Last year, President Feller announced the Wabash Public Policy Project, an initiative to support students who follow in a long tradition of Wabash men who have pursued public service. This year, Richard J. Stephenson ‘62 and his family took a giant step in that goal with their major gift to establish the Stephenson Institute for Classical Liberalism.
This past week, Wabash College announced a $10.6 Million gift to bring new opportunities to Wabash men interested in public policy. Last Friday, President Feller welcomed Stephenson and his family, which included Dr. Christopher ’87 and Shawn ’98 Stephenson for the unveiling of the Stephenson Institute for Classical Liberalism. More than 100 guests of the College joined President Feller at the Hotel Carmichael in Carmel, Indiana for the announcement.
The Washington Post’s George F. Will, one of America’s foremost political commentators, gave the celebration’s keynote entitled, “Why I (Still) Believe in Classical Liberalism”. In his time as a student at Wabash, Stephenson studied under legendary Wabash economics professor Ben Rogge. He said that Rogge introduced him to leading libertarian economic thinkers like Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek, and Ludwig von Mises. After Wabash, Richard J. Stephenson has gone on to found the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, Gateway for Cancer Research, and was awarded the Clarence A. Jackson Distinguished Career Achievement Award by the National Association of Wabash Men. For his work in promoting classical liberalism and entrepreneurial freedom, he’s been awarded the Hayek Lifetime Achievement Award from the Austrian Economics Center and Hayek Institute, and the Leonard E. Read Distinguished Alumni Award from the Foundation for Economic Education.
The Stephenson Institute will be a student-centered forum that asks important questions about personal responsibility, individual rights, freedom of speech, and the indispensability of freedom. President Feller said, “At a moment when people are questioning higher education’s commitment to open inquiry, the Stephenson family’s gift is a strong endorsement of Wabash College as an institution that continues to discuss and debate big ideas rather than ideology.”
Lewis McCrary, the acting director of the Stephenson Institute and Special Advisor to the President for Public Policy Opportunities described the Stephenson institute as another tool that the College will use to help students involved in public policy. When The Bachelor asked how WPPP is different from the Institute, he said, “that the Institute will specifically focus on certain areas related to free speech, open inquiry, look[ing] at how markets work and how they function”. The Institute will bring top-flight speakers to lecture on these issues. It will also continue to provide funds for students to do internships and other experiences that teach on that issue. Even last year, some students got an early benefit of the Stephenson Institute in the form of funds from Dr. Christopher Stephenson and his wife, Jamie. Bryce McCullough explained how those funds helped him have “one of the best experiences of [his] life—filled with networking and learning, including connecting with Wabash alumni living in the nation’s capital.” That experience was made possible by those funds which allowed him to live in Washington D.C. without food or rent costs hanging over its head.
The Stephenson Institute and the WPPP will both be used to provide students opportunities in public policy and governance. Funds will also be available to professors to accelerate their research projects, improve course offerings, and plan more student immersion trips. As a co-curricular initiative, the Stephenson Institute will be similar to the WabashX programs. Lewis McCrary said that he hopes the Stephenson Institute will be able to take students on trips like the PIE trips the CIBE and Career Services office runs.
McCrary explained one of the first major projects of the Stephenson Institute: finding its new home. The red house at the intersection of Grant Avenue and College Street is in the process of being renovated to become the home of the Stephenson Institute and the WDPD.
The Wabash Democracy and Public Discourse initiative is currently housed in the armory and will move to that building when its renovation is complete. The Stephenson Institute has already scheduled its first major event. In November, author and political philosopher Kevin Vallier is visiting campus to speak on the topic of social trust from a classical liberal viewpoint. He’ll also be visiting some classes to continue speaking. Lewis McCrary said that the Stephenson Institute hopes to host events on police reform and land use reform this year.
Over the past few years, inside and outside of the classroom, Wabash has worked to create more opportunities for Wabash men interested in public policy, the law, and economics.
The Stephenson Institute will go on to serve Wabash men for future generations to come.