Recently launched ASU Center for Political Thought and Leadership gains momentum

man speaking at podium

ASU President Michael Crow speaks at the launch of the Center for Political Thought and Leadership.


“Read what Thomas Jefferson read.”

That’s the mission of a new center at Arizona State University: read, discuss and debate the key texts at the root of democracy.

ASU’s Center for Political Thought and Leadership takes students back to the ancient Greeks, forward through English philosophers, to the Founding Fathers and up to modern day thinkers.

According to director Donald Critchlow, the center will further civic education and the principles of political liberty and economic well-being.

“Civic education and the principles of liberty and economic well-being were found in other courses but not in a concentrated program like we have,” he said. “The students will read not only the ancient philosophers on democracy but Machiavelli, Locke, Hobbes, Hume, as well as the Founding Fathers — and Abraham Lincoln. The courses are geared towards debate among our students, so they’re learning not only the fundamentals of the foundations of democracy, but they’re learning also how to debate critics of democracy as well as proponents of democracy.”

The center was recently bolstered with a $1 million dollar commitment from Dan and Carleen Brophy. Carleen is an alum of Arizona State University but neither she or Dan had been involved with the university until they attended a breakfast last December and became acquainted with the center’s existence and mission. Since then they have been very involved, including joining the center’s Community Advisory Board.

“How can a nation, particularly a republic, survive if its citizens don’t know a thing about its history, about its roots?” Dan Brophy said. “People must understand their roots in order to exercise good self government.”

The Brophys, Arizona natives who say they’re not active in national politics but are interested in state government and legislation, were impressed by courses required in the foundations of democracy and political thought and leadership. Their hope is that the center will create educated citizens who can apply the roots of western civilization to contemporary issues.

“This content that’s not being taught at most universities in the country and certainly not being taught in high schools,” Carleen Brophy said.

The center’s certificate program is more than just a classroom experience. Students are introduced to what leadership means in business and public affairs via opportunities to meet and network with executives, attorneys, and public officials.

“In the required leadership course we bring in speakers on what leadership means and what they learned in their careers,” Critchlow said.

Past speakers have included former U.S. Senator Jon Kyl, the CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, a former Arizona Assistant Attorney General, the mayor of Scottsdale and leaders from non-profit campaigns.

Kyl is now honorary chair of the center. He said the Brophy’s recent commitment shows public enthusiasm for the center’s mission.

“I’m excited that, in its first year, the center has been so successful in reaching out to ASU students and the community to foster discussion about the fundamental foundations of democracy and constitutional principles,” Kyl said. “ASU seeks to educate students who will be our state’s future leaders. The center is making an essential contribution to this mission; and, with support from individuals like the Brophys, this positive impact will continue.”

The center also offers an internship program where students can work on political campaigns and organizations like the League of Women Voters and the state Chamber of Commerce.

“The great Brophy commitment really reveals that we have strong community support,” Critchlow said. “Their gift means the center will be around for a long time and become rooted at ASU.”

The Brophys feel ASU is in the forefront of restoring the works of thinkers like William Bradford and St. Augustine to university curricula.

“We think it’s laudable and significant for ASU to have founded this center and supported it,” Dan Brophy said. “We think they are definitely in the lead on this nationally. There’s growing recognition with people who have had a good education that students today are missing exposure to basic elements of the American experience. Our hat’s off to Don and the center but also the administration for doing it.”