For 50 years, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute has influenced conservative thought on college campuses across the country.
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Richard Brake’s journey to Wilmington’s Intercollegiate Studies Institute is not an atypical one.
Doctorate in American politics from Temple University in hand, Brake spent several years seeking a tenured teaching position. Despite his academic credentials, he eventually came to believe three fundamental things prevented him from achieving his goal.
“I was the wrong race, the wrong gender and, most significantly, I believe, possessed the wrong political outlook,” he says.
Richard Brake is white, male and politically conservative. The Intercollegiate Studies Institute where he works was founded mainly as a rampart opposed to what conservatives in the 1950s perceived as a system of higher education dominated by “progressive pragmatists and socialists.” That ISI is alive and well in chateau country is a testament to the success conservatives have had on college campuses and in society overall. Yet Brake’s story is also a testament to how much work Intercollegiate Studies Institute still has to do.
The institute, on an estate once known as Scarlet Oaks on Centerville Road near Hoopes Reservoir, became the permanent home of ISI in 1996. By that time, ISI had become a nationally prominent institution, its president, T. Kenneth Cribb Jr., having served in high positions during Ronald Reagan’s administration. Still connected politically, still under Cribb’s leadership, ISI remains true to its original principles of “educating for liberty.”
“We’re not directly involved in making policy or participating in politics,” says vice president for academic affairs Mark C. Henrie. “We’re solely concerned with promoting education based on first principles”—limited government, individual liberty, personal responsibility, the rule of law, a free market economy and moral norms.
With an annual budget of $12 million, ISI provides graduate fellowships, conducts seminars and lectures, publishes books and periodicals, and guides conservative editorial conduct for campus newspapers.
ISI’s Greenville headquarters is the result of the financial support of some of the area’s business leaders. The first $1,000 check that became seed money for the Intercollegiate Society of Individualists in 1953 was provided by Sun Oil Company founder J. Howard Pew. Most of the $2 million paid for the 9,000-square-foot stone mansion and grounds of Scarlet Oaks was contributed by New Jersey philanthropist Fred M. Kirby.
A local Realtor told ISI senior vice-president H. Spencer Masloff about Scarlet Oaks as he was traveling back from Washington, D.C., to ISI’s then-headquarters in cramped offices in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. Why an organization that is so well-known and connected in conservative business, social and political circles across the country would choose Delaware as its permanent home was a conscious decision.
“We have it in ISI’s bylaws that our headquarters can never be located in Washington, D.C., or New York City,” Henrie says. “That’s so we can better reflect the identity of the country as a whole, rather than its political or financial centers.”
That the former Scarlet Oaks is a structure of stone and steel is a reflection of ISI’s foundation in rock-ribbed conservative principles. And though ISI’s early years were full of hope, they were years of uncertainty, not the least of which was financial. One of the first issues to settle was its name.
The original Intercollegiate Society of Individualists, according to the late William F. Buckley Jr.—ISI’s first president—elicited “spontaneous outbursts of laughter” when he mentioned it in his campus talks. Conservative publisher Henry Regnery said the name “smacked of crackpotism” and “that it reminds people, somehow or other, of nudists.”
Academic Freedom continues on page 2