Sunday, April 27, 2014

Alan Dershowitz Ponders His Harvard Legacy

Alan Dershowitz has retired after serving for 50 years as a faculty member at Harvard Law School.  He talks about his legacy in this piece.   He is quite proud of his teaching accomplishments and his legacy for Jewish students at Harvard.

Every professor must confront the big question of what he/she has done for his institution.    Many of us are free riders who view ourselves as free agents who help the institution by narrowly pursuing our own private research goals.

While I will not serve for 50 years on the UCLA faculty (I've been here 8 years and I'm pondering retiring soon to the Midwest),  I have done a few things for the school.  First, I brought Dora with me and she has certainly had a positive treatment effect on this very unusual institution.   Second,  whenever possible I have tried to teach (both my students and my colleagues) about the power of free markets.  There is amazing hostility towards free markets and I could spend 12 hours a day debating everyone who wants to fight.  I focus my finite energy on those young students who I believe are open minded intellectuals.  UCLA has some terrific undergraduates and I try to identify them early and work with them through their time here.   Third, I have been active in Los Angeles in participating in numerous public events where I represent UCLA and try to convey what we do --- that the scientific approach informs public policy.   Fourth, wherever I travel --- I do say that I'm an "environmental economist at UCLA".  UCLA is more than sports, sun and jogging.  Fifth, I have learned the hard way not to get involved with UCLA politics.  Our Academic Senate isn't looking for new ideas for how to improve the institution.  Similar to other Universities, every department wants more money and space.  Priorities and budget constraints and departmental incentives are the forte of basic economics but economists have not been asked to play a role in designing "good rules".   UCLA has many interest groups defending their turf and the easy play is to declare that we are excellent at everything and make no hard choices.    So, this is a long winded way of my admitting that Dershowitz has done more for Harvard than I have for UCLA.    I do hope to make amends but I'm running out of time.