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The Economics Department at UCSD Began in 1964

The Department of Economics was founded in 1964, the same year that UC San Diego admitted its first undergraduates. The Department admitted its first Ph.D. students in 1965 and graduated its first bachelor’s degree students in 1968.

UC San Diego’s Department of Economics
The Early Years: The 1960s and 1970s

Seymour HarrisFounding Faculty

It was actually in 1963 that Chancellor Herbert York recruited Seymour Harris to be the department’s founding chair. Harris came to UCSD from Harvard University with an international reputation and a prolific publication record. He was the author or editor of more than 50 books, and somewhere there is a picture of him standing next to a stack of his books that is taller than he is. His appointment clearly gave the department the visibility it needed to get off to a quick start. Although considered by some to be a bit old school, Harris had the wisdom in 1965 to hire two young faculty members, Don Bear (macro) and Dan Orr (micro), from the University of Chicago. In the following year, John Hooper (econometrics) was recruited from Yale University, and Hooper succeeded Harris as department chair in 1967. Together the founding faculty constructed rigorous curricula at the graduate and undergraduate level that emphasized the theoretical and quantitative foundations of economics and that also helped to shape the image of the department as cutting edge.

First Undergraduate and Graduate Students

Because Revelle College, the first of UCSD’s six colleges, had extensive, highly structured general education requirements, undergraduates who entered in fall 1964 could not take lower-division economics until their sophomore year. This meant that the courses needed to meet the upper-division requirements for the major did not have to be fully in place until the 1967–68 academic year. To graduate in June 1968, an econ major had to have completed 1A-B-C, 100A-B (micro), 110A-B (macro), 130A-B-C (public policy), either 120A-B-C (quantitative methods) or 140A-B (econ history), at least one senior seminar and one or two electives. In subsequent years more elective courses were added to the curriculum, and students were given more flexibility in how they met major requirements, but the required 100 and 110 sequences were expanded to three quarters each.

From the beginning, the economics major was popular, for which Don Bear deserves a lot of the credit. One of the early students, Darrel Cohen B.A. ’69, Ph.D. ’76, remembers Bear as a demanding but inspirational teacher who attracted many lower-division students to the major.

At the graduate level, the first cohort — all of three students — entered in fall 1965. Joan Anderson, the only one of the three to persist beyond the first year, reports that in their first year they took courses in the Department of Mathematics and served as teaching assistants. In fall 1966, Anderson was joined by five new students, and the department started offering graduate courses. By the 1967-68 academic year, students were required to take in their first two years an undergraduate linear algebra course, Econ 200A-B-C (micro), 210A-B-C (macro), 220A-B-C (econometrics), 230A-B-C (economic policy), a dissertation seminar and four electives. The program gained depth and breadth with the recruitment of Dick Attiyeh, Ramu Ramanathan and Larry Ruff in 1967; George Morrison and Bill Travis in 1968; and John Conlisk in 1969. Our first three Ph.D. recipients were John Hardesty ’70 (later an attorney in Northern California), Bob McNown ’71 (professor at the University of Colorado in Boulder) and Joan Anderson ’71 (professor at the University of San Diego).

Faculty Expansion

Dan Orr succeeded Hooper as department chair in 1970. Together they led the development of the proposal that resulted in our winning a National Science Foundation Departmental Science Development Grant. This award was designed to help expand the faculty to 18 members over the life of the grant — and it couldn’t have come at a better time, given that the campus would soon enter the first of its periodic budget crises. The grant facilitated recruitment of Dick Schmalensee and Wolf Ramm in 1970; Dennis Smallwood in 1971; Bob Russell and Rick Emmerson in 1973; Clive Granger in 1974; and Rob Engle, Walt Heller and Judy Mann in 1975.

In 1972, Orr took a sabbatical leave to the University of Nottingham in England. Upon his return he decided to relinquish his chairmanship and was succeeded by Dick Attiyeh, who had been acting chair during Orr’s absence. Orr strongly encouraged the department to recruit Granger from Nottingham, which was done — but not without Attiyeh having to take a trip to the Immigration and Naturalization Service in San Francisco to explain why the department couldn’t meet its needs by hiring someone from the nearby Palomar Community College District instead of someone who required an immigration visa. Shortly after his arrival, Granger said he knew of this bright young econometrician at MIT named Rob Engle, who the department successfully recruited in the following year. The addition of these future Nobel Prize winners — and Hal White — certainly established econometrics as a particular strength of the department.

History of Collegiality

In addition to having high expectations for its future, the department developed a congenial atmosphere. Because faculty were supportive of one another, regardless of rank or area of specialization, an esprit de corps developed that served the department well and that has endured to this day. This collegiality was evident in department seminars, department meetings and the informal lunch gatherings at the Coffee Hut nearby. (The Coffee Hut was down the hill from the Humanities-Library Building, now Galbraith Hall, just past the Revelle College provost’s office, in what is now the Che Café.)

Political Climate

The politics of the time had its impact on the department in interesting, and sometimes humorous, ways. For example, when Orr was promoted to full professor, he was invited, as was the custom in those early days, to give a lecture before the Academic Senate. He chose as his topic “A Simple Refutation of Neo-Marxist Dogma,” which was intended to be provocative and led to an intellectually entertaining debate with Herbert Marcuse, a leader of the philosophical left and a professor of philosophy. Ironically in those days economics and philosophy shared the second floor of the Humanities-Library Building. But despite their proximity, Orr’s and Marcuse’s interactions were largely limited to passing each other along the outside walkway.

Another event that reflected the times resulted from the creation of a nonprofit consulting company – the Institute for Policy Analysis (IPA) – by a group of department faculty. The purpose was to help the department to compete for new faculty, many of whom would have consulting opportunities at universities located in larger urban areas. Bob Russell was successful in getting an unclassified grant through the Institute for Policy Analysis from the CIA to analyze global international trade flows. Because Russell employed a couple of grad students as research assistants, it was common knowledge among the students that he had this grant from the CIA. When the department’s management services officer Cleo Hogan evicted one of the grad students from his office because he had been living there with his dog, the student informed some of his friends outside the department about the CIA grant. This led to a series of articles in “The New Indicator,” a radical student newspaper, about the department’s “sinister” CIA connections. And it further led followers of “The New Indicator” to strongly oppose Attiyeh’s appointment as dean of Graduate Studies and Research in 1982 alleging that, having been president of the IPA, he must be a “stooge” of the CIA.

Creation of Management Science

A different kind of student interest led to a substantive addition to the department’s undergraduate curriculum. During the second half of the 1970s, there was growing concern among the students about how their education was going to lead to productive careers. As a result, Paul Saltman, the vice chancellor for Academic Affairs, tried to persuade the department to offer an undergraduate business major. The faculty was opposed to this for two main reasons. Philosophically the department thought that professional education should be deferred to graduate school. Also, a business major would require faculty expertise that the department didn’t have, and the department didn’t want to distort its recruitment strategy to meet that need. But Dick Schmalensee and others came up with the idea of offering a management science major, which would be as intellectually challenging and even more rigorous than the economics major. This met everyone’s needs – the students’, the administration’s and the department’s.

The Future (from the perspective of 1979)

In 1976, Don Bear became department chair. The late 1970s saw some notable changes. Dan Orr left to become department chair at Virginia Polytechnic Institute; Dick Schmalensee left for MIT, where he would later become dean of the Sloan School of Management; and Bob Russell left for the Council on Wage and Price Stability, where he would soon become director. But these departures were offset by a number of significant additions during this period. Vince Crawford in 1976, Joel Sobel in 1978 and Ted Groves and Mark Machina in 1979 brought great strength in microeconomic theory. And, as mentioned above, Hal White in 1979 added considerably to the department’s strength in econometrics. In 1980, White was the author of the economics paper most cited between 1975 and 2000. This left the department at the end of its 15th year in great shape, which was evident in its ranking 18th in the National Research Council study of doctoral programs published in 1982 – a remarkable achievement for such a young department.

It has been onward and upward ever since.

– By Dick Attiyeh, Ph.D.