A $2.5 million bequest from the estate of economist James M. Buchanan to the MTSU Honors College was announced today, May 9, in special ceremonies outside the Paul W. Martin Sr. Honors Building.
Buchanan’s nephew Jeff Whorley of Indianapolis, Ind., made the formal announcement to MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee, Honors College Dean John Vile, guests, the campus community and alumni and friends of the university.
The gift announcement came near the end of a celebration of life event held for Buchanan (1919-2013), a Rutherford County native, 1940 graduate of Middle Tennessee State Teachers College, World War II veteran and 1986 recipient of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences.
Buchanan died Jan. 9 in Blacksburg, Va., at the age of 93.
Later, in the lobby of the James E. Walker Library, Whorley presented the Nobel Prize and his uncle’s Bronze Star to McPhee and the university. Both will be on loan to the university from the family.
“Jim Buchanan did have very close relationships with several institutions of higher learning,” said Whorley, adding that the list included UCLA, Florida State, University of Tennessee, University of Chicago, Virginia Tech, University of Virginia and George Mason University.
“But in the end, MTSU had a truly special place in Jim Buchanan’s heart and mind.”
Whorley added that he was pleased to announce that on May 6, MTSU received a check for $2.5 million from Buchanan’s estate.
“As the executor said to me, ‘He (Buchanan) decided that once all the smaller gifts are made and the taxes are paid, he wanted everything that was left to go to the Honors College at MTSU,’” Whorley explained.
A stridently independent thinker, Buchanan earned the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for his development of public choice theory, which brings the tools of economic analysis to the study of public decision-making.
Buchanan is the only MTSU alumnus, so far, to receive a Nobel Prize.
“As we’ve said many times here on our campus, MTSU is a very large family, and I especially appreciate your recognition of some of the people who helped make sure MTSU always felt like home to Dr. James Buchanan,” McPhee said.
“I have no doubt that it was this sense of home and his lifelong connection to his alma mater that helped influence this wonderful bequest to our campus and our Honors College.”
The Buchanan gift is the largest donation so far to MTSU’s respected Honors College. In 2002, brothers Lee and Paul Martin Jr. gave $2 million to the university to help construct the building that bears the name of their late father, Paul W. Martin Sr., and to inspire other donors to help the university raise $2 million in matching funds. They attended the Buchanan event, too, along with Lee Martin’s wife, Carla.
A video from the event is available above.
“While Jim Buchanan’s gift to the Honors College is the largest from a single individual, I believe the Martin brothers’ gift — which came at a crucial time over a decade ago — was the most impactful gift,” Whorley said.
Buchanan was a significant financial supporter of the Honors College for many years, and his contributions funded the Buchanan Fellows program, the top scholarship offered by the university to attract superior scholars from across the country.
MTSU senior Kelsey Wells, a fiddle player who provided special music during the celebration, is a Buchanan Fellow.
“Over the past several years, Dr. Buchanan has been one of our most generous and consistent givers,” Honors Dean John Vile said. “The money will be used chiefly to enhance the Buchanan Fellowship Program and a speakers’ series.”
In addition to praising the Martins, Whorley said he couldn’t say enough about the efforts by Vile and former honors Dean Phil Mathis, who shared McPhee’s vision in bringing the Honors College to its current level of excellence and providing “an enriching relationship” with Buchanan.
“I noticed over the last decade, especially in the last six or seven years, when Uncle Buck thought or talked about Tennessee, when he thought about home, he most often thought about this university and what is happening here,” Whorley said.
“In his later years, he thought a great deal about what was happening with Buchanan Fellows and other outstanding students in that building, the Honors College. He took real personal pride in his association with it.”
McPhee said MTSU and George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., will “explore a potential partnership” — being called “The Buchanan Papers Project, a Collection of the Papers of James M. Buchanan” — that will “create an exceptionally accessible and complete record of Dr. Buchanan’s work.”
Part of the bequest will be used to establish the “James M. Buchanan Lecture Series: Applying the Ideas of James Buchanan in Today’s World,” McPhee said.
The lecture series will end on Buchanan’s 100th birthday in 2019, Oct. 3. The university then intends to make printed and video versions of the lectures available as part of the Buchanan papers.
McPhee added that starting with this December’s graduation, Buchanan Fellows who have successfully completed requirements for the Honors College will receive The Buchanan Medallion.
The medallion will be cast in bronze, like the Bronze Star earned by Buchanan for his World War II service, with his likeness on the front and a Raider-blue ribbon.
Whorley, founder and president of JFW Consulting and an Honors College Board of Visitors member and past chairman, has enjoyed a successful career as an administrator in higher education student-loan processing. He is a former president of Student Aid Services, former executive at Sallie Mae and former senior vice president at USA Group, now USA Funds.
He said that additional funds “probably … (will be) coming to MTSU once the (estate’s) books are closed, one to two years from now.”
Other memorabilia related to Buchanan and his grandfather, John Price Buchanan, the sole Tennessee governor from Rutherford County so far, will be coming to MTSU for display in the Buchanan Reading Room at the Walker Library.
Whorley and his wife, Lisa, funded the Buchanan Reading Room with matching gifts from The Sallie Mae Fund, a charitable organization sponsored by the student-loan corporation, when Whorley served as an executive vice president at Sallie Mae.
The Whorleys’ son, Haynes, and daughter, Phifer, also attended the celebration.
MTSU alumna Elizabeth “Liz” Bradley, Buchanan’s youngest sister and former principal at Homer Pittard Campus School, received a U.S. flag at the event.
Dr. Barbara Haskew, professor emerita in economics and finance in the Jennings A. Jones College of Business and a former university provost who now serves on the Tennessee Valley Authority board of directors, shared her remembrances of Buchanan.
Dr. Reuben Kyle, professor emeritus in economics and finance and author of “From Nashboro to the Nobel Prize: The Buchanans of Tennessee,” provided remarks before Whorley’s medal presentation.
Joe Bales, vice president for development and university relations at MTSU, said details are being worked out for the eventual public display of the Nobel Prize.
You can learn more about Buchanan and the fellowship program that bears his name in the University Honors College here.
— Randy Weiler (firstname.lastname@example.org)