Phi Kappa Tau National Conventions are opportunities to celebrate the breadth and diversity of our brotherhood, as delegates young and old come together to elect officers, reward accomplishments, and conduct the business of the fraternity. Often the business is routine, but some conventions have been truly consequential and historic.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Phrenocon convention held at Mount Union College a few days before Christmas in December 1916. Delegates to that hastily-organized convention gathered to officially adopt the name Phi Kappa Tau and to invite the founding chapter at Miami back into the fold of the national organization as Alpha Chapter. The Miami group had withdrawn from the national Phrenocon in March 1916 and had adopted the Greek-letter name Phi Kappa Tau when the other chapters had been reluctant to go along.
Once National President Ewing T. Boles, Centre ’14, convinced the Miami chapter to return to the fledgling national fraternity, the leadership set about to fashion Phi Kappa Tau into a viable and lasting organization. The December 1917 National Convention hosted by Zeta chapter at the University of Illinois has long been considered to be one of the most consequential meetings in our history. Founder William H. Shideler presided as acting president and Founder Dwight Douglass made what is very likely his last appearance at a Phi Kappa Tau event.
Delegates to that Seventh National Convention celebrated their full admission to the National Interfraternity Conference earlier in December. Committees worked into the late night hours and fleshed out an expanded and dramatized Ritual and regalia, approved designs for the candidate badge and the plain and jeweled membership badges, colors, flower, password, grip and coat-of-arms, most of which are unchanged to this day.
It can easily be argued that one of the most consequential conventions in recent years was our Centennial Convention held at Miami University in the summer of 2006. Not only was it a brilliantly-produced celebration of our first 100 years, but it also marked the beginning of a massive two-year long volunteer-led effort to establish a strategic plan for the Fraternity’s future. This plan, adopted at the 2008 Louisville Convention, rethought and overhauled the Fraternity’s educational programming and leadership training and formalized a commitment to philanthropic service. Also, it reinvigorated the Fraternity’s commitment to growth and expansion which has had a major impact on our average chapter size and the overall health of the Fraternity.
This multi-year commitment to growth has seen undergraduate membership near the 5,000 mark for the first time ever, a number of successful new chapters and the re-chartering of closed chapters. Zeta Chapter, the host of that historic 1917 National Convention which has been closed for several years, will re-charter this month with more than 70 charter members as the most recent example of this commitment.
Historians of the future will judge the wisdom of these planning efforts and the quality of our execution of their objectives. But the very fact that our organization had had the discipline to stick with a consistent set of objectives through the administrations of six national presidents and two Chief Executive Officers is remarkable.