WCU receives $1.8 million gift to launch new Center for the Study of Free Enterprise

The Center for the Study of Free Enterprise will be housed in the College of Business with a multidisciplinary focus on student and faculty research projects related to economic development and community outreach.

The Center for the Study of Free Enterprise will be housed in the College of Business with a multidisciplinary focus on student and faculty research projects related to economic development and community outreach.

Western Carolina University announced today (Thursday, Sept. 22) the launch of a new center focused on issues revolving around economic development in North Carolina, especially in its western region.

Seed funding for the project comes from a $1.8 million gift commitment from the Charles Koch Foundation.

“The gift to the university from the Charles Koch Foundation will enable the Center for the Study of Free Enterprise to move forward with supporting student and faculty research projects,” WCU Chancellor David O. Belcher said in announcing the gift. “The center will take a multidisciplinary approach to the study of free enterprise and its implications for economic development in Western North Carolina and across the state, with the involvement of faculty and students from across the academic disciplines.”

The center was proposed by Edward J. Lopez, WCU professor of economics and BB&T Distinguished Professor of Capitalism. Its work will include scholarly activity, research, policy analysis, educational endeavors, thought leadership and community outreach. Its activities are expected to include research seminars, workshops and other scholarly events; a guest speaker series; training programs for school teachers; presentations by students and faculty at professional conferences; and scholarship support for affiliated students.

Darrell Parker, dean of the WCU College of Business, said that the Charles Koch Foundation has been providing support to the university since 2009.

“The foundation was impressed by the vision of Dr. Lopez to foster cross-disciplinary student and faculty research projects on the subjects of economics, free enterprise and economic development,” Parker said. “We appreciate the foundation’s ongoing support of Dr. Lopez’s leadership and look forward to future research on timely and important topics related to economic development through the lens of faculty and staff scholars from a wide variety of disciplines.”

The announcement comes after a review of the gift agreement by a WCU faculty committee assembled earlier this year under a university policy that calls for faculty review of external gifts that may have academic implications. The committee, in a written report to Belcher, offered three recommendations designed to ensure ongoing oversight and review of the center.

Chaired by Bill Yang, associate professor of engineering and also chair of WCU’s Faculty Senate, the five-person committee presented its findings to Belcher on Monday, Sept. 19.

The WCU Board of Trustees, at its December 2015 meeting, unanimously approved establishment of the center as recommended by Belcher and Provost Alison Morrison-Shetlar.

Funding for the center is expected to be distributed by the foundation over a five-year period. The contribution is considered “seed funding.” The center is expected to be self-sufficient and to identify other sources of funding for its continued operation.