Mercer receives gift for new academic program

On Aug. 29, 2013, Mercer University announced that it had received a $2 million grant to fund Mercer’s Center for America’s Founding Principles and provide new educational opportunities to students who are from the Dominican Republic. The grant is from Thomas C. and Ramona E. McDonald.

According to Dr. Charlotte Thomas, co-director of the Center for America’s Founding Principles, around 60 percent of the gift is going to the center. The remaining 40 percent will fund the Thomas C. and Ramona E. McDonald Fund for Advancement of Education in the Dominican Republic. The fund will allow Mercer to provide funds to professors and students in the Dominican Republic through exchange programs.

Dr. Will Jordan, co-director of the center alongside Thomas, said the center is the product of an Academic Initiatives Monetary (AIM) Fund grant given to the university six years ago.

“Our chief mission was to supplement the curriculum of Mercer’s wonderful Great Books program by bringing to campus speakers and events that would encourage the serious study of the books and ideas that have shaped western civilization and the American regime,” said Jordan.

Jordan also said that funding for the center has come from grants and gifts over the years. The grants and gifts have allowed the center to bring a series of speakers to the school to talk about a variety of topics. The center has also been able to have an annual A.V. Elliot Conference on Great Books and Ideas, and faculty-student reading groups, research fellowships and summer Great Books Programs.

Asked to describe the primary purpose of the center, Thomas said, “We promote direct engagement with the books and ideas that influenced the American Founders. We believe that one of the most important responsibilities of higher education is to graduate students who can function as responsible and informed citizens.”

The recent gift from the McDonald family will go to fund a new course at the center called America’s Founding Principles.

“The resources from this gift will allow us to invite every semester at least three nationally-prominent scholars to come in and teach this course for a week at a time,” said Jordan. “These scholars will also be delivering public lectures and participating with our faculty-student reading groups.” He said the new programs they were going to introduce are both supplementing and enlarging their current programs.

Thomas also mentioned that three outside scholars are going to be teaching the class alongside a member of Mercer’s faculty.

“Mercer students will have an opportunity to be in the classroom with some of the most prominent historians, political theorists and philosophers in the country. These visiting scholars will also give public lectures, meet with reading groups and generally participate in the life of the university for the week that they are in residence,” said Thomas.

America’s Founding Principles will be a special course for several reasons. According to Thomas, it will be a Great Books- style seminar, and it will be an option for students in the Western Heritage block of the Integrative Program. The course is in development and should be available to Mercer students in the 2014-2015 academic year.

“It was very important to Mr. and Mrs. McDonald that the course be available to as many students as possible—students with varied interests and pursuing a wide variety of degree programs,” said Thomas.

Thomas said that when she heard of the gift, she was “humbled, honored and thrilled.” She went on to say that, “we know that there are a lot of people doing a lot of good things at the university and beyond who never get the kind of support that we have enjoyed in the not quite six years of the center’s existence.”

Jordan expressed similar feelings saying he and Thomas were “thrilled” by the gift and that they “look forward to creating a truly unique and nationally-respected program at Mercer.”

This semester, the center is going to focus on the question of religious liberty, and it is sponsoring the upcoming undergraduate Constitution Day lecture by Dr. Vincent Phillip Munoz, associate professor at the University of Notre Dame’s Political Science Department. For more information, go to the center’s website at http://afp.mercer. edu.