A Letter to Alumni From the Department Chair

By: Michael Lovenheim, The Donald C. Opatrny ’74 Chair in the Department of Economics, 
Thu, 11/07/2019

Dear Alumni,

It has been an exciting year for the Cornell Economics Department! A central focus of our efforts this past year has been on replenishing the faculty in the wake of impending retirements. We are delighted that Professor Seth Sanders has joined the faculty as the first Ronald Ehrenberg Professor of Industrial and Labor Relations. Seth joins us from Duke University, where he was a professor of Economics and Public Policy. His research has made important advances to several areas of labor economics and demography, such as the effect of teen childbearing on educational attainment, how local economic booms that increase the demand for low-skilled labor drive social, educational, and economic outcomes of local residents, the demographics of the gay and lesbian population in the US, and the mortality effects of the “great migration” by African Americans from the US South to the North in the early 20th Century. Seth’s addition to the faculty helps bolster our incredibly prominent labor economics group, and we are excited to welcome him to the Cornell Economics community.

The Department is further delighted to welcome back one of our former students, Alex Rees-Jones. Alex received his B.A. and Ph.D. from Cornell Economics. After a very successful time as an Assistant Professor at Wharton, he will be joining the faculty as an Associate Professor of Economics this fall. Alex’s research is at the intersection of public and behavioral economics. He has done pioneering work that brings the insights of behavioral economics to the study of how individuals respond to incentives embedded in the tax system. He also has conducted pathbreaking work on the economics of happiness, which is a controversial but important area of economics. Alex greatly expands our strengths in both behavioral and public economics; we are very excited to have him back at Cornell.

The department has been busy hiring: multiple world-class senior faculty have accepted offers and we are expecting to launch at least one additional search this year. Together with the addition of Alex and Seth, these new hires have the potential to be transformative for the Department as we continue to build the department.

We also had some departures. After 33 years on the faculty, Karl Shell, the Thorne Professor of Economics, retired from the faculty this past spring. It is hard to overstate the influence he had on the direction of the Department and the Economics profession. During his time at Cornell as well as his prior position at the University of Pennsylvania, Karl produces transformational research in several areas of macroeconomics. He was also the founding editor of the Journal of Economic Theory, which he ran out of Cornell for many years and helped bring visibility and prominence to the Department. Our outstanding Department Manager, Stacey Coil, retired at the end of August. Stacey truly makes the department run, and we will miss her greatly. Eric Giese, who previously was the Department Manager for Sociology, has taken over her role.

Sadly, two faculty members passed away this past year. Tapan Mitra passed away last spring after a long battle with cancer at the age of 70. Tapan was not only a world-class theorist but also an influential leader in the Department. He served two terms as Department Chair as well as Director of Graduate Studies, and he was one of the most respected instructors and advisors in our department. Dick Schuler, a Professor of Economics and Civil and Environmental Engineering, passed away in February at the age of 81. He conducted impactful research in energy and environmental economics and took important service roles in the University, including serving on the Board of Trustees and as director of the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs. Tapan and Dick were valued colleagues by all who knew them, and their losses are felt by all of us.

The existing faculty had many accomplishments this past year that demonstrate the strength of our department. Francesca Molinari accepted a position as a managing editor of Review of Economic Studies, one of the premier general interest journals in the profession. Yongmiao Hong was elected as a Fellow of the Econometric Society, and George Boyer received a Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellowship for his outstanding undergraduate teaching. Two of our junior faculty members also received important awards: Giulia Brancaccio was named a Himan Brown Faculty Fellow and Julieta Caunedo was awarded a President’s Council of Cornell Women Development Grant. The state of our faculty is quite strong.

Our students continue to excel as well. The Ph.D. program graduated 18 students this year, who received outstanding positions at places like University of British Columbia, Vanderbilt University, Middlebury College, Davidson College, U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Air Force Academy, Capital One, Airbnb, Joint Committee on Taxation, Occidental College, University of Delaware, and Lehigh University. The undergraduate class of 2019 consisted of over 200 students, and our undergraduates received outstanding positions in research institutes, consulting, banking, finance, private industry, and education. Our graduates also enrolled in top Economics Ph.D. programs at Harvard, University of Pennsylvania, MIT, UC-Berkely, and University of Virginia as well as law programs at places like University of Michigan, Harvard, UCLA, and Georgetown. We congratulate all of our recent graduates and welcome you to the alumni family.

The Department’s successes are greatly facilitated by the generous support of our alumni. Your contributions help us to continue to support our faculty, students, and staff as well as to engage in new and exciting initiatives that will enhance the quality of the programs we offer. I thank you for your ongoing generosity and look forward to working with all of you in the years to come to help Cornell Economics meet its immense potential.


Michael Lovenheim
The Donald C. Opatrny ’74 Chair in the Department of Economics

Michael Lovenheim