Late alumnus Buchanan’s Nobel Prize heading to MTS...

Late alumnus Buchanan’s Nobel Prize heading to MTSU this week

Dr. James M. Buchanan (from 2000 MTSU graduation ceremony)

The Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences awarded to the late James M. Buchanan in 1986 is heading to Middle Tennessee State University.

While visiting MTSU in 1988, the late Dr. James M. Buchanan holds the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics and Science he received in 1986 “for his development of the contractual and constitutional bases for the theory of economic and political decision-making.” He is the only MTSU alumnus to be awarded a Nobel Prize. (File photo by MTSU Creative and Visual Services)

Buchanan, a Rutherford County native who graduated from the then-Middle Tennessee State Teachers College in 1940, died Jan. 9. His family will give his Nobel Memorial Prize to MTSU on a perpetual loan basis on Thursday, May 9, during a celebration of his life.

The event, which also will include other major announcements about Buchanan’s estate, will be held at 4 p.m. outside the Paul W. Martin Sr. Honors Building in an area near the John Bragg Mass Communication and College of Education buildings on the east side of campus.

The public is invited. A printable parking map is available at

Other memorabilia related to both Nobel winner James M. Buchanan and his grandfather, Rutherford County’s only governor, John Price Buchanan, are also coming to MTSU for display in the Buchanan Reading Room at James E. Walker Library.

The Buchanan Reading Room was funded by James Buchanan’s nephew Jeff Whorley and his wife, Lisa, along with matching gifts from The Sallie Mae Fund, a charitable organization sponsored by the student-loan corporation, during the years that Jeff served as an executive vice president at Sallie Mae.

Our university is honored to be entrusted by Mr. Whorley and the Buchanan family with the safekeeping and display of this historic and prestigious symbol of Dr. Buchanan’s legacy and career,” MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee said.

The medal will inspire generations of students at MTSU. In tandem with our Buchanan Fellowships, it will be a tangible reminder of the service and generosity demonstrated by this remarkable scholar, alumnus and visionary.”

James M. Buchanan, left, accepts the 1986 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. (Submitted photo)

James M. Buchanan, left, accepts the 1986 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in Stockholm, Sweden. (Photo submitted)

The Buchanan family looks forward to the Nobel award being housed at MTSU.

“I believe ‘Buck’ thought it was appropriate to leave the actual Nobel medal to a family member rather than an institution,” said alumna Elizabeth “Liz” Bradley of Pearland, Texas, who is Buchanan’s youngest sister, Whorley’s mother and a former principal of Homer Pittard Campus School.

“But I am pretty sure he knew leaving it to Jeff meant that it would be appropriately cared for by and displayed proudly at MTSU.”

Bradley earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from MTSU.

Nobel economics laureate and MTSU alumnus Dr. James Buchanan speaks to MTSU graduates at the May 2000 commencement ceremony in this file photo.

“I was happily stunned to learn that Uncle Buck had left the Nobel Prize to me,” Whorley said. “My first thought was a clear memory of watching him have the Nobel medal put in his hands in Stockholm in 1986. It was the greatest moment for him and unforgettable for everyone who knew him well.

“But my second, very practical thought was, ‘Where should the Nobel Prize reside at MTSU?’ Within a few minutes, I called Dr. McPhee and asked him to start thinking about that question.”

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.

Buchanan is the only MTSU alumnus to receive a Nobel Prize.

Along with the Whorleys and Bradley, other family members expected to attend Thursday’s celebration will be the Whorleys’ son, Haynes, and daughter, Phifer.

“There are dozens and dozens of Buchanan cousins in Middle Tennessee, and I hope to see some of them at Thursday’s celebration, but I also especially hope that in the future they can make a visit to MTSU to see the Nobel Prize,” Whorley said.

Honors College logo croppedDr. John Vile, dean of the University Honors College and master of ceremonies, will deliver the welcome, acknowledgements and closing remarks. Vile and his staff oversee the Buchanan Fellows Program, the highest award offered by MTSU.

The celebration program also includes remarks from Whorley, McPhee and Dr. Barbara Haskew, professor emerita in economics and finance and former university provost, who serves on the Tennessee Valley Authority board.

A reception will be held at the James E. Walker Library on the fourth floor next to the Buchanan Room, where Dr. Reuben Kyle, professor emeritus in economics and finance in the Jennings A. Jones College of Business, will speak. A special announcement will be made at 5 p.m.

A stridently independent thinker, Buchanan earned the Nobel Prize for his development of the contractual and constitutional bases for the theory of economic and political decision-making. Within the economics discipline, his contribution is known as the field of Public Choice, which brings the tools of economic analysis to the study of public decision-making.

— Randy Weiler (