The University of Texas at Austin - Civitas Institute

Student Programs

The Civitas Institute at the University of Texas at Austin is a community whose members study the foundations of the American constitutional republic to advance human flourishing in a free society. We form thoughtful leaders through a civic education that prizes careful study of the American story as well as wisdom for how to live a good life. While political polarization threatens American civic life, at Civitas we advance the virtues of civil discourse. We organize our work around the three pillars of the American political tradition: liberty, constitutionalism, and property. We value reasoned deliberation, intellectual curiosity, and free speech. 

Highlights from the inaugural conference of the Society of Fellows, 2023-2024

The Society of Fellows 

“Human liberty,” Tocqueville wrote, is “the source of all moral greatness.” When we think, speak, and act “without constraints, under the sole government of God and the laws,” we cultivate our humanity and discover what it truly means, and what it truly takes, to be happy. In the spirit of these reflections, still timely for us, the Civitas Institute introduces the Society of Fellows, an undergraduate fellowship program dedicated to the study of liberty and its moral conditions.  

A key dimension of liberty is freedom of speech. Nowhere is the freedom to think, write, and speak more critical to uphold than in the university, an institution which helps to shape the minds of young adults and future citizens. A university’s most essential function in a democracy is to equip students with the intellectual resources to become decent, productive, and independent-minded members of society. To the degree that the university fails to fulfill its mission, democracy suffers because the level of government in a democracy, by its nature, reflects the level of its citizens. The genuine search for truth in our times, in the humanities as well as in public policy, requires a culture of free speech. 

How can we protect freedom of speech? Tocqueville invites “those who see freedom of the mind as a holy thing” to join him in rejecting not just the old kind of intellectual despotism—that of unaccountable elites who prohibit certain books or speeches, but also the kind characteristic of democratic times. This modern kind of intellectual despotism is enforced not by elites at the level of law but by the majority at the level of civil society. It is a kind of despotism that, as Tocqueville knew, “leaves the body alone and goes right to the soul.” It constricts thought within narrow bounds imposed by public opinion. Its enforcement mechanism is the implicit threat of social ostracism. The result is a loss of clarity in our thought and of frankness in our speech. Vigorous discussion and independence of mind cannot survive, let alone flourish, in such an environment. 

With a view to helping shape a culture that supports the these principles, the Civitas Institute established the Society of Fellows, its flagship program for undergraduate students.  

Through the Society of Fellows, the Civitas Institute aims to model a culture of intellectual freedom that is friendly to economic liberty, civic virtue, and constitutional government. 

Applications for the Society of Fellows are now open. Applications for the Society of Fellows 2024-2025 will close on Wednesday, February 21 at 5pm central. Apply here.

The Programs of the Society of Fellows 

Every year, a cohort of 20-25 students will participate in the following exclusive programs—at no cost to students: 

  • Inaugural Conference (late August) – The fellowship kicks off with an early semester conference at a luxury resort in Dripping Spring, TX. The conference features invited scholars and public intellectuals who discuss a theme in political theory, philosophy, or public policy (or a mix of all three!) that is relevant to the mission of Civitas. 
  • Speaker Receptions (throughout Fall and Spring semesters) – Students who join the Society of Fellows will have the opportunity to attend private receptions for leading scholars and policymakers who are invited contributors to the Civitas Institute’s speaker series, a series of public lectures at UT. Students can engage with scholars and policymakers in a setting conducive to genuine conversation.  
  • Book & Film Club (throughout Fall and Spring semesters) – Students who join the Society of Fellows will have the opportunity to meet once a month to discuss a short text on the theme of liberty and its moral conditions. Such texts will be selected from the works of Locke, Madison, Hamilton, de Staël, Constant, Tocqueville, Mill, Acton, Röpke, Arendt, or Nisbet, among others. Alternatively, or in conjunction with the book club, Civitas will host film screenings on themes related to its mission.  
  • Liberty in Europe (mid-May of 2025): This study-abroad program presents an extraordinary opportunity for students to spend ten days studying Tocqueville and the continental liberal tradition in a major European city. Students will study political philosophy, participate in daily seminars, attend group dinners, visit historic buildings, and gaze at some of the greatest art in the Western tradition, among other things. In 2024, the Liberty in Europe trip will take place in Madrid, Spain.

Financial Award 

Each member of the Society of Fellows will receive a financial award. This award, it should be noted, will be dispersed in such a way as to help defray a student’s Cost of Attendance. If the student has student debt, it will be applied to the debt first before it is disbursed to the student. 

As indicated above, membership in the Society of Fellows costs nothing to students. There are no membership dues, and all dinners, accommodations, and travel will be covered by the Civitas Institute.  

Application Requirements 

You must be a UT undergraduate student who will not graduate before May of 2025.  

You must have a GPA of at least 3.5 at the time of your application. 

Students who have previously applied to the Society of Fellows may reapply.  

Students who have previously applied to the Civitas Summer Honors Symposium may apply. 

Students may simultaneously apply to the Society of Fellows and the Civitas Summer Honors Symposium. Students may also use the same references for both applications.  

Participation Requirements 

In order to remain a member of the Society of Fellows, once admitted, you must:  

  • Be a full-time student at UT-Austin for the duration of the fellowship program.
  • Attend the Society of Fellows inaugural conference.  
  • Attend at least two speaker receptions per semester.  
  • Attend the Liberty in Europe trip.  
  • Invest a reasonable amount of time throughout the academic year participating in Civitas’ general events.  

Admission decisions will be made on a rolling basis until the Society of Fellows cohort (20-25 students) has been selected.

Spots are limited and typically fill by end of February.  

Please address inquiries to: 

Antonio Sosa 
Associate Director
Civitas Institute 
University of Texas at Austin 
Email: antonio.sosa@austin.utexas.edu

Equal Employment Opportunity Statement 

The University of Texas at Austin, as an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer, complies with all applicable federal and state laws regarding nondiscrimination and affirmative action. The University is committed to a policy of equal opportunity for all persons and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, disability, religion, or veteran status in employment, educational programs and activities, and admissions.

The Civitas Institute at the University of Texas at Austin is a community whose members study the foundations of the American constitutional republic to advance human flourishing in a free society. We form thoughtful leaders through a civic education that prizes careful study of the American story as well as wisdom for how to live a good life. While political polarization threatens American civic life, at Civitas we advance the virtues of civil discourse. We organize our work around the three pillars of the American political tradition: liberty, constitutionalism, and property. We value reasoned deliberation, intellectual curiosity, and free speech.

Highlights from our inaugural Summer Honors Symposium

Invitation

The Civitas Institute at the University of Texas at Austin invites undergraduate students to consider applying for the Civitas Summer Honors Symposium 2024. The event will take place at a secluded luxury resort in Dripping Springs, TX, on August 9 – 12. All expenses will be covered by the Civitas Institute.  

The Summer Honors Symposium brings together a community of students and scholars to discuss a theme relevant to the political, ethical, or economic dimension of human liberty. The theme of our next symposium is expressed by its title: The Theory and Practice of Happiness. During three leisurely days in early summer, our student fellows will discuss readings on happiness as seen from the point of view of philosophy and public policy.   

They will begin with Aristotle, who famously defined happiness as the activity of soul in accord with virtue. Moving from classical to modern thought, our fellows will study Montaigne, who counseled moderation through variation, as opposed to focusing on any one human good, as the key to leading a happy, fulfilling life. Fellows will cap off their philosophical readings with Tocqueville, who analyzed the restlessness of soul that so characterized American democracy, and democracy as such, for both good and ill.  

Tocqueville, who was consistently practical in this thinking, will rightly serve as a bridge to the symposium’s next set of readings and discussions: happiness as seen from the point of view of public policy. Community and individualism, dynamism and stagnation, as well as the current state and prospects of social capital in the United States, will be the primary but by no means only topics covered in this portion of the symposium. Guided by some of the best scholars in their field, our fellows will explore these topics by reading selections from the works, among others, of Wilhelm Röpke, Robert Nisbet, and Robert Putnam. 

Application Dates and Requirements 

Applications for the Summer Honors Symposium are now open.  Apply here.

Admission decisions will be made on a rolling basis until the symposium cohort has been selected. Spots are limited and typically fill by end of February.  

You must be an undergraduate student with a GPA of at least 3.5 at the time of your application.  

Graduating seniors may apply.  

Students who applied to last year’s Summer Honors Symposium may reapply to the program this year. 

Students may apply to both the Summer Honors Symposium and the Society of Fellows. 

Please address inquiries to:

Antonio Sosa 
Associate Director 
Civitas Institute 
University of Texas at Austin 
Email: antonio.sosa@austin.utexas.edu   

Equal Employment Opportunity Statement 

The University of Texas at Austin, as an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer, complies with all applicable federal and state laws regarding nondiscrimination and affirmative action. The University is committed to a policy of equal opportunity for all persons and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, disability, religion, or veteran status in employment, educational programs and activities, and admissions. 

Invitation:  

In addition to its two primary fellowship programs, the Civitas Institute has established an Affiliate Fellows Program. We invite all interested UT students to apply. 

The Affiliate Fellows Program is designed to provide UT students who are interested in the mission of the Civitas Institute, but who are not currently members of our primary fellowship programs, with an opportunity to get to know our student fellows and staff and to attend several of our private events. Our private events include receptions, lunches, and coffee meetings with invited speakers, where students have the opportunity to ask more involved and conversational questions than public talks or formal seminars can typically accommodate. These events are otherwise only available to our student fellows.  

The program also functions as a preparation for students who are considering applying to one of our primary fellowship programs, as it gives them a closer look at the kinds of programs we offer and of the intellectual spirit that pervades Civitas. 

Application: 

To apply, you must be a registered, full-time undergraduate student at the University of Texas at Austin, with a minimum GPA of 3.5.  

To begin the application process, please email Antonio Sosa at antonio.sosa@austin.utexas.edu. In the email, briefly describe your interest in the Civitas Institute and why you would like to join the Affiliate Fellows Program. A brief, in-person interview on campus will follow. 

Please address inquiries to: 

Antonio Sosa  

Associate Director, Civitas Institute 

University of Texas at Austin  

Email: antonio.sosa@austin.utexas.edu    

Equal Employment Opportunity Statement  

The University of Texas at Austin, as an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer, complies with all applicable federal and state laws regarding nondiscrimination and affirmative action. The University is committed to a policy of equal opportunity for all persons and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, disability, religion, or veteran status in employment, educational programs and activities, and admissions.