Gordon C. Rausser
Professor, University of California, Berkeley. Ph.D. 1971
Throughout my professional career I have been a challenge seeker with all of the attendant chaos. This conduct began in earnest while I was a Ph.D. graduate student in A.R.E. at the University of California, Davis. After completing two years of graduate Ph.D. coursework, at the age of 24, I was hired on the faculty, initially as an acting assistant professor. At the time, I was married with three children, one of which was born at home in married student housing in Solano Park (I can still see her dripping wet with an attached umbilical cord). My fellow graduate students embellished this particular event, representing that it was a conscious choice on my part, illustrating once again that we never let the facts stand in the way of a good story. What I remember most about my fellow graduate students, however, was the excitement of our collaboration that often led to working together well into many late nights.
Shortly after being hired on the faculty, my father unexpectedly died and for the next three years, I shuttled between Davis and the small family farm that I managed for my mother. In fact, for the first nine months I took up residence at the farm, and only returned during the spring quarter to teach the first graduate Ph.D. course in econometrics for both the Econ and A.R.E. students, as well as the advanced econometrics for both sets of students. Although I spent much of this year at the family farm, six fellow graduate students asked me to chair their dissertation committees, welcoming me once again to another source of chaos.
The conflicting—and often chaotic—demands of finishing my own dissertation, teaching courses, advising six other doctoral candidates, doing my best to nurture the development of my three children (two of which still believe Davis is the best place to live in the U.S.), running the farm, and caring for my mother felt a bit like a fast paced game of dodge ball, but these demands taught me how to prioritize the work that I loved then, and still love today. Nevertheless, the chaos resulted in many sleepless nights, most of which were triggered by the fear that one or more of the advised Ph.D. students would finish their Ph.D.s before I did (the University of California does not allow acting assistant professors to sign off on the completed dissertations of their Ph.D. students). Fortunately, I completed my dissertation before any of the students for which I had mentoring responsibilities, a more than 1,200 page thesis devoted to the construction of a dynamic econometric model for the California-Arizona orange industry. Once the dissertation was finished, I was so bored with the topic that I never published a single peer-reviewed paper based on the dissertation. The principal value of the dissertation was the foundation that it set for my quantitative work over the course of my professional career. The dissertation also served as a source for much amusement for many of my colleagues due to its inordinate length.
One year after completing my dissertation, the A.R.E. faculty enhanced my confidence by granting me tenure. Within the next year, I continued to teach both the first and third year Ph.D. econometrics courses, as well as microeconomic theory to beginning Ph.D. students from both departments. After convincing my mother and sister that it was not in my or their interest that I continue to manage the family farm, my mother sold the mobile assets that existed and leased the farm to a tenant and I departed with a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Chicago for one year. A second year was offered by the University of Chicago, and through much negotiation with the Davis A.R.E. faculty, they approved the second year as long as I returned and taught during the fall quarter three courses: Mathematical Economics, First-Year Microeconomic Theory, and the advanced course in Econometrics. Following this quarter, I returned to the University of Chicago and was presented with more than ten offers for full professorship at various universities. I presented a credible commitment to the A.R.E. faculty that I would remain on UC Davis faculty if granted a full professorship by July and would probably still be there today if it in fact this request had been granted. Unfortunately, the budget committee and/or Dean decided that the pace of progress was too rapid and offered a full professorship six months later, namely Dec. 1, instead of my and the Department’s request of July 1. As a result, I accepted a full professorship from both Economics and Statistics Departments at Iowa State University. After spending one year in that position, I was off to Harvard University where I spent four years before returning to California. During this entire period, I regret my brashness and arrogance, but fortunately the faculty and my fellow graduate students at U.C. Davis always seemed to forgive me with the passage of time. Their confidence and support of my professional career will always be appreciated.
It was the A.R.E. department at Davis that first taught me to collaborate, the critical importance of passion, and intellectual rigor. My Davis experience, both as a graduate student and faculty member, opened my eyes to the value of a community organized around merit and committed to hard work. I’ve leaned heavily on these lessons during my three tours of duty as Chairman of my department at U.C. Berkeley. During my first stint as Chairman when I was 35, the Department faced enormous challenges, severely restricted resources, and inadequate faculty quality. We responded by placing a targeted priority on recruiting the very best Ph.D. candidates. We then led with the quality of our Ph.D. students to transform our faculty, creating an environment in which each would challenge the other to foster greater creativity, passion and rigor to our collective enterprise. Over time, this focus has enabled us to place our Ph.D. students among not only the very best A.R.E. departments, but also general Economics departments, Graduate Schools of Business, and Graduate Schools of Public Policy throughout the country. Providing the intellectual leadership to set such standards is directly sourced with my experiences at a Davis graduate student and faculty member. My early teaching experience at U.C. Davis as a young faculty member also set the foundation for my last year of teaching at Harvard University in a course which was couched in statistical decision theory, when each and every one of the 80 MBA students gave my performance in a very rigorous teaching environment a perfect score. The giants of statistical decision theory, Pratt, Schlaifer and Raiffa, had never achieved such perfect scores and were very proud and respectful of the fact that I had. The spirit of community organized around merit witnessed at U.C. Davis also served me well during my six years as Dean of the College of Natural Resources at University of California, Berkeley. This spirit was crystallized during a tribute dinner in my honor that made all my efforts and chaos that I experienced during my time as Dean more than worthwhile. Finally, my four years of U.S. federal governmental service, all on leave from U.C. Berkeley, was almost as gratifying as my time at U.C. Davis because of the policy reforms we were able to achieve. This example,along with previous three events, are a few illustrations of how my professional career benefitted from the foundation established during the graduate program and my early faculty years at UC Davis.
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