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Former Lt. Governor Ben Barnes Gives LBJ School $1 Million

Giving News

By Jamey Smith

“Except for President Johnson himself, few people have been more important to the LBJ School of Public Affairs than Ben Barnes,” says LBJ Foundation President Larry Temple. As Texas’ lieutenant governor, Barnes was instrumental in securing funding to launch the school in 1970. He serves on the foundation’s board of directors and the school’s advisory committee, and has often been a guest lecturer. Now the UT Distinguished Alumnus has extended his legacy with a $1 million gift to enhance the Ben Barnes Fellowships in Public Leadership, which friends and colleagues had earlier endowed in his honor. 

Ben Barnes

Former Lt. Governor Ben Barnes

“I see the need more than ever to produce graduates like those coming out of LBJ, who learn skills that they can use to make government work better,” says Barnes. “You’re never too young to get involved in politics. I think we need a lot more young people involved.” Barnes says he hopes to give more UT lectures in the coming years, and that he may eventually be persuaded to teach full-time. “What little I did in the public sphere, I did young, and so the students maybe listen to me a little more closely — because I got my start when I was their age.” 

James Steinberg, who recently stepped down as the LBJ School’s dean to serve as U.S. deputy secretary of state, says Barnes’ gift will allow the school to continue bringing to UT “the finest young men and women and will help them pursue vitally needed careers in public service.” 

One such person is Laura Martin, a Barnes Fellow who will graduate in May with a master of public affairs degree. Martin says the fellowship has allowed her to divide time between her studies and involvement in causes she cares about. “It’s a privilege to receive support that enables me to study policy in the classroom and also to engage in hands-on learning in the community,” she says. After graduating, Martin is going to Spain to work with a non-governmental organization dedicated to international development and collaboration between the global North and South. She plans to return to Austin to continue her advocacy of immigrant rights and civil liberties. 

Martin’s global-yet-local outlook is one that Barnes shares. These days, in addition to being active in Democratic political circles as a fundraiser and strategist, he is the founding principal of the Ben Barnes Group, a consulting and lobbying firm that advocates for groups ranging from indigenous people of the Amazon to companies and trade associations. “Working on these things,” he says, “is a rewarding challenge — to do some good for the public sector from within the private sector.” 

As for his gift, Barnes says it reflects his deep satisfaction with the school’s growth. “It’s taken a tremendous journey in reaching its destination as a major public policy school,” he says. “More and more people are talking about it, wherever I go. I think the school has an even brighter future in the next 40 years.”

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