William Barclay Allen 2024 Bradley Prize Recipient

Eminent Scholar, Historian, and Author


2024 Bradley Prize Acceptance Speech

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The middle of twelve children born to a black Baptist preacher, William Barclay Allen, was swept up by the National Defense Education Act in the country’s excited reaction to the Soviet Union’s launch of “Sputnik.” He was sent to Virginia to acquire greater facility and interest in the study of science at Virginia Union University in Richmond. However, a growing interest in politics and philosophy displaced his aptitude for science. He migrated to California upon graduation from Peck High School in Fernandina Beach, Florida and undertook undergraduate study (Pepperdine College) and eventually graduate education (Claremont Graduate School), obtaining a Ph.D. in government. During his graduate study, he became a Fulbright Fellow, in which role he taught French university students American culture, while completing a dissertation on French contributions to American political culture.

His commitment to liberal education and to public service became the clearest consistent themes in his career – illustrated by everything from his undergraduate attempt to pay for college by selling the Great Books of the Western World to his eventual appointment to serve on the National Council for the Humanities by President Reagan. A career of continuous academic progress has been regularly punctuated by attention to public service. The high point of that public service undoubtedly was Dr. Allen’s appointment as member and chair of the United States Commission on Civil Rights.

He is emeritus professor of political philosophy and dean of James Madison College at Michigan State University. As Dean of James Madison College, he led the College in five years to broad national recognition as a center of liberal education, reanimated faculty and student life, and dramatically increased faculty productivity. He was previously Professor of Humanities and Social Sciences at Harvey Mudd College and Claremont Graduate University. He has also held academic appointments at Princeton University, Villanova University, University of Colorado-Boulder, The American University (Washington, D.C.) and as Lecturer, Université de Rouen (France), Faculté des Lettres et Sciences. Recently he was resident scholar and Chief Operating Officer of the Center for Urban Renewal and Education in Washington, D.C.

Formerly he was Executive Director of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) while on leave from MSU. He oversaw a comprehensive reorganization of Council staff and operations. The restructuring broadly organized the agency in correlation with its two statutory obligations – making public policy recommendations affecting Virginia higher education and coordinating the efficient administration of educational programs. Under his guidance the agency developed major strategic planning, funding formula, program assessment, and general education recommendations. The Council exists to promote the development and operation of an educationally and economically sound, vigorous, progressive and coordinated system of higher education.

Recognized for excellence in liberal education on the 1997 Templeton Honor Roll (individually and institutionally), he also has been a Kellogg National Fellow and a Fulbright Advanced Teaching Fellow and received the international Prix Montesquieu from the Académie de Montesquieu in 1986.

His publications include: Montesquieu’s The Spirit of the Laws: A Critical Edition, Parallel Text and Commentary (Anchor Press), General Editor of The State of Black of America (2022), George Washington: A Collection (Liberty Fund, Inc.), Rethinking Uncle Tom: The Political Philosophy of H. B. Stowe (Lexington Books), Habits of Mind: Fostering Access and Excellence in Higher Education (with Carol M. Allen, Transaction), The Personal and the Political: Three Moral Fables of Montesquieu (translation and commentary, University Press of America), George Washington: America’s First Progressive (Peter Lang, Inc.), The Essential Antifederalist (with Gordon Lloyd; Rowman and Littlefield), The Federalist Papers: A Commentary (Peter Lang) and scores of essays. He also completed A New Framework for Public Education in Michigan (for the Michigan State Department of Education). Dr. Allen served as a key expert witness for the plaintiffs in Hays v. Louisiana (in which the U.S. Supreme Court set important precedent for congressional redistricting) and has published scholarship on citizenship, Machiavelli, ideas of global community, religious liberty and other topics. Among these essays four may be usefully noted: “Political Arithmetic,” “What Harry Jaffa Taught,” “The Truth About Citizenship” and “A Moral Surprise: Common Foundation of Christianity and Modern Politics.”

Dr. Allen has a long record of public service and non-profit board service (more than a century of board years). He chaired (1988-1989) and served as member of the United States Commission on Civil Rights (1984-1992) and presently serves as Chair of the Harford County Public Library Board of Trustees. He also served on the National Council of the Humanities. He chaired (and served as member on) the Board of the Claremont Unified School District (California) and as member, Bureau de Direction, Les Écoles de Ligré (France), 1978-1979. Member, Educational Advisory Committee, California State Commission on the Bicentennial of the United States Constitution, Board of Directors, Leroy Boys’ Home, Member, Board of Directors, Mackinac Center, Member, Board of Visitors and Governors, St. John’s College, Trustee of the Hoover Institution (Stanford University), board member of the Matthew J. Ryan Foundation (Villanova, PA) and a Fellow of the Family Institute at Duquesne University. He also served as trustee for Upper Chesapeake Hospital System (University of Maryland) and the UCH Foundation.

William Allen is married to Carol Michelle Allen. He has two adult children from a prior marriage and six grand-children. He is an ordained pastor and regularly substitutes in the pulpit at the Reformed Episcopal Church where the family worships. He fulfilled his military commitment in Co. B, 9th Battalion, 2d Brigade, USATC, Inf. , Fort Benning, Georgia, August 1968.