Economics Nobel Laureate Eric Maskin Returning to Harvard

After spending the last 10 years teaching and conducting research at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., economics professor and Nobel laureate Eric S. Maskin ’72 will return to Harvard in the spring.

Maskin, who was the Louis Berkman professor of economics at Harvard from 1985 to 2000, won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2007 for laying the foundations of mechanism design theory, a field within game theory.

Maskin will teach Economics 1052: “Game Theory and Economic Applications” in the spring, and he plans to teach a course in social choice theory in the fall of 2012.

According to a number of faculty members in the Economics Department, his presence on campus will be welcomed.

“He’ll be a very forceful intellectual presence,” said economics professor Oliver S. Hart. “I think there’s a lot of happiness in the department about him coming back.”

During his 15-year tenure at Harvard, Maskin co-taught courses with Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya K. Sen and prominent political philosopher Robert Nozick. He was also the head tutor for applied math concentrators specializing in economics and served on the committee responsible for designing the quantitative reasoning component of Harvard’s core curriculum.

According to Maskin, the time-intensive nature of his committee work, combined with his tendency to overcommit, contributed to his decision in 2000 to move to the Institute.

“It wasn’t that Harvard was deliberately trying to overwork me, but I think I had a tendency to take on more things out of enthusiasm than were good for me,” Maskin said.

Maskin was drawn to the Institute for Advanced Study—a theoretical research center with ties to Princeton University—partly because of the Institute’s fewer responsibilities.

“The position at the Institute was very attractive,” Maskin said. “It gave me a lot of freedom to do what I wanted to, and gave me an affiliation with the Princeton Economics Department.” During his time at the Institute, Maskin also served as a visiting lecturer at Princeton.

But 10 years later, Maskin cites “personal, emotional, and intellectual” reasons for returning to Harvard.

Maskin first began his career at Harvard as a math concentrator in the College and then moved on to complete a doctoral degree in applied math.

He said that he was first inspired to pursue economics after taking a course taught by Kenneth J. Arrow, who won the Nobel Prize in Economics the year that Maskin graduated from the College.

After a year of work as a research fellow at the University of Cambridge, and eight years as a professor at MIT, Maskin returned to his alma mater in 1985.

“I have a strong attachment to Harvard,” Maskin said. “I’ve got a lot of strong friends in the department, who I’ve taught with before.”

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