Celebrating 100 Years of Economics at Oberlin

April 19, 2013
Amanda Nagy

The country’s top economists, including several generations of alumni, will come together for a conference, “Learning and Labor Economics," on April 26 and 27. The event will mark three milestones — the 100th anniversary of the economics major at Oberlin, the 70th anniversary of the graduation of Albert Rees ’43, one of the college’s foremost alumni and donors; and the 50th year of Professor Hirschel Kasper’s teaching at Oberlin.

The topic of labor economics was chosen to recognize Kasper’s main research interests. He teaches courses in labor economics, labor-management relations, and poverty and affluence.

The conference will feature keynote speaker Alan B. Kreuger, chair of President Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers and a member of the Cabinet. Kreuger is currently on leave from Princeton University, where he is the Bendheim Professor of Economics and Public Affairs. In 1994-95, Krueger served as chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor.

A labor economist, Krueger has published widely on unemployment, the economics of education, income distribution, social insurance, regulation, terrorism, finance, and the environment.

Other distinguished speakers and presenters include Joshua Angrist ’82, Ford Professor of Economics at MIT and a research associate in National Bureau of Economic Research programs on children, education, and labor studies; Orly Ashenfelter, the professor of economics and director of the Industrial Relations Section at Princeton University; Nzinga Broussard ’02, applied microeconomist and postdoctoral fellow in the department of economics at the Ohio State University; John S. Earle ’80, professor in the School of Public Policy at George Mason University; David Huffman ’96, associate professor of economics at Swarthmore College and associate editor of Management Science; David Newhouse ’95, labor economist with the World Bank; Daniel Rees ’86, professor of economics at the University of Colorado, Denver, and son of Albert Rees ’43; Dixie Sommers ’70, Bureau of Labor Statistics; and Frank Sloan ’64, professor of health policy and management and professor of economics at Duke University.

100 years of economics

The economics department at Oberlin has produced a century of alumni working in public policy, research, and higher education. For the last 50 years, Hirschel Kasper has influenced several generations of undergraduates. For more than two decades, Kasper served as an associate editor of the Journal of Economic Education. He is now studying the relation between labor market conditions and welfare caseloads. On occasion, he serves as labor arbitrator in the private and public sectors. He is professionally known for his research on job search by the unemployed and collective bargaining in education.

Nzinga Broussard credits the guidance of Kasper and other faculty members for helping to shape her as a person. “The ability to interact with my professors to learn about things outside of the main themes of the courses I was taking, I believe, was a unique opportunity offered to me and other Oberlin students because of the small class sizes and the dedication the faculty had for their students,” says Broussard, who majored in economics and mathematics. “The one thing that I value the most about my Oberlin education is that I still feel the support from my former professors. I’ve had the opportunity to co-author with one, Gregory D. Hess, and I’ve been invited back to Oberlin by the economics department to present my work.”

Frank Sloan entered the PhD program at Harvard University after he graduated from Oberlin. Sloan says his experiences at Oberlin not only led to his career in economics, but also inspired him to be a teacher. “I learned the importance of student mentoring from the examples many of my Oberlin professors set. The close relationships with my professors made a lasting impression on me. As I recall, Hirsch Kasper arrived my senior year, so I did not take any of his courses. But I have stayed in touch with him after all these years. When I ask my students whom they had for a certain course, ‘I forget' is often a response. This is not so at Oberlin.”

Legacy of Albert Rees

Oberlin’s current economics students associate Albert Rees ’43 with the Rees Research and Policy Fellowships, which have enabled faculty and students to pursue research that would otherwise be beyond their means. The Rees fellowship also enables students to hold internships at the Council of Economic Advisers in Washington when the council prepares the annual Economic Report of the President.

Rees was an internationally distinguished labor economist who served as president of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation in New York after being provost of Princeton University. In 1974, he was appointed by President Gerald Ford to lead the newly established Council on Wage and Price Stability to monitor the nation’s then unusually rapid rate of inflation and alert the government and public to various sources of inflationary pressures, especially for household goods.

In 1979, Rees was named president of the Sloan Foundation, which at the time held $250 million in assets, from which it awarded $15 million in grants each year. He retired from that position in 1989 and returned to Princeton as a senior research economist.  

Friday evening’s conference events take place at Craig Lecture Hall in the Oberlin Science Center. Saturday’s presentations and discussions will take in Hallock Auditorium in the A.J. Lewis Center for Environmental Studies. More information about the events can be found here.

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