Welcome to the Tower Center

About the Tower Center

The John Goodwin Tower Center for Political Studies was created to commemorate the late US senator whose life was dedicated to public service and education. In the spirit of John Tower‘s commitment to educate and inspire a new generation of thoughtful leaders, the Tower Center seeks to bridge the gap between the world of ideas, scholarship and teaching, and the practice of politics. The primary mission of the Tower Center is to promote the study of politics and international affairs and to stimulate an interest in ethical public service among undergraduates. The Tower Center is an academic center where all parties and views are heard in a marketplace of ideas, and the Center will pursue its mission in a non partisan manner.

Academic Distinction

The Tower Center in SMU’s Dedman College reaches students from middle school through post-doctoral studies, with particular emphasis on undergraduate teaching. The Tower Center supports several programs of study at SMU. Nearly 10 percent of undergraduates have a Tower Center connection.

Hands-On Research

The Tower Center enables the brightest scholars to pursue independent research in domestic and foreign policy. Research programs focus on national security and defense, the international political economy, and American democracy and political development.

Public Outreach

Through classes, seminars, public lectures and international conferences, the Tower Center contributes to informed debate on public policy challenges that confront our nation and the world. The center fosters important dialogue by bringing leaders to Texas like Richard Butler, Dick Cheney, William Cohen, Richard Fisher, Tony Garza, Tamar Jacobi, Henry Kissinger, Richard Lugar, Gillian Sorensen, Ruth Wedgwood and James Woolsey, among many others.

Tower Center Forum

To support these programs and vital research, join the SMU Tower Center Forum. Membership gives you the opportunity to advance the pursuit of solutions to the important issues facing the world. You also will be invited to compelling conferences, lectures, briefings and other events with the leading voices shaping public policy today. For information, visit the web site or call 214-768-1900.

The John Goodwin Tower Center for Political Studies is dedicated to the interdisciplinary study of public policy and international affairs, the advancement of public service and the education of the next generation of leaders. Since its creation in 1992, the Tower Center has sought to bridge the gap between ideas, scholarship and teaching and the real-world practice of politics and public policy. The Center's vision has been realized as a result of our Board leadership, beginning with founding Board Chair Annette Strauss, and continuing through our current Board Chair Dan Branch.

The Center is committed to the ideals of the late U.S. Senator and SMU alumnus John Goodwin Tower '53. Both a transformative political figure and a college professor, Senator Tower left a legacy as a leader, educator and public servant. His leadership in national security policy and international politics reflected his lifelong devotion to learning and scholarship. The Tower Center honors his commitment to public service and his dedication to inspiring and educating students as future public servants and engaged citizens. 

During its lifetime, the Tower Center has increased in prominence as an internationally recognized resource for information and ideas about public policy. The Center provides insights and perspectives that contribute to scholarship and public debate on a broad range of issues.

The Center fulfills its mission through teaching and research, and by hosting lectures and sponsoring conferences featuring prominent scholars and public officials from around the United States and the world. 

The Tower Center is housed in SMU's Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, where minds are moving the world. It is closely connected to a number of departments within the College, especially political science, international and area studies, public policy and other social science disciplines. 


James F. Hollifield
Professor of Political Science
Director of the John Goodwin Tower Center for Political Studies

John Goodwin Tower was born in Houston, Texas on September 29, 1925. He was educated in the public schools of Houston and Beaumont, Texas. During the Second World War, while attending Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and was assigned to an amphibious gunboat in the Pacific. He was discharged with the rank of seaman first class in 1946. Throughout his life he was a member of the U.S. Naval Reserve, earning the rank of chief boatswain's mate.

Following his military service, John Tower received a B.A. degree from Southwestern University. In 1953, he earned a Masters degree from SMU. He also attended the London School of Economics and Political Science. He became a member of the faculty at Midwestern University in Wichita Falls, Texas, where he taught history and Political Science from 1951 to 1960.

John Tower was elected on May 27, 1961 to Lyndon Johnson's U.S. Senate seat, after Lyndon Johnson became vice president. At 35, he was the youngest member of the Senate in the 87th Congress, as well as the first Republican elected to the U.S. Senate from Texas since the Reconstruction. Senator Tower won this landmark election in a field of 71 candidates.

Senator Tower was reelected three times to the U.S. Senate, where he served from 1961 until 1985. He served as chairman of the Republican Policy Committee from the 93rd to the 98th Congress, and was chairman of the Committee on Armed Services for the 97th and 98th Congresses.

Following his retirement from the Senate, he was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1985 to serve as a member of the United States arms negotiation team in Geneva. He also served as chairman of the Tower Commission in 1987 investigating the Iran Contra scandal.

In 1989, Senator Tower was nominated by President George Bush to be Secretary of Defense, but was not confirmed by the Senate. He subsequently founded John Tower and Associates, a consulting firm, with offices in Dallas and Washington, DC. He was also a member of President Bush's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.

Senator Tower served as a member of the SMU Board of Trustees from 1968-87.

Senator Tower and his daughter Marian G. Tower died in the crash of a commercial aircraft near Brunswick, Georgia, on April 5, 1991.

Southwestern University's Tower Library holds a collection of Senator Tower's papers. A small exhibit from the papers of John G. Tower can be seen in room 231 of the Tower Center, on the second floor of the Carr Collins building at Southern Methodist University. In 2008, Southwestern University and SMU completed a collaborative project to digitalize the documents in the Tower Library, the John G. Tower Media Collection.