Schnatter Center John H. Schnatter, chairman and founder of Papa John's and lead donor for the University's growing economics research center, surprised students at a reception in Krannert's Parrish Library on April 24, the night prior to Purdue Day of Giving. (Photo Provided)

Foundation gifts provide new name for economics research center

Inaugural forum includes discussion with Nobel Laureate

Thanks to gifts from two foundations, the Krannert School of Management will hire an additional six economists and has given its economics research center a new name — John H. Schnatter Center for Economics Research at Purdue.

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

“Economics research at Purdue is on the rise,” says David Hummels, dean of the Krannert School. “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.

Heckman LectureThe inaugural event of the John H. Schnatter Center for Economic Research under its new name was to welcome James J. Heckman to campus for a fireside chat 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 was part of an Economic Ideas Forum, sponsored by the Hugh and Judy Pence family, that also included a panel discussion of interdisciplinary perspectives on early childhood development.

“Heckman was an appropriate first guest because he is one of many Nobel winners from the University of Chicago,” Umbeck says. “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.”