Economic policy research institute takes reins of the program in public policy

The Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR) will administer the university's interdisciplinary program in public policy, an undergraduate major in the School of Humanities and Sciences, for five years beginning this fall.

Bruce M. Owen, a SIEPR senior fellow and a specialist in antitrust and regulatory economics, will direct the program, which usually attracts about 30 to 40 majors a year. Owen has been named the Morris M. Doyle Centennial Professor in Public Policy, an endowed chair traditionally associated with the directorship.

"Generally, it makes sense for SIEPR to coordinate it," said Owen, who teaches a public policy course on the economic analysis of law. As an interdisciplinary policy research organization, SIEPR has many connections to the program, and many of its fellows already teach in it. Owen said he plans to review the entire program and patch up its weaknesses. Much of the curriculum is tailored to traditional subjects and the interests of faculty members who established the program 25 years ago. "I'd like to bring more law into the curriculum," he said. "There are no Law School professors."

The program emphasizes economic and quantitative analysis of public policy. In addition to microeconomics and econometrics, its core offerings include courses in political science, organization theory, ethics and philosophy. The program, for example, helps prepare students who want to work as analysts in government agencies or business.

In addition to administering the undergraduate major, SIEPR has been asked to develop an interdisciplinary master's program in public policy. Stanford is one of the few major American universities that does not offer such a degree, Owen said. "There is a lot of interest in this, especially from the Law School," he said. One possibility might involve establishing a four-year, coterminal program that would allow a graduate student to earn a joint law degree and master's in public policy. Other possible collaborations could include the schools of Medicine, Engineering and Business, Owen added.

Owen, who earned a bachelor's degree from Williams College and a doctorate in economics from Stanford, joined SIEPR in 2003 as the Gordon Cain Senior Fellow. From 1981 to 2002, he co-founded and headed a consultancy called Economists Incorporated in Washington, D.C., and was a visiting economics professor at Stanford in Washington from 1989 to 2002. Owen served twice in government: He was chief economist of the White House Office of Telecommunications Policy during the Nixon administration from 1971 to 1972, and chief economist of the Antitrust Division of the U.S. department of Justice from 1979 to 1981 during the Carter administration. He also previously taught economics at Stanford from 1973 to 1978 and at Duke from 1978 to 1988.

According to Owen's experience, the public policy program attracts strong undergraduates. "In Washington, my best students were majors in public policy/economics or public policy/political science," he said. "We must be doing something right to attract such good students."