The Harvard Economics department has a Stanford problem. With the recent news of the departure of professor Raj Chetty ’00, yet another rising star in the department with Nobel Prize potential has decided to leave for Palo Alto. While the Harvard Economics department has long enjoyed its status at the pinnacle of American economics, alongside the departments at MIT, Princeton, the University of Chicago, and Stanford, this status is clearly in jeopardy. Three of the 12 professors given tenure since 2006 have since departed for Stanford; this number does not include other professors, such as Alvin E. Roth, who have also left in that time. Harvard simply cannot continue to lose professors to Stanford while purporting to offer a top-notch department. While the resources Harvard dedicates to its Economics department on their own are not lacking, the relative lack of resources compared to Stanford is troubling.
There are two major problems with the recent trend. First, it is imperative for the university to maintain a prominent place in economic research. Cambridge, buoyed by the prominent economists at Harvard and MIT, has long been considered the center of the economics world. When Chetty returned to Harvard in 2008, he cited “the central presence of Cambridge in the economics profession” as one of his main reasons for coming. Chetty’s departure is a clear sign of this presence shifting westward.
Further, we are particularly concerned with how the department’s apparent inability to keep up with Stanford might affect the undergraduates. With 618 concentrators in 2014, the Economics department is among the College’s largest. These concentrators deserve better than a department where professors describe morale as “not at its highest” and work in a small and outdated building that has not been renovated in decades.
As professors like Chetty leave the department, they take with them the most talented graduate students who end up teaching a large portion of the introductory classes in economics. This has the potential to create a cascading effect in Stanford’s favor. As professors leave for Palo Alto and attract talented graduate students away from Harvard, the quality of undergraduate economics teaching will inevitably fall. The size and importance of the economics department here suggests that this is a problem that must be rectified.
When Chetty was lured to Stanford, he was offered an abundance of resources that Harvard has been either unwilling or unable to provide for its professors. But all is not lost: The University should actively seek to match the salaries and perks offered by Stanford, lest it lose entirely its former dominance in the discipline. In Economics 10, we learn about supply and demand. Clearly, Harvard must do something to lure this supply of excellent professors back to Cambridge.