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Cornell University School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions

The information on this site pertains to the Summer College 2017 program. If you would like to be notified when 2018 information and applications are available, please join the Summer College announcement list. We also invite you to become a fan of our Summer College Facebook Page.


Freedom and Justice in the Western Tradition

Dates: July 16-August 5, 2017 (3 weeks)
Credits: 4 credits
Eligibility: current sophomores, juniors, seniors
(see eligibility requirements)
Status: This program is now full and no longer accepting applications.


Concern with freedom and justice has deep roots in the Western tradition. The foundations of contemporary ideas about these concepts have their origins in antiquity, the Judeo-Christian tradition, and early modern notions of right and wrong, and of a just order.

This program, for students interested in politics, government, the history of ideas, and law, will introduce you to the rich intellectual heritage, especially related to the ideals of freedom and justice, on which the modern legal and political systems are based.

Under the leadership of Professor Isaac Kramnick, the Richard J. Schwartz Professor of Government and one of Cornell's most distinguished faculty members, you will explore readings from the "Great Books" of Western social thought: Plato, the Old and New Testaments, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, Locke, Burke, Wollstonecraft, J. S. Mill, Marx, and M. L. King, Jr.

The afternoon seminars will supplement the morning's intellectual and philosophical inquiry. Twice each week, you'll meet and talk with a variety of people involved in political life, such as local judges and practicing attorneys, all of whom will describe what they do in practice and how it relates concretely to the abstract ideals of freedom and justice. Also, twice each week you'll participate in afternoon writing workshops.

This program was recently featured on the Huffington Post as one of "The 12 Best Pre-College Summer Programs." The article quotes former student (and now Cornell undergrad) Annie Leiman:

"My favorite experience was ... getting to know a real, esteemed Cornell professor. As a current Cornell student, I definitely felt more prepared coming here because of the program!"

Course expectations

Students are expected to:

  • read 25 pages a night,
  • write and revise (several times) an essay on the course material,
  • engage in the exciting exploration of the world of ideas, and
  • learn to intelligently articulate their own conceptions of "freedom" and "justice."


You'll be enrolled in the four-credit course Introduction to Political Philosophy (GOVT 1615).

This course meets Mondays through Fridays, 9:00–11:45 a.m., and Mondays through Thursdays, 1:15–3:45 p.m.

Maximum enrollment: 75

Note: You may combine this program with a three-week 1 program to create a six-week Dual Program.

Required textbooks

Title Author Cost
Princeton Readings in Political Thought Mitchell Cohen and Nicole Fermon, Editors $62.50
The Republic Plato (translated by Robin Waterfield) $9.95
Course Packet $20.00

These titles and materials will be available at The Cornell Store.

Special scheduling


  • Monday, July 17: College Admissions Workshop, 2:30–3:45 p.m.
  • Monday, July 24: College Fair, 4:00–6:00 p.m., Statler Hall Ballroom
  • Saturday, August 5: Graduation ceremony, 11:00 a.m.–noon


Students and their families are cordially invited to an informal graduation on Saturday, August 5 from 11:00 a.m. to noon. Students will each receive a Cornell University Summer College certificate and be able to take farewell photos with their friends and faculty. Note that attendance is not required, but is highly recommended and is a nice way to conclude the program. Dress is smart casual.

Checkout dates and times

Before making travel plans, review the checkout dates and times for your program. We strictly adhere to these deadlines.

Program director

Isaac Kramnick

Isaac Kramnick recently retired as the Richard J. Schwartz Professor of Government at Cornell, where he taught since 1972. He taught and wrote principally in the area of English and American political thought and history.

The author or editor of some twenty books, Kramnick cowrote, with Glenn C. Altschuler, the recently published Cornell: A History, 1940–2015. His Bolingbroke and His Circle: The Politics of Nostalgia in the Age of Walpole won the Conference of British Studies Prize for best book on British politics.

Kramnick was vice provost for undergraduate education at Cornell and previously served the university as associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, faculty trustee, chair of the Residential Learning Committee, chair of the Government Department, member of the College of Arts and Sciences admissions committee, and in many other capacities.

One of Cornell University's most prominent scholars and teachers, Kramnick has received numerous awards, fellowships, and honors. He is a fellow of Britain’s Royal Historical Society and served in 1989 as president of the American Society for Eighteenth Century Studies. In 1998 he was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. At Cornell he has received the Clark Award for distinguished teaching, the Steven Weiss Prize for teaching, and in 1996 he was chosen through student ballots to be the Cornell Sun’s “favorite professor of the year.”

"The excitement that comes in doing research and then transforming that very private work into a book for others to read is indescribable. But even more exhilarating is the joy I derive from teaching. The communication is instant and there can be no greater thrill than having students tell you that you opened up the world of ideas for them. It's what it's all about." —Isaac Kramnick

Student experiences

"Professor Kramnick has a great passion for this course and for us. He explains abstruse theories clearly and encourages us to think for ourselves." — Yan Dongfang, 2016

"The course went by super fast, and I definitely didn't want to go home on the last day. Summer College is a great opportunity to meet new people and interact with faculty who share your passions. I had a fantastic time, and I am so glad to have met so many new people who will remain my friends when I return home." — Hazen Enman, 2016

"I am from another continent, and the idea of coming to America and studying among people from other cultures was as intimidating as it was exciting. Happily, I have felt welcomed and enlightened by everyone around me. Knowledge hasn't been limited to the professors; every student has something to teach, if you're willing to learn." — Simran Jain, 2016

"Professor Kramnick is one of the best teachers I've come across." — Yizeng Zhang, 2015

"Professor Kramnick was an amazing teacher. He was able to connect the historical events we were learning about with modern problems. He found many ways to make his lectures both interesting and enlightening." — Michael Martinez, 2015

"I LOVED getting the chance to discuss different political philosophies with a diverse group of people. I learned through debate about different perspectives and beliefs, which greatly broadened my own personal ideas. Professor Kramnick was very intelligent and a very inspiring teacher." — Sylvia Bowditch

"This summer I managed to gain insight into the life of a college undergraduate and the responsibilities of work and play that follow. I was able to comprehend and analyze the history of Western political thought under Professor Kramnick. I have always been an avid history buff but from the three weeks I spent at Cornell I have found a topic that I would be happy to explore in college." — Matthew Paganussi

Student blogs