Gordon has been visionary in seeing new directions and bringing about possibilities that have challenged others’ imaginations.
–——A distinguished former colleague (cited in the CNR Citation Award’s committee report, 2004)
Since 1979, when he first arrived at UC Berkeley, Dr. Rausser has played a leading role in reinventing the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics and the College of Natural Resources. He began by serving two three-year terms as department chair (he later chaired the department a third time). He also served as Dean of the College of Natural Resources for six years. In addition, Dr. Rausser has held many other leadership positions campus-wide and across the UC system.
Both Dr. Rausser’s department and his college were in the doldrums when he took the helm. Since his tenure, both are now among the top programs in the world. In 2010, The National Research Council reported that the Agricultural and Resource Economics Department at Berkeley was ranked first in the country. Moreover, among American research universities, UC Berkeley had the highest number (and largest percentage) of top-ranked doctoral programs in the nation. Of 52 doctoral programs at UC Berkeley, 43 ranked in the top 5 nationwide. (Harvard and Stanford, which had the next two highest overall rankings, came out at 40 and 30, respectively.)
Contributions as Dean of the College of Natural Resources, University of California, Berkeley, 1994–2000
Dr. Rausser accepted the position of Dean of the College of Natural Resources (CNR) at a time when the college’s reputation was flagging and its continued existence was threatened. Dr. Rausser showed vision and leadership in redefining the mission of CNR as that of integrating the natural, biological, and social sciences so that scientists and students could address real-world problems at the nexus of agriculture, natural resources, and the environment.
During Dr. Rausser’s tenure as dean, the number of faculty and extension specialists in CNR increased by 40 percent. The college’s annual budget grew from $50 to $80 million, and the number of endowed chairs, Chancellor’s professors, and distinguished professorships increased from 4 to 23. CNR’s endowment increased by more than 50 percent; private gifts increased threefold; and enrollment in CNR courses more than tripled, from 2,000 to well over 7,000.
It was a David and Goliath story…
One top university administrator celebrated Dr. Rausser’s commitment to academic excellence as heroism against great odds. The following quotation was cited in the CNR Citation Award’s committee report (2004):
Gordon had an unwavering commitment to academic excellence that motivated everything he did as dean. Gordon fought tenaciously and imaginatively against the plan [to reduce CNR’s resources], and he won. It was a David and Goliath story; . . . Gordon’s success resulted from a characteristic combination of being wily, smart, and pugnacious. He had a determined and optimistic belief in the college’s potential that led him to ask fundamental questions, challenge assumptions, and make big plans. I can think of few individuals who had so significant effect upon their colleges.
Another senior administrator quoted in the report commented on Dr. Rausser’s “tenacity”:
All in the College [of Natural Resources] are indebted to Gordon for his tenacity in successfully defending programs and securing resources during the difficult period he served as dean. He was undoubtedly key to preserving CNR as we know it today.
Also cited in the Citation Award committee’s report was the high praise given to Dr. Rausser’s performance as dean: “As a dean, Gordon was far and away more effective than any predecessors over the past fifty years.”
During his first two terms as Chair of his department (1979–84), Dr. Rausser recognized that his department (formerly known as the Department of Agricultural Economics) needed to broaden its scope, rebuild itself, and focus on improving the quality of its doctoral program. Dr. Rausser led the following initiatives:
- To broaden the department’s expertise so that it would include new disciplines such as natural-resource economics, environmental economics, trade, and international development;
- To engage the entire faculty in professional association meetings and invited presentations;
- To increase the department’s institutional prominence;
- To place faculty merit above all other criteria;
- To actively pursue the best Ph.D. candidates in the country.
By the end of Dr. Rausser’s term, his department’s national ranking had risen from #11 to #1.
Co-Founder and President, Institute for Policy Reform (1990–94)
Dr. Rausser cofounded the Institute for Policy Reform (IPR), a think-tank in Washington, D.C., in 1990. He had just completed terms as Senior Economist on the President’s Council of Economic Advisers (1986–87) and Chief Economist at the Agency for International Development (1988–90)
The IPR’s central mission was to help developing countries that were trying to improve their economies. Dr. Rausser secured funding from the U.S. State Department that enabled him to convince a number of leading theoretical economists to turn a portion of their research programs to studying the obstacles to economic growth in developing countries. Through its research, education, and training activities, the IPR stimulated dialogue on policy reform. At the heart of these activities was the search for creative ideas that could be used to expand the analytical core of the reform process. This core included developing comprehensive and customized reform packages based on recognizing cultural, political, economic, and environmental features as crucial elements of societies.
In his scholarship in the early 1990s, Dr. Rausser had pointed out that governments must be able to protect certain rights and protections in order for their economies to prosper. For example, creating democratic governmental and judicial institutions is critical for enforcing contracts, securing private property, and assigning liability for wrongful damage. Rausser had advanced four “prescriptives” for successful market economies:
- an underlying constitution must be designed that establishes the credible guidelines and mechanisms for the “rules by which rules are made”;
- the legal and regulatory infrastructure that emerges from the underlying constitution must provide a framework that is conducive to a vibrant market economy;
- the political-economic configuration that evolves from the legal and regulatory infrastructure must admit a public sector and political agents that are able, for crucial matters, to rise above immediate self-interest; and
- the policies that encourage anti-monopolization forces (privatization, antitrust policy, trade policy, and foreign investment policy) must be jointly designed to attain sustainable economic growth.
Through its work, the IPR succeeded in changing the “Washington Consensus” on development policy from “getting the prices right” to “getting the governance structures right.” In 1997, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) announced a new policy governing credit and loans to developing countries: in order to borrow money, a borrowing country would have to agree to improve governance structure, rather than simply to meet economic targets and/or implement specific policies. The IMF adopted this policy on improved governance after its sister lending agency, the World Bank, implemented a similar strategy.
IMF Managing Director Michel Camdessus recently remarked, “Increasingly, we find that a much broader range of institutional reforms is needed if countries are to establish and maintain private-sector confidence, and thereby lay the basis for sustained growth. Every country that hopes to maintain market confidence must come to terms with the issues associated with good governance.”
Dr. Rausser is heartened to see that the IMF and leading economic advisors are heeding the arguments he’s been making over the last decade: “Along with the basic scientific research under way here in the College of Natural Resources, this is an example of the work we are doing that is altering the way the world’s leaders are thinking about policy reform and its sustainability.”
Dr. Rausser continued to lead the IPR until Fall 1994, when he returned to UC Berkeley to serve as Dean of the College of Natural Resources.
Article from ‘Breakthroughs,’ the College of Natural Resources Magazine (Fall 1997)
Some of the leading economists in the world served as IPR senior fellows (including several who subsequently won Nobel prizes in Economics): George A. Akerlof, Robert Bates, Henry Bienen, Angus S. Deaton, Sebastian Edwards, Stanley Fischer, Mark Gersovitz, Partha Dasgupta, Bengt R. Holmstrom, Richard E. Just, Alan Krueger, Paul Krugman, Charles McLure, Paul Milgrom, David M. G. Newbery, Charles R. Plott, James M. Poterba, Dani Rodrik, Paul M. Romer, Todd Sandler, Thomas Sargent, T. Paul Schultz, Andrei Shleifer, Pablo T. Spiller, Nicholas H. Stern, Joseph E. Stiglitz, Erik Thorbecke, Jean Tirole, Robert M. Townsend, Barry R. Weingast, John Whalley, and Oliver E. Williamson.
IPR junior fellows included Alberto Alesina, Anne Case, Susan M. Collins, Raquel Fernandez, Karla Hoff, Vereda Johnson King, Anjini Kochar, Luis A. Rivera-Batiz, and Christopher Udry.
In addition to serving as dean of the College of Natural Resources and department chair, Dr. Rausser has held several other leadership positions at UC Berkeley, including the following:
- Chair, Department of Economics and All Economic Programs Evaluation Committee In 1987, Dr. Rausser was asked to select and chair an external review committee to address concerns about the Economics program at UC Berkeley, which was rated between 11th and 16th nationally. Dramatic improvements ensued, and Berkeley’s Department of Economics’ national ranking rose to among the top 5 nationally. Following its publication, Dr. Rausser’s evaluation and proposed strategy was referred to as the “Rausser Document.” This strategic statement continued to guide the Economics Department for the next decade and beyond.
- Chair, Evaluation Committee, Graduate School of Business Dr. Rausser led the 1984 effort to rebuild Berkeley’s Graduate School of Business, which had fallen out of the top-20 ranking nationally. He directed the creation of a new physical facility, the Haas School of Business, including site selection, architectural design, and extramural funding. Haas is now solidly positioned among the top 10 business schools nationally.
- Member, Division of Agricultural and Natural Resources Program Council
- Member, University of California Board of Trustees
- Chair, Executive Committee, Giannini Foundation of Economics, University of California
To recognize his outstanding contributions as a university leader, the College of Natural Resources (CNR) at the University of California, Berkeley, awarded Dr. Rausser its two highest honors. The CNR Citation (2004) and Achievement Award (2010) recognize Dr. Rausser’s outstanding contributions to teaching, research, outreach, and administration while serving as Dean, College of Natural Resources (1994–2000); Chair, Agricultural and Resource Economics Department (1979–84, 1993–94); and Professor, Agricultural and Resource Economics (1979–present).