scholarships and fellowships. To support first-year graduate work, the Society offers annually through the Foundation 50 Fellowships and 30 Awards of Excellence, on a competitive basis, to graduating students who have been initiated into the Society and who have also been nominated by their chapters for the competition.
Many chapters also have their own local scholarship program.
In 1897 a group of 10 students at the University of Maine, who perceived a need for an honor society on broader lines than any then in existence, was assisted by interested professors to organize the Lambda Sigma Eta Society. A year or so later the name was changed to the Morrill Society, in honor of the sponsor of the Congressional Act, which provided for land-grant colleges. In 1900 it was transformed into a national society by action of a committee composed of the presidents of the University of Maine, the University of Tennessee, and Pennsylvania State College (now The Pennsylvania State University). The chapters in these institutions are the founding chapters. The Society was renamed Phi Kappa Phi, from the initial letters of the Greek words forming its adopted motto: Philosophia Krateito Photon, roughly translated as "Let the love of learning rule humanity." Phi Kappa Phi currently has chapters in institutions from Maine to the Philippines and from Alaska to Puerto Rico.
The history of the Society has been recorded in two volumes, In Pursuit of Excellence: The Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi, 1897-1971 by Edward Schriver (Paperback - $3.50) and Making Heroes of Scholars.