July-August 2015 – "By the time the Reagan Revolution marched into Washington. I had the troops I needed – thanks in no small measure to the work with American youth [Intercollegiate Studies Institute] had been doing since 1953. I am proud to count many ISI products among the workhorses of my two terms as President." – Ronald Reagan
Intercollegiate Studies Institute – Ronald Reagan sang its praises. More people need to know about it. It was conceived in 1953 when conservative columnist Frank Chodorov and William Buckley (author of God and Man at Yale) saw anti-American socialists imposing their worldview on students through education, especially on college campuses. Concerned for the minds of these future leaders, they began a program to educate one student at a time in the philosophy of the Founding Fathers, the timeless principles of liberty, and what it takes to guard and sustain a free society in a deteriorating world. This was the founding of Intercollegiate Studies Institute.
American liberty, one of our most precious gifts from God, is founded on a core of moral principles. Today ISI is one of the few bastions left standing for these principles in our culture. This team of educators has dedicated their time and efforts to imparting a sense of virtue and vigilance in the minds of college students – many of whom sit under professors who hold views contrary to historic American principles.
Christopher Long, president of Intercollegiate Studies Institute, defined for AFA Journal the mission of ISI:
Since its founding in 1953, ISI’s mission has been to inspire college students to discover, embrace, and advance the principles and virtues that make America free and prosperous. We aim to “educate for liberty” by teaching students about America’s Judeo-Christian roots, its founding principles enshrined in the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence, and the benefits of the free enterprise system.
We find that students are flocking to our programs today because there are few organizations that focus on the whole person and all of America’s core principles. We try to help students “connect the dots” so that they can form a personal and meaningful worldview. Our objective is to help students discover their vision for a good and virtuous life and the special plan that God has for them in this world.
Students often come to ISI through the recommendation of a professor, through encountering ISI by attending on-campus lectures or debates, or from ISI’s website. If they wish to pursue a relationship with ISI, they may join an ISI Society or become involved with one of ISI’s 60 Collegiate Network newspapers such as Dartmouth Review or Stanford Review.
“From there,” Long said, “they can apply to attend ISI regional conferences and summer schools and compete for yearlong Honors Program scholarships, graduate fellowships, and journalism internships and fellowships at publications including Wall Street Journal, National Review, USA Today, Dallas Morning News, and others. Each of ISI’s five regional program officers has a caseload that includes around 60 top student leaders with whom they have a special mentoring relationship.”
Long noted the encouraging effects of ISI in the culture. Thousands of ISI alumni are now in positions of leadership in America’s colleges, churches, newspapers, companies, and government. The goal is to graduate an annual class of 300 students in leadership development training programs by the year 2020.
One ISI milestone in recent years has been the development of the Richard M. Weaver graduate fellowships, from which many college educators have been produced for over 50 years. The result is that teaching on campuses across the nation are more than 450 ISI alumni such as Larry Arnn at Hillsdale College, Steven Hayward at Pepperdine University, and Tyler Cowen at George Mason University. Other prominent alumni include U.S. Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito.
ISI’s concern for the state of American culture and Western civilization as a whole is the driving force behind their work. Long said:
Like America’s Founding Fathers, we believe in limited government, individual liberty, personal responsibility, the rule of law, a free-market economy, and traditional Judeo-Christian values. Unfortunately, each one of these core principles is under attack today by a culture that mocks personal virtue, hard work, and individual responsibility, and attempts to reshape human nature in a dangerous utopian fashion.
America’s Founding Fathers read the classics in Latin and Greek for several hours a day, pondering the proper relationship between man and his God, his fellow man, and his government. We can teach students about the core ideas from politics, philosophy, and economics that they must know in order to function as free citizens.
ISI offers a wide variety of resources for anyone who wishes to learn more about the preservation of Western civilization. Their website holds an archive of lectures, debates, and other media concerned with the maintenance of American principles. ISI also hosts several conferences that help students from otherwise hostile campuses recalibrate and refresh their minds with likeminded students and professors.
“The ISI Honors Conference was without a doubt one of the most intellectually stimulating experiences of my life,” said Yale student Dimitri Halikias. “From the very first minute, I was plunged into a week of rigorous academic inquiry and reflection. I am extraordinarily grateful to ISI for this wonderful opportunity to grow and mature as a thinker, and for the tremendous community of scholars and peers who will continue to be invaluable resources to me as I further my studies.”
U.S. military veteran Chris Kasperski, concurred: “I cannot express how thankful I am to have found an organization of reasonably-minded conservatives who are interested in the deep philosophical, economic, and political issues that are of concern to me. I think ISI is one of the best that I have ever worked with at facilitating discussion and harboring a welcome atmosphere that allows students and presenters to get to know each other very easily.” Kasperski, was a founding member of the ISI Society at University of Colorado, Colorado Springs.
Students remain a primary focus of ISI, but the group urges those who are not students to educate themselves, their families, and friends on American history and the great legacy of liberty that God has graciously bestowed on our nation. While our liberty and freedom are not inseparable from living as Christians, they are certainly a precious gift from God that must be protected, not only for our sake, but also for the sake of the next generation and for the freedom to spread the gospel and follow Christ in the secular world.
In the age of instant gratification, many parents are at a loss when it comes to teaching their children to simply sit still with a good book or entertain themselves without being plugged in to media. In Life Under Compulsion (ISI Books, May 2015), acclaimed author and scholar Anthony Esolen identifies the things that “shackle” children, making them slaves to their own urges, and gives parents the discernment to uproot these things, allowing their children to enjoy life as it was meant to be enjoyed. Available at isi.org or at 800-526-7022.