Academics & Research / News

Ciepley named Wilson Scholar

David Ciepley has been named to a fellowship at the Woodrow Wilson Center.

David Ciepley felt frustrated when journal after journal rejected his proposal to examine the role corporations play in the marketplace.

“The discussion about what our economy was like was distorted. I wanted a more realistic perspective,” the DU professor says. “I’d get these responses from editors, ‘This is important, but you should send this elsewhere.’”

The Wilson Center vindicated his faith in the subject.

Ciepley, an assistant professor in DU’s Department of Political Science, has been named a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars for the 2011–12 academic year. The Wilson Center, established by Congress in 1968, is a nonpartisan institution that annually awards 20–23 residential academic-year fellowships through an international competition.

The Wilson Center described Ciepley’s proposal regarding the study of corporations as “highly competitive and sophisticated.”

“We look forward to Professor Ciepley’s time at the Wilson Center and his contributions to the conversation around public policy,” says Lucy Jilka, director of the center’s scholars administration office.

Ciepley, a political theorist and member of the University’s Sustainability Council, says he’ll have plenty of time to explore his thesis and, he hopes, tackle at least half of a book he intends to write on the subject.

“Corporations aren’t entities that emerged naturally from a marketplace. They rely on a number of legal privileges,” he says, such as limited liabilities.

“I started thinking about that,” he says. “Why do we have this financial crisis? Why were these banks overleveraged? Why is this happening now?”

Ciepley, who joined the University of Denver faculty in 2007, previously wrote about the changing political tides in the 20th Century.

Liberalism in the Shadow of Totalitarianism (Harvard University Press, 2007) detailed how communism and fascism changed the way people thought of economics, the law and culture at large.

“It pushed us in a more libertarian direction,” the book argued, while simultaneously ending the progressive era as it previously existed.

While writing the book, Ciepley started thinking about the role corporations play in society.

“I was never libertarian but had lots of libertarian connections,” he says. “And the markets they were describing weren’t the ones I was seeing in the world.”

Corporations are neither purely public nor private, he argues. They don’t fit neatly into either category, and therefore have more of an obligation toward the greater good.

“Those who control corporations don’t own them,” he says. “If you own something, you’ll be responsible with it. You bear the consequences of what you do with it. If it’s not yours, you’re just a renter there, you exploit if fully while you’re there.”

The Wilson Cnter honor reflects Ciepley’s body of work and the academics at the University at large, says Anne McCall, dean of DU’s Divisions of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences.

“This recognition of David’s scholarship and the opportunity that it is affording him to grow more in his field enriches our entire academic community at DU,” McCall says.

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