At Clemson, a New Plan for Higher Education

America’s universities are collapsing into a miasma of nihilism, postmodernism, political correctness, multiculturalism, affirmative action, bureaucratization, and skyrocketing costs—and no one seems able to do anything about it.  With the exception of a few “Great Books” colleges, the overarching vision of higher education that once sustained the West for centuries seems all but dead.

American higher education is now defined by an aimless mish-mash of courses on trivial topics that present no clear view of what a human being must know in order to be considered liberally educated. The result: the liberal arts have been gutted and repackaged to serve various ideological and political interests.

This situation is why the Clemson Institute for the Study of Capitalism (CISC) has created the Lyceum Scholars Program, which is America’s first (and only) academic program dedicated to studying the moral, political, and economic foundations of a free society. Drawing inspiration from the Lyceum school founded by Aristotle, the Lyceum Scholars Program takes a Great Books approach to studying liberty, the American Founding, capitalism, and moral character.

The Lyceum Scholars Program begins with 10-15 incoming freshman, each of whom will receive a $10,000 scholarship over their four years to attend Clemson University. In exchange for their scholarship, Lyceum Scholars are required to take an integrated and hierarchically structured curriculum that includes the following eight courses:

Freshman Year

  • Introduction to Political Theory
  • Wisdom of the Ancients

Sophomore Year

  • Political Thought of the American Founding
  • American Political Thought

Junior Year

  • Constitutional Law: Rights and Liberties
  • Constitutional Law: Powers and Structures

Senior Year

  • Political Theory of Capitalism
  • Wisdom of the Moderns

Lyceum Scholars will not only read classic texts in political thought from Plato, Aristotle and Thucydides to Locke, Montesquieu, Burke, Adams, Madison and Tocqueville, but they will also be exposed to the classics in the history of economic thought, including Adam Smith, Frédéric Bastiat, Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, and Milton Friedman.

Once the program is up and running by the fourth year, we expect to have 40-60 Lyceum Scholars on campus at any given time, all of whom have been or will be taking the same classes and reading the same books. Our goal is to create a new kind of intellectual community where students will motivate one another to explore the history of freedom and the ideas and institutions that made Western civilization so irreplaceably unique. We hope they will push each other to engage in high-level conversations and debates and to build life-long intellectual friendships.

Emphasis on Moral Character

What makes the Lyceum Scholars Program unique is its focus on building moral character. In response to the nihilism and moral relativism that permeates modern American culture, our goal is to recapture the long-lost tradition in American higher education that once took the idea of moral character seriously. Prior to the Civil War, for instance, every Ivy League college president taught what we today call a senior capstone course on moral theory and practice in order to educate young men for living in a free and virtuous society. Given the culture in which we live, our hope is to challenge our young men and women to take the development of their own moral character as seriously as they do their physical health.

The Lyceum Scholars Program plans to combat this trend towards moral apathy in two ways: through classroom instruction and one-on-one mentorship. First, the Lyceum curriculum includes two courses dedicated solely to moral thought and practice—one on ancient Greek and Roman moral thought, where they will read Sophocles, Xenophon, Aristotle, Cicero, Plutarch and Tacitus; and one on modern moral thought, where they will read Shakespeare, Montaigne, Franklin, Smith, Austen, Dostoyevsky, and Rand. Second, and most interestingly, each Scholar will be assigned what we call a Socratic Tutor, i.e., a faculty member who will closely monitor and guide their intellectual and moral development during their undergraduate career.

The primary role of the Socratic Tutor is to help our students translate moral theory into practice. It’s not good enough to read, for instance, Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics or Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments without thinking about how to apply their moral principles to day-to-day life. We believe that a free society can only be sustained if its citizenry understand and act upon certain moral virtues.

When we first conceived of and then launched our first-ever marketing campaign for the Lyceum Scholars Program last August, we had a small budget and a small staff. We expected 30-50 applications the first year, but received almost 200 applications from students representing 22 states across the country. Almost 70 of the applicants had SAT scores between 1400 and 1550.

The incoming class of Lyceum Scholars has an average SAT of 1440—compared to the Clemson University average of 1290. In fact, student (and parent) demand to participate in the program was so great that we created a second, non-scholarship track called the Lyceum Fellows Program. We expect to have 30-40 students entering our first class this August as Lyceum Scholars and Fellows.

The response shows that young people want to think seriously and deeply about fundamental, timeless, and life-changing questions, such as: How shall I live my life? What is justice? What is freedom? What is friendship? What is the best form of government? Secondly, the response to the program shows that students are specifically interested in studying the ideas and institutions that make human flourishing and prosperity possible.

Acting on Principle

This effort is independently financed. Neither Clemson University nor the American taxpayer supports the Clemson Institute or the Lyceum Scholars Program financially. We have scholarship funding for the next four years, and hope to raise enough money to continue this program for decades beyond that.

We aim to reinvigorate American higher education with a model that is both needed and that can be replicated at other universities and colleges. We hope to generate study and ideas that will be part of a new birth of freedom in America.


  • C. Bradley Thompson

    C. Bradley Thompson is a professor of political science at Clemson University, executive director of the Clemson Institute for the Study of Capitalism, and author of John Adams and the Spirit of Liberty and Neoconservatism: An Obituary for an Idea. His book in progress is America’s Revolutionary Mind: Understanding the Declaration of Independence.

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13 thoughts on “At Clemson, a New Plan for Higher Education

  1. Thank you for doing this. We are currently homeschooling our child (we pulled her out of our local catholic school after first grade when we learned that it uses NY state curriculum). She is going to be in 6th grade this coming school year. I will pray that this program will still be there when the time comes.

  2. My child is a Clemson grad. I am a believer in the In the value of a Clemson education. Thank you Clemson.

  3. Of course this entire program goes to hell in a hand basket should Clemson get such champions of liberty as Barack Obama or Pope Francis to assist with these courses. The course titles mean little without the proper thought behind them.

  4. Whoa now. It sounds like you are actually planning on teaching an honest view of history.

    It should be interesting to see what kind of pushback you will get from the usual suspects.

  5. Congrats on the program… but is not the answer to outlaw public tax dollars being spent on “Progressive Retardnation Worldview” Education at K-12 and university and especially Journalism Schools, not to mention PBS, NPR and all military and other government expenditures on PC Claptrap? Rather, tax monies can only be spent on “Tragic Liberty Worldview” Education, etc. You see, your program educates a few, while the rest of the US is forced into mental servitude to the PC gods. The answer is to completely defund Progtard education, and make them have the same kind of private programs you now do. Ax to the root, no?

  6. I would be wonderful if Dr. Thompson created an online implementation of these courses for the many students that would benefit from them but who, for one reason or another, will not be able to attend Clemson!

  7. The Lyceum Scholars Program was not available when my daughter was a Clemson student, but hopefully her son Reed Guthrie will be selected to this academic program dedicated to studying the moral, political, and economic foundations of a free society. Having a Socratic Tutor to closely monitor and guide Reed’s intellectual and moral development during his undergraduate career is especially appealing.
    Granny Jayne

  8. It’s an intriguing experiment. The claim that Atlas Shrugged is a “Great Book” is a bit of a joke (I certainly hope that poor choice was a decision of the faculty, and not imposed by a donor). It is a bit ironic that a tirade against “skyrocketing costs” is used to justify what must be a very expensive program, given the small class sizes and personal tutors, even if donors subsidize some of it. How much will this program cost per student each year? And is it really the case that Clemson does not subsidize this program at all? None of the faculty and none of the facilities are being paid for by Clemson?

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