Nobel laureate Vernon L. Smith, Chapman professor of economics and law, poses with the bronze bust of moral philosopher Adam Smith on the Chapman campus. A $15M gift will establish the Smith Institute for Political Economy and Philosophy at Chapman, honoring both Smiths.

Nobel laureate Vernon L. Smith, Chapman professor of economics and law, poses with the bronze bust of 18th-century moral philosopher Adam Smith on the Chapman campus. A $15M gift will establish the Smith Institute for Political Economy and Philosophy at Chapman, honoring both Smiths.

Chapman University established today the Smith Institute for Political Economy and Philosophy at the University. The Smith Institute is named in honor of Adam Smith (1723-1790), the moral philosopher who is widely known for authoring two great works, The Theory of Moral Sentiments and The Wealth of Nations, and Chapman’s 2002 Nobel laureate in economic science, Vernon L. Smith. The new institute is supported by $15.18 million in gifts from the Charles Koch Foundation and two anonymous donors, with additional gifts from Orange County donors Gavin Herbert and Rick Muth.

“The Smith Institute’s broad mission is to reintegrate the study of the humanities and economics in the spirit of Adam Smith, and to recombine research and undergraduate education as a discovery process in the spirit of Vernon Smith,” said Bart Wilson, Ph.D., who has been appointed director of the Smith Institute and holds the Donald P. Kennedy Chair in Economics and Law at Chapman.  “We will expand our innovative undergraduate program into a minor called Humanomics, which challenges the perceived tensions between economics and humanities.”

“We are extremely grateful to so many donors for their generosity,” said Daniele Struppa, Ph.D., president of Chapman University. Struppa added that the funding “will help promote an intellectual community at the University, wherein ideas can be exchanged freely and useful knowledge will benefit society.”

The gift builds upon a program that started at Chapman in 2010 with a single first-year seminar course designed to explore three questions: What makes a rich nation rich? What makes a good person good? And what do these questions have to do with one another? Originally co-taught by Jan Osborn, Ph.D. from the Department of English and Dr. Wilson, the course combined interpretations of the human condition in literature with an inquiry into the causes and consequences of the prosperity of the last 200 years.

“The growing interest among Chapman students to challenge themselves with these big questions is the reason why we proposed the Institute to the donors,” said Dr. Wilson. “It is exciting to significantly extend our capabilities to co-teach interdisciplinary courses with scholars from both economics and the humanities.”

Chapman University will add 11 new faculty members to cultivate a cluster of researchers “interested in blurring the line between teaching and research, as Vernon Smith is known for,” said Dr. Wilson. The faculty in the institute will envision new frontiers of interdisciplinary research, developing them in conjunction with colleagues and students in their courses. The Smith Institute will also mentor up to five post-doctoral fellows who will spend two years in residence working on their research and teaching under the guidance of the Smith Institute faculty.

There are currently four faculty members selected by the University to be affiliated with the Smith Institute: Bart Wilson, Ph.D., the director (professor of economics and law); Vernon Smith, Ph.D. (professor of economics and law); Jan Osborn, Ph.D. (assistant professor of English) and Keith Hankins, Ph.D. (assistant professor of philosophy).  The new faculty members will likewise span different disciplines across the university.

The Smith Institute will also offer an annual conference or workshop that will bring faculty from other universities to the Chapman campus to engage in the exchange of ideas in economics and humanities.