Making Freedom ‘Cool’ on College Campuses
Colleges and universities can be lonely places. For the first time in their young lives, students are on their own, away from their parents and families, surrounded by strangers, often in a new town or state.
But for students who believe in free markets, liberty, and individual responsibility, college life poses even greater challenges. Often, such ideas don’t even show up in the curriculum, and these students’ beliefs may be mocked, dismissed, or ignored.
That’s where the Institute for Humane Studies steps in. A nonprofit housed at George Mason University in northern Virginia, IHS links arms with liberty-loving students, faculty, and scholars to bring intellectual diversity and critical thinking back to college campuses — and make sure that students have ample opportunity to learn about America’s founding virtues.
“We’re here to ensure that the ideas of liberty have a place at the table in higher education,” said IHS president Marty Zupan. “It’s vital that each generation be exposed to the full array of thinking about the role of markets, community, and government in a free society.”
Each year, IHS launches a coast-to-coast search for the brightest and most capable liberty-loving students in colleges and universities. The goal is to satisfy that desire to learn and to find students who want to become effective ambassadors for freedom on their campuses — and beyond.
“A free society depends on individuals understanding and living by the principles of individual liberty and personal responsibility, and on the next generation learning them about,” Zupan said.
A heritage of liberty
Founded in 1961 by a former Cornell University economics professor, IHS is now working with thousands of students a year through its suite of programs and reaching millions online with educational videos at LearnLiberty.org. That mission is particularly important because research shows that many young people form their opinions during their college years. IHS provides vital balance to the skepticism of free enterprise and embrace of big government that so often dominates college campuses.
IHS hosts dozens of seminars and conferences for students on such topics as morality and capitalism, journalism and a free society, and the fundamentals of liberty. For many students, these programs provide a rare opportunity for free exchange of ideas on the principles of freedom. Students are immersed in disciplines such as economics, law, philosophy, history, and public policy as they learn about the foundations of a free and humane society.
The goal of IHS seminars isn’t just to educate students, though. It’s also to help launch students into successful careers in the world of ideas — in academia, journalism, and public policy. The Institute awards more than $1 million annually in scholarships and fellowships to promising students pursuing such careers. And this financial support is backed up with assistance to help liberty-loving students be more effective — personalized mentoring, career development, and networking with other professionals in their field of study.
Dr. Georg Vanberg, a political science professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is one of many IHS success stories. After his first year of college at William and Mary in Virginia, Vanberg attended a weeklong summer seminar. From that moment, he was hooked.
“IHS has created a vibrant and extensive intellectual community, full of top-notch academic talent across a wide array of disciplines, dedicated to exploring the foundations, and possibilities, of a free society,” Vanberg said. “All of its activities — from summer seminars to weekend workshops to scholarship support — serve that end. It’s a vital mission, and I am grateful to have benefited from it.”
Profiting from seminars
In North Carolina, nearly 40 IHS alumni now teach in the university system. Across the nation, the institute has helped more than 1,500 aspiring scholars take up faculty positions at schools ranging from Duke University and UNC-Chapel Hill to Harvard and Stanford universities.
Dr. Ana Iltis was one of the students who benefited. While in graduate school at Rice University in Texas, she learned about IHS from a fellow student, and she applied and was accepted to a summer institute. The class expanded her educational horizons and prompted her to read outside her discipline.
Today — as an associate professor of philosophy at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and Director of the Center for Bioethics, Health and Society — Iltis hopes to pass on the benefits of the Institute to her students.
“IHS has given me resources as a faculty member to help my own students,” Iltis said. “I have had students attend summer institutes and benefit from IHS scholarship funds and internship opportunities. It has been wonderful to have a place to turn in trying to provide additional opportunities for my own students.”
The Institute also has a passion for supporting full-time faculty and teaching fellows who desire to share the principles of liberty with their graduate and undergraduate students. The Hayek Fund for Faculty — named after the Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek — provides $5,000 for instructors to facilitate such activities as reading groups, class trips, and debates.
Dr. Bruce Caldwell, an economics professor at Duke University and Director of the Center for the History of Political Economy, was a scholar who profited from IHS support earlier in his career. Due to a stories from the John William Pope Foundation (which was administered by IHS), Caldwell spent a summer in the early 1990s researching and writing what eventually became Hayek’s Challenge, a book that traced Hayek’s line of thought to earlier free-market economists.
Caldwell said that the stories was “very important” for launching his career. Today, he reviews IHS stories applications from young scholars.
“The institute provides a huge service. It’s a vital mission,” he said.
Since its creation in 1986, the Pope Foundation has played a prominent role in supporting IHS, donating $2.1 million to the Institute. Art Pope, President and Chairman of the Pope Foundation Board of Directors, has also served on the IHS Board of Directors since 1988.
The Pope Foundation supports IHS educational efforts by sponsoring a summer seminar hosted in the southeast and providing scholarships for North Carolina students to participate in IHS programs. “It’s been a tremendous boost to our work,” said Zupan, “and North Carolina has gained many alumni of our programs teaching in their universities and working in policy and journalism in the state.”