A $2.5 million bequest from the estate of economist James M. Buchanan to the Middle Tennessee State University Honors College was announced today (May 9) in special ceremonies outside the Paul W. Martin Sr. Honors Building.
Buchanan family member Jeff Whorley of Indianapolis, Ind., made the formal gift announcement to MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee, Honors College Dean John Vile, invited guests, the campus community and alumni and friends of the university.
The gift announcement came near the end of the celebration of life held for Buchanan (1919-2013), a Rutherford County native, 1940 graduate from 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 gave the Nobel Prize and his uncle’s Bronze Star to McPhee and the university. Both are on loan from the family.
“Jim Buchanan did have very close relationships with several institutions of higher learning,” said Whorley, a retired businessman and nephew of Buchanan, 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 said he was pleased to announce that on Monday, May 6, MTSU received a
check in the amount of $2.5 million from the estate of James M. Buchanan.
“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 added.
A stridently independent thinker, Buchanan earned the Nobel Prize 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 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.”
It is the largest donation to the Honors College. In 2002, brothers Lee and Paul Martin Jr. gave $2 million to the university to help construct the building that bears their late father’s name. They attended the event along with Lee’s wife, Carla.
“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. The Martin gift, matched by a number of donors helping the university raise the matching funds, led to the building that’s home to the program.
Until his death, Buchanan had been a significant financial supporter of the Honors College for many years. His funding provided the Buchanan Fellows program, the highest scholarship offered by the university. 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.”
“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.”
In addition to praising the Martins, Whorley said he cannot say enough about the efforts by Vile and former Dean Phil Mathis, who shared McPhee’s vision in taking the Honors College to where it stands and providing “an enriching relationship” with Buchanan.
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.”
A portion 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 the occasion of Buchanan’s 100th birthday in 2019, after which the university intends to make printed and video versions of the lectures available as part of the Buchanan Papers.
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’s student-loan process. 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).
Whorley said there “probably will be additional funds coming to MTSU (from the estate) once the books are closed one to two years from now.”
The Buchanan Reading Room was funded by Whorley and his wife, Lisa, along with matching gifts from The Sallie Mae Fund, a charitable organization funded by the student-loan corporation, during the years he served as an executive vice president at Sallie Mae. The Whorley’s 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, was presented a United States flag.
Dr. Barbara Haskew, professor emerita in economics and finance in the Jennings A. Jones College of Business and former university provost who now serves on the Tennessee Valley Authority board, was invited to share 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 gave Buchanan’s Nobel Prize medal to McPhee and the university.
Joe Bales, vice president for development and university relations, said details are being worked out on where the Nobel Prize will be placed on public display.
Other memorabilia related to both Buchanan and his grandfather, Rutherford County's only governor, John Price Buchanan, also will be coming to MTSU for display in the Buchanan Reading Room.