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Education budget includes $1M for Troy program combatting “woke capitalism”

The money is directed to the Free Enterprise Scholars program, a new program at Troy.

Troy University's Sorrell College of Business. (Troy University)
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The version of the Education Trust Fund approved by the Alabama Senate last week includes a $1 million appropriation to a Troy University program aimed at ending “woke capitalism.”

The money is directed to the Free Enterprise Scholars program, a new program under Troy University’s Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy.

“Once upon a time, corporations stuck to their business of supplying Americans with goods and services,” the program’s introduction reads on the Troy University website. “Today corporations advance progressive political causes. Businesses face progressive pressures from many directions. Woke employees create a toxic workplace and push companies to advance progressive causes. Employees and contractors face termination for being insufficiently politically incorrect. When executives embrace stakeholder capitalism, they delegitimate stockholders’ ownership and the pursuit of profit.”

The appropriation was a last-minute addition to the education budget package presented by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, tacked on during the committee hearing he chaired. The line item comes a day after Dr. Allen Mendenhall, executive director of the Johnson Center, spoke to the Senate Republican Caucus about the dangers of environmental, social governance (ESG) criteria. 

Mendenhall responded with surprise Friday to learn that his program had received the $1 million appropriation.

“This is the first I’ve seen or heard about this,” Mendenhall responded after APR inquired about the appropriation.

Matt Clower, senior director of communications at Troy University, said the interest in funding the program came from lawmakers.

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“Members of the legislature expressed interest to Troy University officials in providing an appropriation for the Free Enterprise Scholars program based on positive reactions to the program’s mission and potential value to students,” Clower said.

Orr did not respond to APR’s requests for comment on the appropriation Monday.

State auditor Andrew Sorrell wrote a letter to Troy University chancellor Jack Hawkins last week in support of Mendenhall’s efforts to combat ESG criteria.

“Dr. Allen Mendenhall, your Associate Dean and Grady Rosier Professor in the Sorrell College of Business, has come under criticism for the work in his private capacity to defend and support economic freedom in the state of Alabama,” Sorrell wrote. “As you know, Alabama’s economic growth over the past several decades has been driven by global industry investment — and future growth depends on maintaining & improving our edge over our neighboring states. Dr. Mendenhall has earned national recognition and accolades for his work in this field and is a true credit to the prestige and influence Troy University has built during your tenure as Chancellor.”

Mendenhall and the state’s pursuit of legislation divesting from companies that use ESG scoring—which some conservatives see as a “wokeness report card”—has ruffled the feathers of some of Alabama’s largest businesses lobbyist including Regions and the Business Council of Alabama.

In an interview on the Troy Today blog, an official blog of Troy University’s communications office, Mendenhall said he has heard from friends working at corporations in Birmingham and Atlanta “who are afraid that woke ideologies are creeping into their offices and board rooms.” “They question why their employers are taking positions on controversial issues–unrelated to their apolitical business–that could alienate consumers,” Mendenhall said. “The moral value of free enterprise means that business leaders do not have to apologize for profits earned honorably or purchase absolution through wokeness.  Future business leaders and entrepreneurs should know this and be able to be articulate spokespersons for the moral value of business, properly conducted.”

The program’s online description states that the first cohort of students will learn about the “virtues and the morality of commerce.” 

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“These scholars will read and discuss authors like Vivek Ramaswamy and James Otteson and hear lectures on Bourgeois dignity and ESG,” the description states. “In the future, we hope to expand the program to include a multi-year curriculum. We envision internships with businesses sharing the principles of honorable business. Johnson Center Free Enterprise Scholars will be role models and spokespersons for free market commerce.”

The appropriation is not yet final as the budget must still pass through the Alabama House of Representatives.

APR asked Troy University officials how the $1 million would be spent on the program if the appropriation is finalized.

“We look forward to using these funds to create more learning opportunities for our students,” the university said in its statement.

Jacob Holmes is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected]

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