Not many around here seem to know it yet. But Southern Methodist University could soon join outfits like the Heritage Foundation and the Hoover Institution as magnets for free-enterprise scholarship. The main reason: SMU’s William J. O’Neil Center for Global Markets and Freedom.

The center as well as a professorship in markets and freedom were endowed in recent years at SMU’s Cox School of Business by Bill O’Neil, the unabashedly conservative founder of Investor’s Business Daily. O’Neil, who graduated from SMU in 1955, also has funded a chair in business journalism at the university’s Meadows School of the Arts.

A best-selling author and stock-market investor, O’Neil makes no bones about why he’s pouring millions of dollars into North Texas. (As explained in our Five Questions For feature, his business newspaper could move here over time, too.) Simply put, O’Neil believes that the genius system known as free enterprise is under siege by big-government proponents worldwide, and that the programs he’s funded in Dallas-Fort Worth could help fend off the assault.

The pro-business, anti-government spirit was on full display in October, when the O’Neil Center hosted a conference at SMU called “Reviving Economic Freedom in America.” The half-day affair, which attracted about 350 attendees, featured an impressive lineup of big-name speakers, from economist/author Thomas Sowell to Stephen Moore, the senior economics writer for the Wall Street Journal.

Cox School dean Al Niemi Jr. set the day’s tone early, proclaiming during his welcoming remarks that the United States is experiencing a “very strong drift toward socialism.” Walter Williams, a distinguished professor of economics at George Mason University, kept the fires stoked by declaring that “we are heading, with tiny steps, toward more government control of our lives.”

Former Reagan Administration official David Henderson, now a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, set his sights specifically on the Obama Administration, warning that its healthcare reform law is a “gigantic game” of bait and switch. “Not allowing insurance companies to price for risk,” Henderson said, “takes the insurance out of insurance.”

Moore of the Journal, meantime, reminded the attendees that “taxing person A and giving it to person B doesn’t create wealth.” Economist Sowell called Obama’s policies “the culmination of [big-government] trends that began 100 years ago.” But he added that both major parties share the blame for runaway federal spending.

W. Michael Cox, the former chief economist for the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, now director of the O’Neil Center, talked about the vitality of DFW’s business climate. And John Allison, retired CEO of financial-services company BB&T Corp., said the root cause of the financial meltdown wasn’t free enterprise run amuck, but, instead, misguided federal housing policies.

In the end, though, it may have been Fred Smith, founder of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, who best summarized what the “Economic Freedom” sessions—and, indeed, what SMU’s O’Neil initiatives—are really all about.

Capitalism, Smith said, is being attacked today, just as surely as it was attacked by so-called Progressives a century ago. “Business is operating on a sheet of ice,” he said. His urgent advice for today’s CEOs: “Go on the offensive. Stop apologizing for creating wealth and knowledge.”

Here’s hoping Smith—and all the others who sounded alarms at the O’Neil conference—are heard, and heeded, before the ice melts.