Do Economists Make Good Leaders?
| Peter Klein |
Hugo Sonnenschein is a rare breed, an accomplished mathematical economist who went on to become a Dean (Penn), Provost (Princeton), and University President (Chicago). I bet he’s the only university president emeritus with a forthcoming Econometrica. And what a cool title: Adam Smith Distinguished Service Professor!
However, like Harvard’s Larry Summers, Sonnenschein ran into problems as Chicago’s president. His attempt to reform the university’s rigid, and increasingly idiosyncratic, undergraduate core curriculum met with strong resistance. The conflict led to Sonnenschein’s resignation in 2000, though without the fireworks accompanying Summers’s departure.
Do economists make good leaders? Many commentators on the Summers brouhaha suggested that Summers’s training as an economist contributed to his poor communication and people-management skills. (One critic complained that “Summers’s thinking is grounded in a discipline that has little sense of fairness and moral obligation, where discriminatory situations are often accepted as the result of Darwinian mechanisms that should be left untouched.” Hmmmmm . . . wanna bet this critic prefers polar bears to Pakistanis?)
NB: I’ve spent much of my own academic career serving under economists, first Charles B. Knapp at the University of Georgia and now Brady J. Deaton at the University of Missouri. What does that say about me . . . ?