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Florida university civic center aims to become ‘premier think tank’ on economic freedom

Center brings international politicians, business leaders to share expertise with students

Florida International University’s civics center has made an international impact in its first three years of existence by bringing together politicians and private sector leaders to promote individual and economic freedom.

The Adam Smith Center for Economic Freedom at the Miami-based university came about through efforts by Gov. Ron DeSantis and the state legislature to bolster Western democratic thought in higher education. In 2023, DeSantis signed additional legislation to boost civic education centers in the state’s public universities.

The center has been growing steadily since it opened in 2021 – adding a Senior Leadership Fellows program, a magazine focused on “free-market system and democratic principles,” international events, and more.

“I intend the Adam Smith Center to become a world class think and do tank, a think tank that highlights the importance of economic freedom not only in the U.S. or the Western Hemisphere, but throughout the world,” founding Director Carlos Diaz-Rosillo told The College Fix.

Diaz-Rosillo, a former deputy assistant secretary in the Department of Defense and Harvard University faculty member, told The Fix during the center’s annual gala in May that he plans for the center to grow in regional and international importance.

Since opening, the center has hosted dozens of events with prominent political figures in the United States, Latin America, and other parts of the world, including Argentina President Javier Milei, according to its website.

The center also conducts research in partnership with think tanks in Latin America and Spain, studying “the impact of administrative bureaucracies on small businesses and micro-enterprises in 17 different countries,” its website states.

Fellows program connecting students with political, business leaders

The center’s Senior Leadership Fellows program is one of its main educational programs.

Every semester, the program brings new fellows to campus to teach non-credit seminars, give talks, and mentor students.  The fellows include political and private sector leaders whose work has “strengthened the free enterprise system and enhanced individual freedom and human prosperity,” according to the center.

IMAGE: Florida International University/YouTube

Kimberly Reed, (pictured) a former president of Export-Import Bank and a spring fellow, spoke to The Fix recently about her experience via email.

Reed, whose seminar focused on leadership and success in the private and public sectors, said she saw a lot of interest in the center’s courses and eagerness to learn.

“I was amazed by the students’ commitment,” Reed said. “Almost every seat was filled week after week and the seminar was listed on the Adam Smith Center’s website as: ‘NO LONGER ACCEPTING APPLICANTS DUE TO OVERCAPACITY.’”

Freshman Klaudia Litardo participated in Reed’s lectures and told The Fix in a phone interview last week she was immensely grateful for the opportunity.

“It was an amazing opportunity to be able to have classes with Kimberly Reed,” Litardo said. “It was an interactive and engaging class, and I gained life lessons through her instruction.”

In another recent fellows session, former President of Ecuador Guillermo Lasso discussed how his country handled the COVID-19 pandemic and an economic crisis during a presidential transition and his first 100 days in office.

Past fellows have included former Colombia Attorney General Francisco Barbosa, former U.S. Director of Policy Planning Kiron Skinner, and former Chile President Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle.

Dozens of students participated in the fellows’ seminars, building off a trend of increased student engagement every semester, according to the center’s figures.

Center expanding programs

The center plans to offer more opportunities for students in the near future, including for-credit classical and civic education courses and degree programs, as prescribed by the legislation originally establishing it.

While programming has mostly been local, the center recently began hosting events abroad, including the conference “In Defense of the Free Market” in April in Argentina. It’s something Diaz-Rosillo said he intends to continue.

“We have started our programming focused mostly in the U.S. and Latin America, because of our location, but the goal is to expand and to do things in other parts of the world so that we can send a clear message that promoting free markets and promoting economic freedom is a sound policy that lifts countries up and generates human prosperity,” Diaz-Rosillo said.

Other upcoming activities include a summer seminar for students in Vermont to learn about free market thinkers.

Civics education efforts growing across Florida

A similar civic education project at the University of Florida in Gainesville also is expanding.

The Hamilton Center recently hired 21 new faculty – more than doubling its faculty for the upcoming fall semester, a May announcement on the university’s website states.

The center offers for-credit courses on civics and classical education. Recent classes included St. Augustine’s “Confessions” and “Capitalism and its Critics.”

Meanwhile, leaders involved with the Adam Smith Center say they are motivated by students’ enthusiasm to learn.

“With each passing week of the semester, I found myself engaging with and being inspired by a remarkable and diverse group of participants who undoubtedly will become our future leaders,” Reed said.

The FIU program fellow thanked DeSantis and the Florida Legislature for establishing the project, telling The Fix, “… it is an educational investment that will give students a strong foundation to flourish in significant ways in the years to come.”

Editor’s note: The author currently is working as an intern at the Adam Smith Center for Economic Freedom. The article was updated to correct the year when the center opened. 

MORE: UF Hamilton Center director seeks to promote open debate, intellectual diversity

IMAGE: Adam Smith Center for Economic Freedom/Facebook

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About the Author
College Fix contributor Mateo Guillamont is a third year political science and philosophy university student in Miami.