Stephen Balch was born in New York City and grew up in Brooklyn. He received a bachelor's degree from Brooklyn College. He received masters and Ph.D.s from the University of California, Berkeley, where his dissertation supervisor was Nelson W. Polsby. It was during the Berkeley riots that he became a conservative. He now identifies as a Republican.
He joined Midge Decter's Committee for the Free World and, by 1982, he founded the Campus Coalition for Democracy. In 1987, he left his academic position and founded the National Association of Scholars, a conservative think tank against political correctness in higher education. He also started the journal Academic Questions. In 1992, he founded the American Academy for Liberal Education, an alternative accreditation body focused on the liberal arts.
He is a founding member and a trustee of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni. He has been involved in founding the Association of Literary Scholars and Critics, and the Association for the Study of Free Institutions. He was also for a time a Trustee of the Philadelphia Society. He is also a member of the History Association.
In the fall of 2012, he founded the Institute for the Study of Western Civilization at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas. He is Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Academy on Capitalism and Limited Government Foundation.
He served as chairman of the New Jersey State Advisory Committee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights from 1985 to 1990, and was a member of the Committee from 1990 to 2005. He was also a member of the National Advisory Board of the United States Department of Education's Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education from 2001 to 2004.
He is the recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medals. His award cited him "for leadership and advocacy upholding the noblest traditions in higher education" and went on to say that "His work on behalf of reasoned scholarship in a free society has made him a leading champion of excellence and reform at our nation's universities." In 2009 he received the Jeane Jordan Kirkpatrick Academic Freedom Award from the American Conservative Union Foundation and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.
- 'The Route to Academic Pluralism', in The Politically Correct University: Problems, Scope and Reforms, AEI Press, 2010, pp. 227–40.
- Balch, Stephen H. (March 2005). "Presentation: A Canticle for Rothman". Academic Questions 18 (2): 69–70. doi:10.1007/s12129-005-1007-z. Remarks on the occasion of the award by the National Association of Scholars of the Sidney Hook Memorial Award to Stanley Rothman, 22 May 2004.
- The National Association of Scholars: People
- National Endownment for the Humanities bio of Balch
- The Society for Academic Freedom and Society biography
- Peter Wood, A Tribute to Stephen H. Balch, NAS Article, Jan 12, 2009
- John Tierney, Republicans Outnumbered in Academia, Studies Find, The New York Times, November 18, 2004
- The Philadelphia Society Board of Trustees
- Peter Monaghan, Advocate of Western Civilization Finds a Home for His Ideas at Texas Tech's Honors College, The Chronicle of Higher Education, October 12, 2012
- NAS Founder Stephen H. Balch Takes New Role in Western Civilization Institute, NAS, Oct 11, 2012
- The Academy on Capitalism and Limited Government Foundation Board
- Jason M. Breslow, 6 Academics Receive National Honors in Arts and Humanities, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Nov. 16, 2007
- "Humanities Medals Awarded by President Bush. Recipients honored for outstanding cultural contributions" NEH News Archive
- PJ Media webpage
- The National Review