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Prizes and Honors / Lipson Essay Prize

Description. The Leslie Lipson Program at UC Berkeley is intended to encourage undergraduate students to study humanistic values and their practical application for individuals, societies, and states. One component of the Leslie Lipson Program is the Lipson Essay Prize. Eligible freshmen and sophomores are invited to submit an original, unpublished piece to the Lipson Essay Prize contest on one of the essay topics related to humanistic values. The essay topics for each year are selected by the Lipson Committee. The 2016-17 topics are listed below.

Prize Amounts. A $2,000 prize is awarded to students who submit winning essays on one of five topics related to humanistic values. 

Leslie Lipson Biography. The Leslie Lipson Program is endowed in memory of Professor Leslie Lipson, who taught political theory and comparative government at Berkeley for 33 years. As a professor, Lipson's first love was the undergraduate curriculum, and undergraduate students twice selected him as the best teacher in the Department of Political Science. Berkeley honored Lipson in 1980 with the Berkeley Citation, for individuals of extraordinary achievement in their field who have given outstanding service to the campus. Lipson's books include The Great Issues of Politics, which has been published in ten editions, translated into numerous foreign languages, and used in introductory political science courses across the country; and his seminal work, The Ethical Crises of Civilization, in which he analyzed the historical developments in world civilizations that have resulted in both better and worse ethical choices. "Humanistic values are the fundamental values of good and evil, right and wrong, just and unjust, as carried out by individuals and societies in service of or against humanity" (Leslie Lipson).

Eligibility. To be eligible for the Lipson Essay Prize, students need to be freshmen or sophomores and have a minimum 3.5 grade-point average (GPA). Students from any field of study are welcome to apply. Essays will be reviewed by the Lipson Committee, and the committee may award up to five prizes for winning essays.

Deadline. Submissions need to be hand-delivered to the Undergraduate Scholarships, Prizes, and Honors Office, 210 Sproul Hall, no later than Friday, February 17th at 4 p.m.

2016-17 Lipson Essay Prize Essay Topics

1.  To what extent have the successful campaign and election of Donald Trump as President raised ethical questions for the democratic process in the United States?  In answering this question, you may consider any of various possible factors: Mr. Trump’s solicitation of populist support (and whether it matters for the democratic process if some of that support is deemed “deplorable”), his political “style,”  his personal conduct prior to the election, potential conflicts of interest, the potential effect of the election on individual civil liberties and the rule of law, the ability of the new Congress to provide “checks and balances,” the role of a free press, and the impact on foreign policy.

2.  What are the reasons for the cultural and political polarization today in the United States, and what is its impact on humanistic values?  Is this only a national trend, or is it an issue internationally?

3.  In our current public discourse, what is the best approach for addressing those ethical conflicts created by the proliferation of fake news and political propaganda on the one hand versus the preservation of free speech and a free press on the other?

4.  Popular movements based on prejudice -- for example, nativism, xenophobia, racism, sexism, and religious animosity such as Islamophobia and anti-Semitism — have been on the increase throughout the developed democracies in the last few years.  How might you analyze or explain this?

5.  Does society have an ethical obligation to ensure affordable access to health care?

6.  As many American historians and political theorists have written, “liberal democracy” in the United States consists of two interwoven and sometimes contradicting traditions:  the ability of a popular majority to select political leaders and assert its will, versus the protection of the civil and human rights of individuals from the will of the majority, as exemplified by the Bill of Rights of the U. S. Constitution.  Are these two strands of liberal democracy in the United States now coming apart, and if so why?

7.  Is democracy in general, as a form of government, currently broken on an international basis?  Discuss at least two different countries in your answer.

Lipson Essay Prize Submission Process


3,000 to 4,000 words; typed

12-point font; double-spaced with one-inch margins; numbered pages

Last 4 digits of your student identification (SID) number in top-right corner of every page


You may submit only one essay per calendar year

Submit five stapled copies of your essay

Make a copy for your record; no essays will be returned

Your submission needs to be anonymous; please do not include your name. On the front of your manuscript, please write the following in the upper right corner:

  • Name of the contest

  • The last 4 digits of your student identification (SID) number

  • The number of pages in your submission

Please download and complete the UC Berkeley Prizes and Honors Office Form and submit it in person along with your essay to 210 Sproul Hall.

Hand-deliver your essay to 210 Sproul Hall by Friday, February 17th at 4 p.m. Please be prepared to show your Cal 1 Card when submitting your essay.

Previous Winners

2015-16: 1st prize: Liya Nahusenay, "Islamophobia: A Detrimental Misnomer"; Neel Somani, "Contemporary Stereotyping: Exploring the Seduction of Bias"; 2nd prize: Nina Djukic, "A Rare Drought Rain"; Suleman Khan, "The Governmnet That Cried Wolf: Refugees and National Security"; Olivia Maigret. "The Complicity of Religion in Terrorism"

2014-15: Carter Bryce Keeling, "The People's Climate March"; Ismael Farooqui, "The Invisible Hand: The results of wealth accumulation in a democracy"; Joprdan Hyatt-Miller, "The Logic of Violence"; James Rosenberg, "Legal Accountability for Torture: Preserving a Nation of Rights and Values"; Zijing Song, "One Oligarchy, Under God"

2013-14: Elizabeth Carroll, "A Nation of Suspects: Modern Surveillance and the Right to Privacy"; Wenyan He, "The Bilateral Nature of Ethics in Economic Inequality"; Taylor Madigan, "A Rawlsian Approach to Economic Inequality"; Sharada Narayan, "The Politics of Political Ethics"; Zijing Song, "The State of Obama's Union"

2012-13: Pierre Bourbonnais, "No Excuses for Lying"; Apruva Govande, "Emotional Bridges through Empathy"; Adithyavairavan Murali, "War on Terror: The Great Game of Education, Economics and Human Dignity"; Seth Victor, "The Lies and Unethical Nature of the War on Terror"

2011-12: Adam Susaneck, "How Party Stratification Leads to Duopoly as Ideology Establishing Elections as a Script Creating Not Deadlock, Livelock!"

2010-11: Ayden Parish, "Fundamentalism, Church and State"; Timothy Borjian, "The Problems with American Exceptionalism"

2009-10: Jasmine L. Segall, "Ethical Implications of Anonymous Methods of Modern Warfare"; Spreeha Debchaudhury, "We the People: A Colorful Portrayal"

2008-09: Alexander Setzepfandt, "Optimism: Breaking Free from the Unethical Behavior of Others"; Anirudh Narla, "The Triumph of Grey: The Importance of Indeterminacy and Complexity in Black and White"

2007-08: Danielle Rathje, "Fair Trade and Global Responsibility"; Keith Browner Brown, "Factoring in Humanity: The Failure of Population Control"

2006-07: Andrina Tran, "Varieties of Morality: William James, Pragmatism and Freedom "

2005-06: Erica Mu, "Dismantling Torture: An Examination of the United States at a Political and Ethical Crossroads"; Jillian Marks, "Torture: An Analysis of Its Evils"; Alexander H. Lau, "Revealing Racial Bias: A Case for Affirmative Action"

2004-05: Jacqueline Nader "The Greatest Danger of Our Time"; Yanpei Chen, "Morality and Political Discourse"; Charles Lin, "Avoiding a Tragedy: Reconciling International Interests in the Atmospheric Commons"

2003-04: No award given

2002-03: Jennifer Greenburg, "Women's Participation in Post-Apartheid Reform"; Sebastian Petty, "Back to the Land: Institutional Forms of Community Supported Agriculture"; Tina Sang, "Chinese Household Registration System"

2001-02: Susan Tche, "Effects of the New World Economy on Post-Embargo Vietnam"

2000-01: Cynthia Houng, "Sustainable Development? Towards a New Synthesis of Environment Ethics and Philosophy"; Joseph Kim, "Does Absentee Voting Have Anti-Social Effects on Voters?"; Pha Lo, "The Hmong of Laos: Cultural Perspectives on Implementing a Global Agenda"