Rumors continue to circulate that University President Richard Levin is under consideration to lead United States President Barack Obama’s National Economic Council.
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Experts interviewed said Levin is well-qualified for the job even though he has spent nearly two decades outside the field of economics, but faculty and administrators with close relationships to Levin said they do not know whether or not the rumors, which have been circulating in the media since a Dec. 3 Bloomberg article, are true. In an interview with the News Sunday, Levin said he was familiar with the rumor but declined to comment on its validity.
“I love my job, and I’m not looking to leave,” Levin said.
Levin would take over the post from current director and former Harvard University President Lawrence Summers, who originally planned to leave the council this Friday, but will now likely stop down Dec. 17, the New York Times reported Dec. 3. The delay is due in part to the fact that a successor has not yet been chosen, but the announcement of the appointment will probably come in the next two weeks, according to the Times.
Both the National Economic Council and the Council of Economic Advisers, currently led by Austan Goolsbee ’91 GRD ’91, provide the president with economic advice. The National Economic Council serves a more policy-focused role, while the Council of Economic Advisers is more academic, said Paul Solman, economics correspondent for the Public Broadcasting System and current Brady-Johnson Distinguished Practitioner for Yale’s program in international security studies.
Both Goolsbee and Shin Inouye, director of specialty media in the White House press office, declined to comment for this article.
Administrators said Levin’s leadership of the University recommends him highly for the position, but because he has done so much for Yale, they would be sorry to see him go.
Regardless of whether or not Levin leaves Yale right now, he has worked to prepare the University for turnover in the coming years, Master of Jonathan Edwards College and special assistant to President Levin for 15 years Penelope Laurans said in a Monday interview.
“Of course many of us hope President Levin will continue for a while longer: It is in the nature of good leadership to make people wish that,” she said. “But change is inevitable and good leaders set up the institution for inevitable change.”
Sterling Professor of Economics William Nordhaus ’63, who specializes in macroeconomics, said in an e-mail that he is familiar with the rumors but “cannot discuss any confidential information.”
Nordhaus said Levin has a good background for the head position on the National Economic Council because he has broad experience as a policy economist and knows how to run a complicated organization. Although Levin has not conducted economic research for several years and his expertise is in industrial organization rather than macroeconomics, Nordhaus said these factors do not mean that Levin is not a serious candidate for the job.
“My experience is that 99 percent of the economic questions that come to the White House involve mastery of introductory economics and the ability to apply those tools to a hundred different things that come up every day in a challenging political climate,” Nordhaus said.
Levin has served as University president since 1993, but he received his Ph.D. in economics from Yale in 1974 and served as the chairman of Yale’s Economics Department from 1987 to 1992. Levin has said in the past that the earliest he would leave Yale is after the conclusion of the Yale Tomorrow capital fundraising campaign, which is set to end in July 2011.
Levin is a more experienced economist than some past appointees, Solman said: Not all of the previous directors of the National Economic Council have even had degrees in economics. Gene Sperling, who served as director of the National Economic Council under President Bill Clinton LAW ’73, was previously a lawyer.
Solman said that Levin’s management experience may outweigh his removal from academic economics in recent years. Levin has serious experience in economic research, Solman said, but his real expertise is in his “brilliant” management of an institution like Yale.
“If the analogy is that Obama’s second two years is the equivalent of … Clinton’s turn around and conciliation with the Republicans [in 1994 through 1996], then a guy who’s doing internal politics might be a smart choice,” Solman said.
He added that he does not know the likelihood that Levin will be appointed, and others interviewed said they do not know whether or not the rumors are true.
Yale Corporation Senior Fellow Roland Betts ’68 said he has heard the rumors but does not know if they are valid or not. Betts added that many names have been mentioned as candidates for the position, and that Levin is very dedicated in his service to Yale.
“[Levin] is enormously loyal to Yale,” Betts said. “So I don’t think he’s going anywhere.”
Laurans said she does not know if the rumors are true but added in an e-mail Tuesday that she hopes they are false.
Still, Laurans said, as a strong leader, Levin has groomed many of his colleagues to become strong leaders themselves. She pointed to Susan Hockfield, president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and former dean of the graduate school at Yale, and Richard Brodhead ’68 GRD ’72, president of Duke University and former dean of Yale College, as examples of those who have worked under Levin only to take higher positions of leadership at other universities.
Levin’s accomplishments at Yale include its internationalization, its improved relationship with New Haven and the restoration of its physical plant, Laurans said. Even though Levin has not yet been able to accomplish all of his goals — which Laurans said include the expansion of Yale College and construction of new science facilities — she said his accomplishments surpass any expectations made of his tenure back in 1993.
The National Economic Council was established by President Clinton in 1993.
David Burt contributed reporting.