Schapiro: former Williams economics prof, USC dean

Morton Schapiro is looking forward to returning to Williams on July 1, this time as the 16th President of the College.

“My family and I are absolutely thrilled to rejoin the Williams community,” Schapiro said. “Williams College is a magical place – an institution that defines quality in undergraduate education. I can’t wait to begin working with all segments of the College community on making Williams even better.”

Presently dean of the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and vice president for planning at the University of California (USC), Schapiro began his career in higher education as a member of the Williams economics department. He is one of the nation’s premier authorities on the economics of higher education, with particular expertise in the area of college financing and affordability and on trends in educational costs and student aid.

Schapiro, 46, was born on July 13, 1953, and grew up in New Jersey. He attended Hofstra University and graduated magna cum laude in 1975 with a bachelor’s degree in economics.

“I was blessed in that I had a couple of faculty members who really sort of adopted me and changed my life,” he said.

While in college, Schapiro explored many different academic areas before settling on economics. “I thought about going to graduate school for art history, which is very different from economics,” he said. “I really loved art history and I thought about that for a while, and then decided that economics combined a lot of my interests.”

Schapiro continued his education at the University of Pennsylvania, where he received a master’s degree and doctorate in economics in 1976 and 1979, respectively.

Schapiro joined the economics department at Williams in 1980 as a labor and demographics economist. He became interested in the economics of higher education when fellow economics professor Michael McPherson, now president of Macalester College of St. Paul, Minn., approached him to collaborate on a book. The partnership has continued to the present day through numerous articles and books.

“Morty was an excellent colleague,” said Chair of the Center for Developmental Economics (CDE) and professor of economics emeritus Henry Bruton. “He did his share of chore work. He thought about curriculum matters, he was careful in making his syllabi, and he cooperated in all department undertakings. He was fun to be with.”

Schapiro taught classes in economic demography and labor economics to both undergraduates and students at the CDE. He also taught sections of Economics 101 and the senior seminar, Economics 401. According to William Brough Professor of Economics Roger Bolton, who was chair of the economics department from 1979-1981, for four semesters Schapiro taught all of the sections of ECON 101 in a single big lecture course. “Being risk averse, we rarely entrusted that to a single teacher, and certainly never as often as to Morty,” he said.

Schapiro, who enjoys interdisciplinary teaching, found teaching the senior seminar, ECON 401 particularly rewarding. “I used to love teaching 401,” he said. “It brought the professors together in a way that doesn’t usually happen.”

During his 11-year tenure at Williams, Schapiro moved through the ranks of the economics department, becoming an associate professor in 1987 and a full professor in 1990. He served as assistant provost from 1986 to 1989.

Schapiro left Williams to become the chair of the economics department at USC in 1991. He became dean of the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, the largest academic unit on USC’s University Park Campus, which enrolls 7500 undergraduate and 1500 graduate students, in 1994. He became vice president of planning of USC in 1998.

Schapiro enjoyed the “entrepreneurial feel” of USC. “[USC] is so open to new ideas and it is so easy to translate a new idea into reality,” he said. “What I learned from USC is that bureaucracy need not be a part of the educational enterprise. You can act, you should act, and being satisfied is a recipe for disaster.”

Schapiro plans to bring this attitude with him to Williams. “Someone at USC came up to me and said, ‘One thing I know about you is if there is a meeting, there’s a reason to have a meeting—not just to write a report that ends up on somebody’s shelf. You’re really going to do it. You’re going to take our advice, we’re going to do it together, and we’re going to move on it,” he said.

“I don’t like to have meetings to make people feel good,” Schapiro continued. “I like to make people feel good, but I like them to feel good because they know there is some end result that we’re working toward and they are actually the key to make something happen.”

Schapiro is the author or co-author of more than 50 articles and five books. He wrote many of these books and articles with colleagues McPherson and Gordon Winston, professor of economics at Williams and director of the Williams Project on the Economics of Higher Education. Schapiro is also the recipient of many awards.

Bolton summed up his opinion of Schapiro: “While here, Morty was always very friendly and open, generous with his time, willing to criticize others’ work, but never until he had listened carefully. He was often a sympathetic intellectual sparring partner, but he didn’t pull punches. A great colleague, he worked with others on research, commented on our papers, participated actively in our regular research seminars – always the good listener as well as the good talker. His enthusiasm was contagious.”

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *