7. Phi Beta Delta: The Shield

The insignia of Phi Beta Delta are displayed on a shield, which on the newer medallions appears in die cut bas relief and so is easier to recognize than in a one dimensional rendering. Take time to look at it. The shape of the shield is unusual -- other honor societies do use a shield but not this one, for the shape is not of the shields that knights carried in the Middle Ages but rather from the Greco-Roman world.

Since the beginnings of our society, the explanation given for the shield is that Phi Beta Delta stands for academic freedom. Just what is academic freedom? It is not freedom for those whose opinions please us, but most especially for those whose opinions stir our violent disagreement. Sometimes that asks for great tolerance indeed.

This would make an excellent subject for a chapter meeting -- try to get a resource person who can talk about what it is to be a student or teacher in a country where unpopular opinions can put a person in jail or worse. Ask someone from the American Civil Liberties Union or Amnesty International to discuss what challenges there are to academic freedom.

The shield of Phi Beta Delta is a special reminder to all of us that freedom is never passive. It is an active value, sustained by vigilance and at times by courage. Almost all the opinions that have advanced the world have at one time or another been unpopular and opposed -- and we would do well to remember that.

prev next