April 10, 2018

Purdue economics research center has new name thanks to multimillion dollar gifts

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Thanks to gifts from two foundations, Purdue University will hire an additional six economists and give the Purdue University Research Center in Economics a new name, the John H. Schnatter Center for Economic Research at Purdue.

The John H. Schnatter Family Foundation and the Doug and Maria DeVos Foundation will give the university $8 million and $1 million, respectively. To maximize the impact, Purdue’s Office of the Provost will match the gifts with $9 million in university funding over the next six years.

“Economics research at Purdue is on the rise,” said David Hummels, dean of Purdue’s Krannert School of Management. “We recently dedicated the seventh floor of the Krannert Building as a space for agricultural economics, the third floor as a center for public policy research, and we are on track to add more than a dozen new faculty members to the ranks of the Department of Economics. We aim to be one of the great centers of economic thought in the country.”

Hummels plans to make one to two tenure or tenure-track faculty hires annually for the next six years. This comes on the heels of additional hiring the department has undertaken since the center was established.

The center was created three and a half years ago by John Umbeck, a professor of economics, and Jack Barron, the Loeb Professor of Economics and former department head, with support from current department head Justin Tobias. The center’s mission is to conduct empirical research in economics that is focused on the role of incentives and markets in public policy.

The center has grown rapidly thanks to philanthropic giving. After receiving initial seed money from faculty who personally donated to the new center, the initiative has garnered several million dollars in contributions over the last three years from nearly 20 alumni, foundations and individuals, including a $3 million gift in 2016 from Purdue alumnus Steven A. Webster and his wife, Linda. That gift enabled renovations to the Krannert Building’s third floor, which now provides office and research space for the center.

Another contributor to the center’s rapid rise was a decision to make the long-established Purdue Center for Economic Education a division of the center. For many years in Indiana, PCEE has conducted research on the economic literacy of students, teachers and the general public. It also has provided training to K-12 educators, helping them integrate economics and entrepreneurship in their classrooms for thousands of students each year in greater Lafayette and across Indiana.

The inaugural event of the John H. Schnatter Center for Economic Research under its new name will be to welcome James J. Heckman to campus for a lecture at 4 p.m. on April 19 in Fowler Hall. Heckman is the Henry Schultz Distinguished Service Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago and a recipient of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. He is widely considered an expert in the economics of human development, and his work has given policymakers insights into how people make decisions such as where to work and live. The April 19 Heckman lecture is part of an Economic Ideas Forum, sponsored by the Hugh and Judy Pence family, that will also include a panel discussion of interdisciplinary perspectives on early childhood development.

“Heckman is an appropriate first guest because he is one of many Nobel winners from the University of Chicago,” Umbeck said. “That school has been our inspiration in starting this center. We wanted to gradually but purposefully recruit a continuous stream of young, talented professors who would advance in their careers to eventually answer some of society’s most important questions. That’s how Chicago became the school that it is, and that’s my hope for Purdue economics. We are grateful to the Provost’s office and these two foundations for supporting us in that goal.”

The John H. Schnatter Family Foundation was started by John and Annette Schnatter in 1997 to support numerous community and education causes across the country. John Schnatter is a native of Jeffersonville, Indiana, and the founder, chairman and former CEO of Papa John’s.

Doug and Maria DeVos established the foundation that bears their name in 1992 to support youth and community causes important to them. The foundation has been a longtime supporter of Purdue and Purdue athletics. Doug DeVos is an alumnus of the Krannert School of Management and a former Purdue student-athlete. As president of Amway, he has overseen the company’s daily operations since 2002. 

Source: John Umbeck, umbeck@purdue.edu

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