A 'Disenchanted' Leontief To Leave Harvard for NYU

Nobel laureate Wassily W. Leontief, Lee Professor of Economics, will leave Harvard at the end of the academic year to take a post as professor of Economics at New York University and work on developing a new Research Institute of Applied Economics.

Leontief, who won the 1973 Nobel Prize for Economics for his work on input-output analysis, last night cited a "lack of moral support" for his work and a general disenchantment with Harvard's Economics Department as the reasons for his move.

He said the report of the Visiting Committee of the Board of Overseers to the Economics Department, written last April, "explains much of the reason" for his departure.

That report criticized the content and quality of the Economics Department's graduate program, a lack of women and minorities on the department's faculty, and a "strong sense of alienation and frustration" among its non-tenured faculty and graduate students.

The Visiting Committee also questioned the effectiveness and breadth of a department that has only one "radical" economist that has only one "radical" economist on its faculty, and described the relationship between students and faculty as "hostile and distrusting."

Wants Support

"I agree with [the report's] conclusions," Leontief said last night. "I want to have a nice environment to work in. I want support."

The Noble Prize-winning economist quoted Albert O. Hirschman, former Littauer Professor of Political Economy, who left Harvard last spring to take a post at the Institute of Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J.

"Hirschman wrote before he left, 'You either vote by voice or vote by your feet'," Leontief said. "I have tried voting with my voice. Now I am voting with my feet."

Leontief has been part of the small minority of Economics professors favoring the appointment of radical economists to tenured positions.

At a press conference held after the announcement of his Noble Prize, Leontief expressed cautious optimism about the possibility of more radical economists gaining posts at Harvard, and said the Economics Department was "slowly beginning to open its doors to economists with different views. In the year-and-a-half since that conference, however, little progress has been made toward hiring more radical economists, and Leontief last night said he is "disenchanted."

He described the circumstances of his move as "complicated," and said that "this type of decision is always a combination of push and pull." Leontief said the push from Harvard and the pull from NYU were "about equal."

The Russian-born economist is 68 years old--past Harvard's mandatory retirement age-- but said he had been asked to continue to teach at Harvard, "at least for two or three years."

"I have not the slightest intention of retiring," he said.

Leontief said that NYU had "naturally" offered him an increased salary, but he said this was not an important factor in his decision to leave Harvard.