The George Gund Award is a $2,500 cash prize awarded annually at Honors Day for an exceptional essay that examines the American form of republican government as set forth in the United States Constitution. The award was established in 1952 by George Gund, H'50, longtime trustee of the College, father of Graham Gund, '63, and former chair of the Cleveland Trust Company.
The theme of each year's essay is usually announced in late December with essays due in mid-February and the winner announced on Honors Day, in April.
Essay Topic for 2023
The issue: When established in the late eighteenth century, the American republic was an experiment in self-government, with a weak state and little influence in global affairs. Today, the United States wields economic, political, and military influence on a global scale, including leading efforts to support Ukraine against Russia’s invasion. Ukraine, once part of the Soviet Union, had a weak electoral democracy (.517 on V-Dem’s 0-1 scale of polyarchy, for 2021), yet is substantially freer than Russia and recognized by the United Nations as a sovereign nation-state.
How far the U.S. goes to support sovereign states against authoritarian incursions varies by the conditions, alliances, and historical moment of any case. Voters, stakeholders, and policy makers often disagree on whether policies to support democracy and sovereignty abroad have gone too far or not far enough. Extraordinarily complex policy choices face elected decision makers, who are accountable to voters who lack expertise on such matters. Those voters may or may not assess the survival of other democracies and independent states as a matter of moral or practical interest.
The essay: Essays must make an argument about the principles that, given the U.S.A's own commitment to liberal democracy, should guide the United States’ involvement in protecting democracy and/or sovereignty in other countries.
Writers are encouraged to examine this topic from one of the following angles, using the questions as prompts to a thorough analysis. (Writers should organize their essay as a coherent argument, not a disjointed set of answers to one question after the other.)
- The quality of democracy in the United States has declined in this century (V-Dem rated the United States’ quality of liberal democracy at only .735 for 2021 on a scale of 0 to 1, with 1 being most democratic). Does Ukraine’s fight for autonomy and self-rule affect your thinking about the value of liberal democracy? If so, how so? If not, why not?
- Is democracy in another country the legitimate concern of other nations? Should the United States government get involved to protect countries (such as, perhaps, Ukraine) from oppression by authoritarians? If not, why not? If so, what criteria should be used to determine U.S. involvement? Does it matter whether the country targeted by an authoritarian regime is itself strongly democratic? Or even partially democratic? Should it matter whether the oppression comes from an invasion versus from a dictator within?
- What principles should guide the United States government in promoting or protecting sovereignty of other nation-states? If you see a role for the U.S. in promoting and protecting the sovereignty of other democracies, how do you justify that role? What argument could you make to try to persuade American citizens that they should care about whether another country is free? What argument could you make to try to persuade non-Americans that the U.S. should expend its military, diplomatic, and economic resources to oppose oppression in another state?
- Should domestic political considerations affect foreign policy decisions? Should foreign policy decisions – such as military aid to support Ukraine and economic sanctions to challenge Russia – be made in the United States with maximum transparency and democratic debate? Or does the complexity of geopolitics and security strategies require that experts be free to work without significant public input? How do you square your answer with constitutional principles in American democracy?
All currently-enrolled Kenyon students who have not previously won this award are eligible. Past winners have been first-year students through seniors, from various majors, but successful essays showed evidence of thoughtful academic study of the principles and institutions of democracy in the United States.
Deadline & How to Submit
Rules and Judging
The Gund Award competition is open to any currently enrolled Kenyon student who has not previously won this contest. Essay writers may not seek assistance from parents, professors, or off-campus mentors.
A committee of faculty selects the winning essay, which must show a clear understanding of the American constitutional republic, make a sophisticated, well-supported, and well-reasoned argument, and exhibit eloquence and care in composition. Typically, one award is made annually, but if no submission meets the caliber expected for this substantial prize, the committee retains the prerogative not to make an award.
The judges look for essays that are analytical, original, focused, well informed and skillfully composed. Writers should avoid platitudes, abstractions, partisanship, polemics, or speculation. The essay should be current, yet have enduring value. While not a research paper, the essay should be composed in a formal third-person style and follow standard procedures for scholarly documentation. A previously written course paper could well serve as a starting point for the essay, with revisions made to address this prompt.
The essay should have between 1,000 and 1,500 elegantly composed words and include a title. Your name should not appear on any page. Direct quotations from other sources should be kept to an absolute minimum. Ideas and data from other sources must be cited properly. Essays must conform to Kenyon’s policies regarding academic integrity and will be screened through Turnitin.com.
The George Gund Prize was created in 1952 by George Gund Honorary degree of 1950, longtime trustee of the College, chair of the Finance Committee, father of Graham Gund, '63 and former chair of the Cleveland Trust Company.