Dr. Tom Johnson '56
For 30 years, Dr. Tom Johnson '56 devoted his professional life to advancing the cause of medical education, as a professor at Michigan State University's College of Human Medicine and as dean of the University of North Dakota School of Medicine.
At Michigan State, he helped pioneer a problem-based approach to learning, in place of the rote memorization that had been the dominant paradigm when he was in medical school. In North Dakota, he led a complete overhaul of the academic program, converting a two-year program into a four-year, degree-granting school.
As his 50th Wooster reunion approached, Tom wanted to find a way to support what he considered the most important aspects of undergraduate education: the quality of the student body, the quality of the faculty, and the flexibility, responsiveness, and creativity of the academic program.
The more he thought about it, the more he became convinced that endowing a fund for curricular innovation would help strengthen all three areas at once. He envisioned a fund, administered by the vice president for academic affairs, that would provide intellectual venture capital to support the development of new academic programs and course offerings that promote critical inquiry, problem solving, new teaching methods, and interdisciplinary work.
"Faculty are creative people, and with some seed money they can come up with novel ideas on how to better educate their students," he said.
Tom and his wife, Jane, made an initial gift to launch the fund, but creating an endowment sufficient to fully realize their vision was a daunting prospect. Then, through his work with the 50th-reunion planning committee, Tom learned about a planned-giving vehicle that could help them do just that: an Estate Note.
An Estate Note is an irrevocable debt against the donor's estate that may be designated for a specific purpose, such as scholarships, library funds, professorships, or academic programs. While there is no obligation to transfer assets during the donor's lifetime, any payments that are made against the Note can provide income-tax deductions up to the full amount permitted by the IRS. And payment of the balance of the Note after the donor's death provides a charitable deduction for the estate.
"We found it to be a really good solution," Tom said. "I had considered an annuity, but it wasn't right for my situation."
The full face value of the Note counted toward both the class of 1956's reunion gift and the Independent Minds Campaign total.
While the Johnsons' generous gift has gotten the ball rolling, they hope others will also be drawn to the new Fund for Curricular Innovation.
"That's the reason I refused to put my name on it," Tom says. "I'm just providing the seed money. I hope others who share these interests will contribute, too."