Why the Pope Center has an internship program (hint: it’s not just for the cheap labor)

“Academia is American liberals’ sanctuary, their fortress, their source. By controlling the campuses, the Left is able to control much of the nation’s intellectual debate,” said my colleague Jay Schalin at last year’s State Policy Network convention.

Whether it’s neo-Marxism, “progressive” indoctrination, social engineering, or environmentalism, Schalin noted, a lot of really bad ideas and trends are first conceived and developed on American campuses.

Leftists are firmly entrenched in the Ivory Tower, and have been for decades. Postmodernism now trumps the classical conception of the liberal arts education, and “social justice” is the academy’s watchword. Many ideas of a more objective, scientific, and traditional nature are ignored and disparaged as reactionary, “dead white male” apologetics.

While they often speak eloquently about “diversity,” leftists certainly don’t mean diversity of thought.

Fortunately, students don’t have to stand idly by while the weight of ideological oppression bears down on them.

That’s because there are dozens of established internship programs around the country—many designed with the budding conservative or libertarian in mind—that provide bright and motivated individuals opportunities to enhance their resumes while learning about the foundations of liberty.

To get a sense of what’s out there, let’s look at this past summer’s Pope Center internship program, which I had the pleasure of supervising. Later in this article I’ll provide links to internship opportunities at other think tanks.

Our 12-week program lasted from late May to early August and was funded by an outside donor. Three college students—two from UNC-Chapel Hill and one from North Carolina State University—helped our writers conduct research, participated in a weekly book colloquium, and attended talks presented by college professors and policy analysts, such as Duke University political science professor Jonathan Anomaly and Roy Cordato, vice president of research at the John Locke Foundation in Raleigh. Each intern also wrote an article published on our website.

Through research projects, the interns became familiar with higher education’s big issues. These include the relationship between financial aid and rising tuition prices, credential inflation, administrative bloat, and increasing political correctness and politicization on campus. Along the way, the students picked up some practical skills and, since this was their first “real job,” a bit of the professionalism that even the most mature college students often lack. They learned how to prioritize, organize, and articulate the dense information they researched.  

The interns also learned about classical liberal ideas and free market economics through our book colloquium. I emphasized those subjects because, whenever I look back on my undergraduate experience, I regret that I didn’t receive very much exposure to them. Tragically, most people can graduate from high school and college without having become familiar with the principles of liberty, such as natural rights and the rule of law, which motivated the country’s founders. I hoped that such centuries-old ideas and their moral and logical premises would seep in and inspire the interns to learn more on their own time.

And so, between bites of pizza, we discussed the works of authors such as Frederic Bastiat, Henry Hazlitt, and Leonard Read, classical liberals who eloquently described the fundamentals of freedom and economics and whose words continue to inspire and inform those who read them. For the interns, whose K-12 and collegiate courses had paid no attention to such authors, the intellectual light bulbs turned on and the curiosity intensified. In that atmosphere of discovery, it’s easy to lose track of time; during one session, I looked up and realized we had spent two hours discussing Read’s classic work of economic poetry, “I, Pencil.” Back to work!

The interns also heard experts speak about not just higher education, but public choice theory, the division of labor, and crony capitalismagain, issues that they weren’t exposed to in school. “I definitely had not discussed things from [those] points of view in school before,” said intern Ever Castro when the program ended in August. “[Here] we discussed big ideas.”

For example, do our votes really count? Why do free markets and decentralized governments foster prosperity, and why do interventionist policies foster malaise? Why are large corporations often in bed with the government? As the answers to those questions slowly revealed themselves through discussion and debate, something extraordinary took shape. To borrow Hazlitt’s language in Economics In One Lesson, the interns began to abandon the “fallacy of overlooking secondary consequences.”

When we looked at occupational licensing, environmental regulations, the minimum wage, etc., the students could trace out those rules’ effects and identify winners and losers. Often, they correctly concluded, the winners are special interests with lobbying sway, not the general population. Often, they realized, the intentions of various polices vary wildly from their results.

Rose-Helen Graham, an intern from UNC-Chapel Hill, was intrigued by that counterintuitive reasoning, reasoning that can make studying economics—which is often presented in a stultifying manner in college—incredibly fun. “[The works of Bastiat and Hazlitt] helped me further understand the fundamental principles of economics and allowed me to learn how and why a free market economy flourishes,” she told me this summer.

The interns also crafted thoughtful, well-written essays. I’m convinced that they received more one-on-one writing attention and editing advice in their three months at the Pope Center than they ever had before. Check out this article from Casey Reep, one of the interns, to see the kind of quality work that was produced last summer.

Two other internship programs in Raleigh may interest you or a college student you know. One is offered by the aforementioned John Locke Foundation, North Carolina’s premiere free market think tank. JLF interns—who, like Pope Center interns, get paid—do administrative work, conduct research, write, and attend guest speaker events. Find out more about the foundation and how to apply to its internships here. Another North Carolina opportunity, also paid, is at the Civitas Institute, an organization whose vision is inspired by “a North Carolina [in which] citizens enjoy liberty and prosperity derived from limited government, personal responsibility and civic engagement.” Click here for more info.

There are many other educational internships, especially in or around Washington, DC. There’s the American Enterprise Institute, with its prestigious internship opportunities. Interested in engaging with well known policy experts on domestic and foreign policy, and potentially meeting a Justice of the Supreme Court? Then the Heritage Foundation may have what you’re looking for.

For more libertarian-minded students, internships abound. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), for example, does great work in terms of protecting students’ Constitutional rights. Ever heard of “affirmative consent” sexual assault policies, which give bureaucrats arbitrary authority over students’ sex lives while curtailing due process? Among other civil liberties-related undertakings, FIRE works to make sure that the campus busybodies pushing those intrusions don’t turn innocent individuals into criminals. Take a look at its summer internship program.

To see a comprehensive list of excellent internship opportunities, please visit the Pope Center’s student page. Now is the best time to apply to summer programs (and remember that many organizations have spring and fall programs, too). Also, if you or someone you know is interested in applying to the Pope Center’s 2015 summer program, please direct cover letters and resumes to my email address (jsaffron@popecenter.org) by April 1, 2015.