Ruenitz Funds Phi Beta Kappa Forum
New York entrepreneur Robert Merriman Ruenitz ’60 has given Occidental College $320,000 to establish the Phi Beta Kappa Speakers Forum and bring a provocative speaker to the campus each spring, beginning next year.
Ruenitz and his wife Jeri Hamilton made the gift through the Ruenitz Trust to honor the memory of Mr. Ruenitz’s parents, Esther Merriman Ruenitz and Dr. Robert C. Ruenitz, longtime residents of Los Angeles.
The purpose of the grant is twofold: to create an opportunity for student leaders from various disciplines to know each other better and craft their own unique event; and to bring a speaker to campus who will spark discussion, possibly leading to action beyond the normal academic experience.
Under the terms of the endowment, junior members of Phi Beta Kappa (those who are elected on the basis of their academic performance through their junior year) will nominate potential speakers. The endowment will pay for the speaker to address the entire student body, as well as participate in an informal gathering with Phi Beta Kappa members. The endowment also will underwrite dissemination of the presentation to off-campus audiences, whether in print, on video, or online.
Ruenitz says he was inspired by his own experience as a student when the Rev. James Robinson launched “Project Crossroads Africa,” a precursor to the Peace Corps. Robinson spoke to Occidental students in 1959 and challenged them to raise funds to cover the expenses of 10 students who accompanied him on his first mission.
Ruenitz served the U.S. Department of State in Japan for several years before he and his wife, a former ABC News correspondent, formed their own business in the field of educational and cultural television production and event development.
Founded in 1926, the Occidental chapter of Phi Beta Kappa is one of the first chapters of the country’s oldest academic honor society to be chartered at a liberal arts college in the western United States. Assistant Professor of Asian Studies Morgan Pitelka is current chapter president.