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Economist John B. Shoven named Humanities and Sciences dean
STANFORD -- Economist John B. Shoven has been appointed dean of humanities and sciences at Stanford, effective Sept. 1.
He will succeed psychologist Ewart A.C. Thomas, who is returning to teaching after five years at the helm of Stanford's largest school.
Shoven is the Charles R. Schwab Professor of Economics, and has been director of the Center for Economic Policy Research since 1989. A veteran of 20 years on the Stanford faculty, he chaired the Department of Economics from 1986 to 1989. Shoven will turn 46 next Monday, May 24.
President Gerhard Casper made the selection in consultation with Provost-designate Condoleezza Rice from a list of candidates presented by a search committee.
Casper said that he felt "fortunate to have found in Professor Shoven a person who has thought broadly and deeply about issues and opportunities for Humanities and Sciences. He has a strong commitment to both undergraduate and graduate education, and has been an exceptionally strong teacher in both. He also understands and has excelled in scholarship."
Shoven's academic expertise is in public finance, taxation and pension plans.
Shoven said he was exhausted from making the "wrenching decision" to accept the job - wrenching because "I hope I don't have to give up completely the direct contact I now have with students and economics colleagues." He also said he would try to continue some parts of his research program.
In the end, however, Shoven said, "the chance to work with Gerhard and Condi - and with everyone relatively new - is an exciting opportunity for change and innovation."
Shoven said that "Humanities and Sciences is very much the crown jewel of Stanford, and I see my responsibility as maintaining and strengthening it."
Casper said that Shoven has a proven track record as an administrator.
"The Center for Economic Policy Research has flourished since he became director in 1989," Casper said, "and he did an outstanding job as chairman of the economics department in building the faculty.
"The new Economics/CEPR building is testimony to his fund-raising achievements."
He said he looked forward to many new challenges, including restructuring the dean's office and being involved in the upcoming examination of undergraduate education.
Restructuring will take the form of "pushing down authority and responsibility," he said, so that problems can be solved closer to where they originate. Shoven said he anticipated that some decisions now made by the provost will be pushed to the dean. As dean, he will transfer as much decision-making as possible to the associates deans, who will then turn over some authority to department chairs.
"With the help of strong associate deans, and by decentralizing authority and responsibility," Shoven said, "I believe we can strengthen the school as a whole and the individual clusters, departments and programs."
One of the strong appeals of the position, Shoven said, was the opportunity to further his own education.
"It will be somewhat superficial," he said, but "I will learn what debates are going on in anthropology and psychology and biology and philosophy and other fields."
Shoven developed an appreciation for broad education at the University of California-San Diego, where he earned a bachelor's degree in physics - with minors in mathematics and economics - in 1969. There, during his first two years he was required to take six courses in literature and philosophy, six science courses, three social science courses, a math series and a foreign language.
"I felt constricted at the time," Shoven said, "but I feel better educated for having acquired a broad liberal arts education before I began my major."
Shoven considered graduate study in physics, but opted instead for economics because of the "possibility of having an almost immediate impact on public policy."
He earned his doctorate in economics at Yale in 1973, and immediately came to Stanford as an assistant professor. He was promoted to associate professor in 1977 and full professor two years later.
Shoven has been a consultant to the U.S. Treasury Department and is currently a senior adviser to the Brookings Panel on Economic Activity. He is a research associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research and director of its West Coast Office. Recently, Shoven served on a National Science Foundation review panel looking at support of environmental and economic research.
He was a research visitor at the International Monetary Fund in 1982-83, and has had visiting appointments at Yale, Harvard, Kyoto University, Monash University (Australia) and the London School of Economics.
Shoven has received numerous professional awards and honors, and is a fellow of the Econometric Society. He has produced more than 80 articles and is author or editor of 10 books.
One of Shoven's key research interests for the past decade has been public policy toward pensions, and various aspects of Social Security.
In testimony before the U.S. Senate Finance Committee in March, he recommended that the Social Security Administration routinely inform American workers how much they can expect from the program when they retire.
Then-Provost James N. Rosse took advantage of Shoven's expertise in 1989 by naming him chair of the Provost's Task Force on Faculty and Staff Retirement. That group ceased operation in 1991, and when a new task force on Faculty Retirement was formed this year, Shoven again was named to the group.
One outcome of the first task force was a policy change that now has the university contributing to retirement plans for all faculty and staff, even if they do not match the contribution. The current task force is discussing incentives for early faculty retirement, a complex topic because of age discrimination laws, Shoven said.
Shoven's other research involves tax policy; the impact of inflation on operation of markets; the impact of comparable- worth legislation; the determinants of savings; intellectual property rights and economic growth; and the cost of capital in the United States, Japan and Canada.
In the area of taxes, he studies how policies distort the choice between debt and equity. He favors taxes on consumption rather than income because that would encourage people to earn and save.
Shoven's teaching focuses on public finance, corporate finance and investments, microeconomics and mathematics for economists. In the past, he has taught Economics 1, the department's heavily subscribed introductory course. This quarter, he is teaching a graduate course in public finance.
Shoven said he enjoys all levels of teaching.
"Undergraduates are interesting and challenging," he said, "and graduate students are some of my best colleagues."
He recently co-authored a paper on the tax bite of mutual funds with doctoral student Joel Dickson.
Benefits to Stanford
Asked how his academic expertise would serve him as chief budget officer of a school with a current operating budget of $79 million, Shoven said that in the current economic climate "it is essential that we look at trade-offs. That's what economics is all about."
He said he did not have ready answers to the school's budget problems, but would spend some time reviewing the school's broad range of programs and "assessing where we stand." Of greatest importance, he said, is pursuing quality in all areas of the school.
"Even though I come from the social sciences, I'm going to look for opportunities to build on our strengths across all disciplines in the school," Shoven said.
The School of Humanities and Sciences is responsible for 80 percent of all undergraduate teaching at Stanford, and awards 40 percent of all doctorates at the university. The school has 462.75 faculty billets and 28 departments, more than half of which rank in the top five nationally. The school also oversees many programs, a large number of them interdisciplinary.
Shoven's service at Stanford has included membership on the presidential search committee that recommended Casper to the Board of Trustees. He currently is a member of the Faculty Senate and the Advisory Board. He helped establish Stanford's Washington, D.C., campus and continues to serve on its faculty advisory committee.
During the budget-cutting exercise of the last two years, Shoven served on budget committees within Humanities and Sciences. Past assignments include service on the Committee on Research and the Committee on Undergraduate Studies.
One of Shoven's concerns in accepting the deanship, he said, was "whether I could still lead a relatively normal life."
He and his wife, Katie, try to go to London every year to partake of their passion for the theater. Mrs. Shoven spends much of her time in volunteer work in the classroom and as head of earthquake safety at Nixon School, where their son, Jimmy, is in the first grade.
To manage his new career, Shoven said he would cut back on research-related travel. However, he will "try to keep a few research strands going," and he plans still to spend as much time as possible with his family.
"We'll see if I can pull this off," he said.
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