Opening new doors: $3.6 million gift leads to establishment of Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy
Speaking during a reception celebrating the formation of the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy, new director Dr. Scott Beaulier outlined the core belief that will drive the Center’s research and teaching – that economically free societies provide opportunities for people to lead better lives.
Formed by a $3.6 million gift from TROY alumnus Dr. Manuel H. “Manley” Johnson, BB&T bank and the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, the Center’s research and teaching efforts will explore the idea that economic freedom improves the quality of life for citizens.
“What these gifts are doing is supporting the scientific study of this, the study of this basic principle that free societies can actually lead to material progress and prosperity,” Beaulier said.
The new Center will be part of the University’s Sorrell College of Business and will be housed inside Bibb Graves Hall, which is currently undergoing extensive restoration and expansion.
Members of the University leadership and the Troy University Foundation Board of Directors officially received the gift on Saturday, Sept. 4, in a ceremony at the Troy Campus. Chancellor Jack Hawkins, Jr., thanked Johnson, BB&T and the Koch Foundation for their support and vision for TROY.
“This opens a whole new avenue of opportunity in terms of study for our students and faculty and it will result in some meaningful achievements,” Hawkins said. “What I see here is the opportunity to address and attack some issues and challenges that have national implications and in some ways international.”
Johnson, a 1973 graduate of TROY and former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve System board of governors, said he envisions the Center becoming a leading voice in economic scholarship and research.
“The creation of this Center allows me to invest in economic education and Troy University, both of which played very important roles in my life,” Johnson said. “My vision is that this Center will become an important source of academic excellence that furthers the transformation of Troy University in the areas of business, economics and economic development. With the University’s global focus, this Center is well positioned to become a leader in the arena of international economic scholarship.”
The Johnson Center’s mission of advancing free market economic ideas is a natural fit for the Sorrell College of Business, said Dean Judson Edwards. Reflecting on his time as a student at TROY, Edwards said the University’s business faculty members were among the first to instill in him the value of free market economics.
“Thinking back to when I was a student at Troy University as an econ major over in Bibb Graves (Hall) … if I was ever taught the concept of free market it was here at Troy University from these economists,” Edwards said. “I think the Johnson Center will continue to support that. We have a culture here that will fit free enterprise, free-market beliefs and as the Center grows, it will be a showpiece for the Sorrell College of Business.”
Beaulier said the Johnson Center’s research efforts will seek to understand why some economies thrive while others do not.
“We’re going to study in the Center why are some nations rich and some nations poor,” Beaulier said. “Why is it that some states around the U.S. are much more affluent than others? Why is it that different regions are more affluent than others?”
Answering those questions starts with recruiting top-notch economists who must also be top-notch teachers,” Beaulier said.
“Troy is still a teaching university and I think it is extremely important that we be able to convey the ideas we are passionate about,” Beaulier said. “I was transformed by my experience of studying economics. I got turned on to it by one class and maybe that can happen to a lot more people.”
The Johnson Center’s free-market mission reflects the philosophy of its namesake, said Richard Fink, president of the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation. He praised Manley Johnson for his vision and leadership in promoting free enterprise.
“Manley and Mary Johnson are as dedicated to their hometown of Troy as they are to the economic health of our country,” Fink said. “When we were colleagues at George Mason University, it became obvious that Manley has a deeply rooted understanding of how the free enterprise system is the foundation of America’s prosperity. The Johnson Center at TROY – with its focus on sound economic education and research – will advance our understanding of economic freedom and how it generates prosperity for the overwhelming majority of citizens.”
BB&T officials said they look forward to the learning opportunities the new Center will provide for TROY’s business students in the years to come.
“At BB&T we believe that education is a valuable and important resource,” said Jodie Hughes, community banking president for south Alabama. “Its purpose is to provide us a direction for developing our minds and equipping us to deal with life. It is with pleasure that we make this contribution to reinforce the educational offerings of Troy University and the Sorrell College of Business.”
Following the announcement ceremony, University Foundation Board members and other officials got their first opportunity to tour the 42,000 square-foot expansion of Bibb Graves Hall being built to house both the Johnson Center and the Confucius Institute. Built around an expansive central gathering space, the new addition to Bibb Graves Hall includes offices and conference rooms for Johnson Center faculty, classrooms, and economics library and an auditorium with more than 250 seats.
The Johnson Center for Political Economy is just the latest example of the philanthropic efforts of Manley Johnson. In recent years, his support has also lead to the creation of the Holman and Ethel Johnson Center for the Arts in downtown Troy, named for Johnson’s parents.
Johnson said the new Center marks the start of a new era for the University that launched his economic career.
“When we finish hiring and filling all the spots that have been funded by this program, I think you’ll find this is going to be the strongest economics program in the state, headed to a strong identity in the region and not just stopping there,” Johnson said.
Clower is a coordinator with the Office of University Relations.