Chris Schulz Published

WVU Students May No Longer Qualify For Academic Honors Society 

International flags hang behind arches and above an alcove in West Virginia University's student union The Mountainlair. Students can be seen sitting and standing in the hall below.
International flags hang in the WVU student union The Mountainlair Aug. 17, 2023.
Chris Schulz/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

West Virginia University’s (WVU) proposal to close its World Languages Department is drawing attention from national organizations. 

Last week, the national academic honors society Phi Beta Kappa released a statement on the school’s proposed department elimination. It is a summary of a letter that was sent to the university’s administration. 

The statement expressed a grave concern with the proposal, and stated that language study is an essential component of education.

“A comprehensive arts and sciences education, which includes the study of language, fosters critical thinking, creativity, and engaged citizenship,” the statement said. “Elimination of a central pillar of the arts and sciences would unnecessarily reduce opportunities for deserving students to reap these life-long benefits.”

Founded in 1776, the society promotes a commitment to the liberal arts and sciences and counts many famous figures among its members including several U.S. Supreme Court judges.

Frederick Lawrence, national secretary and CEO of Phi Beta Kappa, said membership in the society requires students to show proficiency in a foreign language.

“As a school that represents the values of Phi Beta Kappa, that school should continue to have the opportunity for students to engage in study of an international language,” he said.

Lawrence said the society is awaiting the final results of the review and appeals process. 

“We’re best to wait and let this process play out,” he said. “We wanted to be involved in that process, which is the reason that the letter that was sent and was also sent to the chapter so that the chapter on the campus could be involved in the appeals process and the reconsideration.”

Amy Gentzler, a WVU psychology professor and the university’s Phi Beta Kappa chapter secretary and treasurer, said the society’s officers are concerned that Phi Beta Kappa would not continue at the university.

“We wouldn’t be able to meet the criteria set up by national Phi Beta Kappa to have students be proficient in language,” she said. “We would essentially be forfeiting the only chapter in West Virginia.”

WVU’s chapter of the society is the only one in the state and was founded in 1910.

Language faculty at George Washington University (GWU) also released a statement last week urging WVU to reassess the proposal. In its initial announcement of the proposed cuts, WVU listed GWU as an example of a university that had removed its language requirement, a claim that the statement rejects.

The GWU faculty pointed towards requirements for students of international affairs, as well as other majors, to complete multiple semesters of language study.

The statement ends by suggesting that if students do not receive modern training at WVU they “look elsewhere for a university that truly understands and values what our current world requires of the next generation of leaders.”