The College Donor Digest

The Stephen S. Smith Center at Xavier University: An Excerpt from the Intelligent Donor’s Guide to College Giving

June 03, 2022

It is difficult to craft a gift that balances a strong conviction for how higher education can improve while respecting academic autonomy. A partnership built on a shared vision between the donor and on-campus allies can be the key to striking that balance. Developing a robust faculty partnership also allows for flexibility, a crucial aspect for successfully establishing an academic program.

The Stephen S. Smith Center at Xavier University exemplifies how one donor and his on-campus allies found the balance that allows their program to flourish.

The original vision of the gift was to establish a research center for the study of capitalism. Yet, after a year, it became clear that the center needed to pivot in order to thrive. Taking a year to research their options, the faculty approached Stephen S. Smith with another plan: while maintaining the center, to create a minor focused on the study of freedom and free market solutions to problems in society. The center would promote faculty and undergraduate research and create a new honors program for business students through a minor in political economy. Understanding how these changes would fulfill his vision, Mr. Smith approved the strategic pivot.

An ongoing partnership with the program leaders guided Mr. Smith’s philanthropy. This close relationship simplified potentially fraught conversations with the university about how best to fulfill Mr. Smith’s intent while also respecting academic freedom. The most vivid example of this partnership is the minor program developed by the Smith Center faculty. Xavier University already requires a core curriculum of classes for undergraduate students. The Smith Center built on this requirement so that a cohort of students in the business school would take core classes that combined the Great Books with economics.

The collaboration between Mr. Smith and the center’s faculty leaders has generated a flourishing program that supports research and scholarship for both undergraduates and faculty and hosts speakers and discussions on pressing topics like the opioid crisis and second-chance employment. The shared vision between Mr. Smith and his on-campus allies inspired the creation of the Smith Center, and their solid partnership allowed the center to adapt the original vision to include a thriving academic program as well, now in its third cohort of students. With excellent faculty, new research initiatives and fellowships, as well as expanded outreach efforts, the program is positioned to grow even more robust in years to come.

"The Smith Scholars Program has been an excellent experience! The opportunity to learn about the Great Books and political economy as a business major has helped me to become a more well-rounded student. The cohort aspect of the program has presented me with intellectual challenges and has given me a support system of other hard-working business students." John Fritz, Class of '23

"I am grateful to the Smith Scholars program for allowing me to enrich my understanding of course topics, reflect on how those topics impact the world around me, and immerse myself in opportunities meant to heighten the academic experience." Austin Wagner, Class of '23


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