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In University Hall, Harvard Celebrates Nobel Prize Winner Oliver Hart

By Mia C. Karr, Crimson Staff Writer

Clinking champagne glasses reverberated around University Hall’s Faculty Room as Economics professor Oliver Hart’s colleagues, friends, and family gathered Tuesday afternoon to celebrate the announcement of his joint Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences.

Hart and MIT professor Bengt R. Holmström will receive the award for their contributions to contract theory.

After a welcome by Economics Department Chair David I. Laibson ’88, University President Drew G. Faust spoke briefly about Hart’s accomplishment.

“[Hart’s] impact across Harvard is something to celebrate,” she said. Fellow administrators Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana, Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Michael D. Smith, and University Provost Alan M. Garber ’77 also attended the reception.

Over the next 40 minutes, a handful of Hart’s colleagues praised his life, work, and influence. The celebration concluded with a speech by Hart himself, in which he expressed gratitude and praised the University and his department.

“I felt from the moment I arrived that it was a really lovely place,” he said. “What seemed different here was the way people relate to each other.”

Hart added that Harvard must continue supporting the Economics department.

“It’s true that we face some challenges,” he said. “We like to think of ourselves as the best Economics department, and I think there was a period when we clearly were. I think that’s less clear now.”

In recent years, several members of Harvard’s Economics department have left for other institutions, including Stanford University.

During speeches from Hart’s colleagues, Economics professor and fellow Nobel laureate Eric S. Maskin ’72 discussed Hart’s academic work on contract theory and shared anecdotes about his long-time friend. According to Maskin, Hart and Hart’s wife, Comparative Literature Lecturer Rita Goldberg, performed a hip-hop duet at their oldest son’s bar mitzvah.

Economics professor Pol Antràs reflected on how Hart’s leadership played an important role in his development in academia. Antràs worked with Hart while completing his PhD at Harvard. He said receiving a job offer from Hart, then-chairman of the Economics department, was a special moment.

“He’s always been approachable, kind, supportive,” Antràs said. “His intellectual integrity and depth are a constant source of awe and inspiration for me.”

Like Antràs, Economics professor Andrei Shleifer worked with Hart while completing his graduate degree. Taking a more humorous tone, Shliefer said Hart’s defining characteristics include his deliberate thought, occasional grumpiness, and sense of humor.

In the short time between the notification of Hart’s award and the reception, Hart said his life has already intensified.

“I woke up this morning and by 9 a.m. I was already feeling tired…. I can live with it,” he joked.

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