Leader of Phi Beta Kappa to speak at Founders Day

Publication Date

Frederick M. Lawrence, secretary and CEO of the Phi Beta Kappa Society, the nation's most prestigious academic honor society, will deliver the keynote address at Founders Day Thursday, Feb. 23, at 1 p.m. in Memorial Chapel.

The event commemorates the 222nd anniversary of the College’s charter.

Lawrence’s talk is free and open to the campus community and the general public.

Founded in 1776 at the College of William and Mary, Phi Beta Kappa has chapters on 286 college and university campuses and more than a half-million living members. Its mission is to champion education in the liberal arts and sciences, foster freedom of thought, and recognize academic excellence.

This year, Union is celebrating the 200th anniversary of its Phi Beta Kappa chapter, Alpha of New York. Established May 1, 1817, the chapter is the fifth oldest in the country. Election to membership is one of the highest distinctions given for academic achievement.

Some of the College’s most prominent alumni were elected to the chapter, including William Seward, Class of 1820 and Chester Arthur, Class of 1848. There are more than 1,300 living alumni in the chapter, and 53 faculty and administrators and four students in the Class of 2017 are members of Phi Beta Kappa at Union.

An accomplished scholar, teacher and attorney, Lawrence is one of the nation’s leading experts on civil rights, free expression and bias crimes. He has written, lectured and testified widely on civil rights crimes and is the author of “Punishing Hate: Bias Crimes Under American Law.”

A senior research scholar at Yale Law School, Lawrence served as president and professor of politics at Brandeis University.

He frequently contributes op-eds to various news sources, including the Boston Globe, MSNBC Online and Huffington Post. Prior to his academic career, Lawrence served as an assistant United States attorney for the Southern District of New York and as chief of its Civil Rights Unit.

Also at Founders Day, the College will present the Gideon Hawley Teacher Recognition Award. Named for the 1809 graduate of Union who was New York State’s first superintendent of public education, the award is given to secondary school teachers who have had a continuing influence on the academic life of Union students.

Past Founders Day speakers have included Pulitzer Prize-winning authors Richard Russo and James M. McPherson; Paul LeClerc, retired president and chief executive officer of the New York Public Library and a former professor at Union; Alfred Sommer ’63 global leader in public health whose pioneering work in studying vitamin A deficiency has helped to save millions of children’s lives and eyesight; and Martha Nussbaum, noted author and philosopher.