With word that University President Drew G. Faust vetoed the appointment of the distinguished Berkeley economist Christina D. Romer, economics professors at Harvard and Berkeley expressed a combination of bewilderment and disappointment in interviews yesterday.
The economics department had voted to extend a tenure offer to Romer, while her husband, David, was slated to take a position at the Kennedy School of Government.
But in an interview yesterday, David H. Romer, a Berkeley macroeconomist who specializes in monetary policy, said that he would not be taking the tenured position that he was offered at the Kennedy School, and that he and his wife would remain at Berkeley. His wife, Christina, declined to comment for this story.
Although Christina Romer cleared the first step to tenure—winning the approval from the economics department—her appointment was overturned by Faust, who declined to comment for this story.
While the president has vetoed proposals from the department in the past, historically the economics department has had a strong record of having its decisions sustained, according to one Kennedy School professor contacted yesterday.
Given Romer’s stature as an economist—she serves as co-director of the monetary economics program at the National Bureau of Economics Research and as a senior advisor to Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama—the decision to deny her tenure left many academics scratching their heads.
“Many of us are outraged at the treatment of our colleagues, whom we admire enormously,” said Berkeley economist J.
Bradford DeLong '82, who has also written widely in the field of economic history.
DeLong said that one possible explanation for why Faust overturned Romer’s appointment is that some may have felt that the couple’s presence on the Harvard faculty would “move the department as a whole in the wrong direction.” But he emphasized that the true reason remains a mystery.
“Unless the president has magical presidential insight powers, than either the department itself has made a mistake for putting her up, or the president has made a mistake,” DeLong said. “I don’t even have a credible theory for what Massachusetts Hall could possibly have been thinking.”
At Harvard, professors were less willing to talk, but many expressed disappointment in the decision. Economics department chair James H. Stock did not return requests for comment yesterday.
“I have great admiration for Christy Romer as a teacher and scholar, and I was looking forward to having her as a colleague,” economics professor N. Gregory Mankiw wrote in an e-mailed statement. “I am personally disappointed that she will not be joining the Harvard faculty.”
Mankiw added that the details of Harvard’s selection process and deliberations are confidential.
Since receiving their Ph.D.s from MIT in 1985, the Romers’ careers
have followed similar trajectories—both became ladder faculty at
Berkeley in 1988 and won tenure five years later.
They have made their careers on the west coast, but both have
had lingering ties to Cambridge. According to DeLong, MIT offered a position to Christina Romer but not
her husband in the early 1990s. And under former University President
Neil L. Rudenstine, the couple passed both the ad hoc and approval from
Mass. Hall, but ultimately chose to stay in California, Delong said.
According to David L. Warsh ’66, a former economics correspondent for The Boston Globe, now would have been an ideal time for Harvard to make an offer to the Romers because two of their three children will be at MIT in the fall and each has an elderly parent in Massachusetts.
Additionally, Romer could have replaced retiring economic historian Jeffrey G. Williamson, Warsh wrote on his blog, “Economic Principals.”
Though many remain disappointed with Faust’s decision, at least one Berkeley professor said that he was happy that his department would be keeping the distinguished academics.
“The rest of the faculty at Berkeley are extremely delighted that Christina and David decided to stay,” said David E. Card, a prominent labor economist.
—Staff writer Shan Wang can be reached at email@example.com.