Sunday, April 17, 2011

Are Economists Under-Represented in University Administration?

Congratulations to Stanford's Alan Garber. He has just been named Provost of Harvard University.   Harvard has made a brilliant hire.   Reading this story reminded me that at my UCLA,  economists are under-represented in positions of administrative authority.  This is true in the Social Science Division, the Public Policy School, the Business School, and the Central Administration.  The Chair of the UCLA Economics Department is an economist!  That's a good start.  I believe that the same "economists void" also exists at UC Berkeley (except the Dean of their Business School is an economist).

Given that economics is the "rational choice" social science,  and given our focus on "tradeoffs" and our appreciation for free market capitalism, I would dare to suggest that we are the logical choice for running research universities.   But, it appears that somebody disagrees with me.

Now, an alternative is that few academic economists want to enter administration.  Our work is satisfying and our Professorial pay is relatively high but I would think that this is exactly the time when economists would be drawn into "Deanly" work.   This is a time of increased funding challenges so the pursuit of rational prioritization and thinking through intended and unintended incentive effects of different policies is extremely valuable.

There are a few salient data points available for testing out how we do on the job. The President of Northwestern is an economist.  The ex-Presidents of Harvard and the University of Chicago are great economists.  Michael Rothschild was a Dean at Princeton and UC San Diego.  Tom Bogart has just taken over as President of Maryville College in Tennessee.  The ex-President of Tufts is 1/2 of an Economist (he is also a lawyer).   The Dean of Yale Business School is an economist.   A loyal reader reminded me that the Provost of the University of Pittsburgh, Patricia Beeson, is an economist. I have cited her work on urban economics in several of my papers.

Economists have written on this subject.  I haven't read this piece but it looks interesting.

I expect that Provost Garber will be a great success at Harvard. Hopefully, he will help to make the case that economists can be trusted with power to guide the use of scarce resources to achieve an efficient allocation of resources across the university and to encourage sustainable growth of excellence in new knowledge creation and training the next generation of students and scholars.