Major alumnus gift supports professorship

Robert J. Barro, the Robert C. Waggoner Professor of Economics at Harvard University, will deliver the Thomas Sowell Professorship of Economics inaugural lecture, titled Economics and Religion, at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, May 2, in the Keck Classroom of Pettengill Hall. A reception will follow in Pettengill’s Perry Atrium, and the public is invited to attend the entire event free of charge.

A senior fellow of the Hoover Institution of Stanford University, Barro is a columnist for Business Week and a frequent contributor to The Wall Street Journal. His recent books include Determinants of Economic Growth (1998) and Getting It Right: Markets and Choices in a Free Society (1997), both from MIT Press.

Barro’s lecture celebrates the inauguration of the endowed professorship made possible by Bates College trustee Joseph T. Willett, Bates College class of 1973, and his wife, Janice. The Willets gave $1.5 million to Bates in 2001 to establish the professorship in honor of Thomas Sowell, the economist, writer and commentator called America’s “most valuable public intellectual” for his challenge to orthodox thought across the spectrum of society. In its first years, the professorship will bring visiting scholars to Bates for a semester at a time.

“For us, Thomas Sowell symbolizes the ideal features of an institution of higher learning: a commitment to rigorous scholarship and an open exchange of ideas,” Joe Willet says. “We hope our gift adds to the crucial diversity of thought at Bates, for the greater good of the whole institution.” Willet, a member of the college’s Board of Fellows, is the retired chief financial operating officer for Merrill Lynch Europe, Middle East and Africa.

Janice Willet, a graduate of the University of Michigan, adds: “Thomas Sowell has influenced our thinking in areas as diverse as economics, politics, education and child rearing. It is an honor to be able to establish a chair in his name and a source of pride to be able to contribute in this way to the intellectual tradition at Bates.”

Willett remembers individuals at Bates who influenced him, such as the young economist, David Levy, fresh from Chicago and Berkeley. He had long hair, wore bellbottoms and was “an unabashed proponent of individual freedom,” Willet says. “From him, I learned the importance of free markets in conveying information and directing the flow of resources in an economy.”

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