American Studies Institute


The American Studies Institute traces its roots to a program at Harding University that began in 1953 as the School of American Studies. Initiated to work toward bringing about a better understanding of the American way of life, the program had an impact on the education of every student. In the ensuing years, the program of American Studies at Harding has become one of the most-honored programs of its kind in the nation.

Mission Statement

The American Studies Institute is to be an educational bastion to the broad countercultural trends that we see sweeping our nation from one decade to the next. Its answer is to go back to the fundamental values that made this country great. As Dr. George S. Benson, the late president in Harding University, first articulated as Constitutional Government, Capitalism, and Christianity. From these three C’s, American Studies Institute can see a multitude of values flow such as a respect for authority, respect for human life, the work ethic, and discipline.

This long-established tradition continues to be highlighted by its marquee, Distinguished Lectureship Series, and emphasis on educational programs, such as the National Leadership Forum and the Belden Center for Private Enterprise Education. For the future, efforts are being explored, such as the Sino American Studies Institute.

Harding University will always uphold and study America’s role it plays in making this country and the world a better place in which to serve our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Historical Synopsis

The American Studies Distinguished Lecture Series has had 500+ distinguished lecturers on campus over all of these years.  An example of the quality of the lectures in illustrated by the following list: Gerald Ford, William Crowe, Dan Quayle, Lynne Cheney, Helmut Schmidt, Benazir Bhutto, Henry Kissinger, Dick Cheney, Margaret Thatcher, George Bush, John Major, Colin Powell, Lech Walesa, Mikhail Gorbachev, Barbara Bush, Malcolm S. Forbes Jr., and Brian Mulroney.  Further evidence of the American Studies Institute program being the marquee program of the university, it has been awarded Freedom Foundation medals from the very earliest to date to a total of over 45, for contribution to the community and country.

1925 Dr. George S. Benson goes to China as a missionary and personally experiences Communism and Socialism    

1936 Dr. George S. Benson returns to Harding University as the university’s second president; Dr. Benson established his National Education Program (NEP), emphasizing Godliness and Patriotism and his three C’s of Constitutional Government, Capitalism, and Christianity (over 25 million people a week came in contact with Dr. Benson’s thoughts on these through his radio program and publications)

1936 Dr. Kimmerer of Princeton University; first American Studies speaker

1949 First Freedom’s Foundation medal awarded to Harding University by General Dwight D. Eisenhower

1952 School of American Studies established; Dr. Clifton L. Ganus named Dean

1953 First educational tour for students

1954 American Studies for Teachers program begun

1956 Youth Citizenship Seminar began for High School juniors and seniors

1965 Dr. Billy Ray Cox named Director of the American Studies program

1973 Management Seminars begun as a part of the American Studies program

1979 The Dell Belden Center for Free Enterprise Education was established

1982 Lecture Studio Library was begun; Dr. David B. Burks, Dean of the School of Business, named director of the program

1985 The Walton program was established

1987 American Studies Program changed to American Studies Institute and an advisory board was formed with Co-Chairmen Jack Stephens and Sam Walton

1987 Dr. Jim Carr named Director of the American Studies Institute and Dr. Bob Reely named Executive Associate Director

1988 American Studies Institute Conference Center was established

1988 Arkansas American Legion Auxiliary Girls’ State

1990 American Studies Distinguished Student upper level Honors program formed

1992 Arkansas State Special Olympics hosted by the American Studies Institute

1992 Stephens Scholars Program begun

1993 Youth Citizenship Seminar (YCS) changed to National Leadership Forum (NLF)

1993 Summer Economics Institute for Teachers had begun, graduating approximately 25 teachers a year for seven years totaling of 175 graduates, influencing as many as 150 students per year, giving a multiplier of possibly thousands of students to be influenced in Economic Education

1999 Arkansas Home School Conference hosted by Conference Center

2004 Sino/American Studies Institute began. Presently, 16 Chinese scholars have graduated from Harding University and there are 36 that are currently enrolled

2006 National Leadership Forum celebrating its 50th Anniversary with approximately 10,000+ High School students influenced over these years in godliness and patriotism

2015 Kim Kirkman named Executive Associate Director and Dr. Reely returns to teaching in the College of Business.

2016  National Leadership Forum celebrating its 60th Anniversary and Dr. Reely celebrating his 30th working with National Leadership Forum.

2017 Kim Kirkman named Executive Director as Dr. Carr transitions to part time before his retirement in June 2019.


The benefits of the American Studies Institute have been visibly significant. Unequaled educational opportunities have been provided to students in many disciplines. The program has a long-standing tradition of recognition from the Freedoms Foundation in Valley Forge, Pa., receiving numerous awards in the area of community service. The program itself, along with faculty and administrators at Harding have won a Freedoms Foundation award every year for the past 44 years.

Harding's continuing emphasis on the principles of freedom has made an indelible mark on students through the years. Their influence continues to permeate and influence those around them.

The American Studies Institute at Harding University is truly unique, bringing national opinion leaders in business and politics to local constituents. Harding was a pioneer, and continues to be a leader, in the promotion of free enterprise education, preparing students to build a better nation. The expanded services of the American Studies Institute assure that these goals will continue to be achieved.

Annual Membership

As a member of the American Studies Institute, you will enjoy many benefits and opportunities. The most significant is associated with the annual Distinguished Lecture Series. As a member, you receive preferred seating at each of the four annual series lectures, plus depending on your membership level, you may attend the pre-lecture Presidential reception with the speaker followed by the pre-lecture dinner with the speaker and other guests. Membership includes benefits for the twelve calendar months following the donation.


Giving Level: $50,000+ 

The member and up to nine guests may attend the pre-lecture Presidential reception and dinner before each distinguished lecture in the series, plus 10 reserved preferred seats for the lecture.


Giving level:$10,000-49,999

The member and up to five guests guests may attend the pre-lecture Presidential reception and dinner before each distinguished lecture in the series, plus six reserved preferred seats for the lecture.


Giving level:$5,000-9,999

The member and up to three guests may attend the pre-lecture Presidential reception and dinner before each distinguished lecture in the series, plus four reserved seats for the lecture.


Giving level:$2,500-4,999

The member and one guest may attend the pre-lecture Presidential reception and dinner before each distinguished lecture in the series, plus two reserved seats for the lecture.


Giving level:$1,000-2,499

The member and one guest may attend the dinner with the speaker and other guests before each distinguished lecture in the series, plus two reserved seats for the lecture.


Giving level:$600-999

The donor and one guest will receive two reserved seats for each distinguished lecture in the series.

American Studies Institute Sponsors and Endowment 2020-2021

(updated January 13, 2021)

American Studies Endowment

Jack W. McNutt Endowment

America's Club ($10,000+)

Matt Bell

Liberty Club ($5,000-9,999)

Blair and Karen Bryan

June Carter

Saide Leggett

Bill McCauley

Unity Health (WCMC)

White River Flooring

Constitutional Club ($2,500-4,999)

Mark and Amy Carroll

Chick-fil-A/Searcy, Matthew and Hollie Harbin

Drs. Debbie and Richard Duke

Margaret Helms

Dr. Mike and Elaine Justus

Brett and Kim Kirkman

Kelly and Anna Koonce

Roger and Marilyn McMennamy

Joel and Mona Pritchett

The Bug Man Inc. of Searcy/Rob and Beth Davis

The Bug Man Inc. of Little Rock/Becky Cranford

Scott and Amy Westjohn

Free Enterprise Club ($1,000-2,499)

Arkansas Testing Labs/Neville and Jana Adams

Dr. Finis and Bette Bailey Jr.

Patricia Berry

Dr. Kyle and Kellee Blickenstaff

Richard and Lisa Cargile

Dr. Jim and Susan Carr

Centennial Bank

Charlie's Auto Paint & Body, Inc.

Dr. Jim and Maralyn Citty

Colton's Steak House and Grill

Dr. Jared and Casey Cox

Mark and Roxi Crews

Brooks and Jill Davis

Fran Dugger

Al and Carla Fowler

Dr. Tim and Tammie Hacker

Stephen Harbison

Rick and Susan Harper

Kent and Kim Horton

Jim and Sue House

J.R. and Kathy Howard

John and Denise Lake

Steve and Edna Lake

Carl and Dottie Lindsey

Donnie and Leah Miller

Paul and Jan Morgan

Nancy Lake Pickle and Charles Pickle

Dr. Bob and Charlann Reely

Regions Bank

Dr. Porter and Carol Rodgers

Searcy Dermatology/Dr. Brad White

John and Beverly Simmons

Simmons First Bank

Van and Rachel Simpson

Bill Spear III

Zearl Watson

Freedom Club ($600-999)

Peggy Shaffer

Dr. Arthur and Sheri Shearin