Federal Reserve Chair Yellen Awarded Radcliffe Medal

Megan M. Ross

Janet Yellen, the former chair of the Federal Reserve Bank, received the Radcliffe Medal in 2016. Now she's speaking out in favor of Harvard's race-conscious admissions policies.

Federal reserve chair Janet L. Yellen received a Radcliffe Medal at the annual Radcliffe Day ceremony Friday, applauded by Dean of the Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Studies Lizabeth Cohen for her “lifetime of visionary and principled service.”

Yellen, often considered the most powerful woman in the world, joined her predecessor Ben S. Bernanke ’75 and Harvard economics professor N. Gregory Mankiw on stage at the event.

The Radcliffe Medal is an annual prize awarded to an individual “who has had a transformative impact on society,” according to the Institute’s website. Previous recipients of the medal include Ruth Bader Ginsburg, an associate justice of the Supreme Court, Madeleine K. Albright, America’s first female Secretary of State, and the University’s own president Drew G. Faust, who was founding dean of the Institute.

Former Chair of the Federal Reserve Ben S. Bernanke '75 speaks at Radcliffe Day on Friday.

Cohen said that Yellen “brings candor and collegiality to solving complex problems,” such as the nation’s struggling economy after the financial recession of 2008.

Yellen—who became interested in economics thanks in part to an introductory course much like the College’s widely-enrolled course Economics 10: “Principles of Economics”— pursued a Ph.D. at Yale in Macroeconomics and later worked at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. She was also chair of Bill Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers.


“Recessions have a positive byproduct,” Mankiw, who teaches Economics 10, joked. “They generate more macroeconomists.”

Mankiw engaged Yellen in a discussion about her career trajectory, questioning her about her experience grappling with the 2008 recession and its aftershocks. Yellen, who served as vice-chair of the reserve under Bernanke, lauded the reserve for its handling of the recession and said that Bernanke’s leadership “was nothing short of magnificent.” Still, she lamented the fact that the reserve did not foresee the recession.

”We are really trying now to do a better job of that,” Yellen said.

Mankiw and Yellen
Chair of the Federal Reserve System Janet Yellen in conversation with Robert M. Beren Professor of Economics N. Gregory Mankiw.
Mankiw also joked there was a cohort of New York bankers who put their trip to the Hamptons on hold to see if Yellen would divulge any new information about the economy at the event, eliciting a somewhat vague announcement from Yellen.

“Let me say a few sentences, so I don’t delay them much longer,” Yellen said. Aside from giving a brief review of some of the country’s economic growth throughout the past year, Yellen also alluded to the possibility of overnight interest rates being “gradually and cautiously” increased in the coming months.

In her remarks at the start of the event, Cohen thanked the attendees for their financial support of the Institute and provided the most recent numbers from the Institute’s arm of Harvard’s capital campaign. Cohen said that contributions came from 23 countries across the globe and amounted to $55 million—nearly 80 percent of the Institute’s $70 million goal and $11 million since last May.

—Staff writer Brandon J. Dixon can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @BrandonJoDixon.


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