Romer ('81) to serve as key Obama advisor

  • Team LeaderChristine Romer('81) is widely regarded as one of the top macroeconomists in the country.

    Photo credit UC Berkeley/Peg Skorpinski.

    Team Leader

When President-elect Barack Obama sits down to address the current financial crisis, a member of the Tribe will have a seat at the table. Christina Romer (’81), who received her undergraduate degree in economics from the College of William and Mary, was named Nov. 24, 2008 as the president-elect’s new director of the Council of Economic Advisers. As a senior member of the White House economic team, Romer will play a pivotal role in developing a plan that will attempt to move the United States’s economy forward during a period of looming recession.

“As one of the foremost experts on economic crises – and how to solve them – my next nominee, Christina Romer, will bring a critically needed perspective to her work,” Obama said in a press conference announcing Romer and his new economic team.

Romer, who was known at William & Mary as Christy Duckworth, has spent the past 10 years as an economics professor at the University of California-Berkeley. At William & Mary, Romer was known as an exceptional student.

Robert Archibald, professor of economics, taught Romer when she was an undergraduate.

“Alan Sanderson, who taught Principles of Economics, first told me about this really good student,” Archibald said of Romer. “She had become interested in economics as a sophomore, and was going to be studying at St. Andrews (College) in Scotland her junior year. In order to get enough economics courses she needed to take something in summer school.”

Archibald said Romer enrolled in two of his courses – a statistics course and an intermediate macroeconomics course. Romer also did her honors thesis work with the late Bob Barry, who taught in the economics department at William & Mary for years, Archibald said.

“Christy was an extraordinary student, one of the best I have ever taught,” Archibald said of Romer, who received her Ph.D. in 1985 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Did we know she was destined for great things? Yes, but it became really clear with her doctoral dissertation at MIT. From that point on she has been a star academic.”

Oli Coibion, assistant professor of economics at William & Mary, remembers Romer from a different perspective -- as her student while he was an undergraduate at Berkeley. In the fall of 1995, he took an introductory economics course taught by Romer. While the class was very large -- more than 600 students -- Coibion said Romer had a way of connecting with students.

“She was an excellent lecturer, very clear, and always able to provide intuitive interpretations for economic concepts,” Coibion said. “I especially remember her talking about the Great Depression, one of her specialties, and drawing on an overhead projector a supply-demand diagram in which the demand curve kept shifting further and further back as she described the various factors that turned a recession into the Great Depression.”

Before going to Cal-Berkeley, Romer served as an assistant professor at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Since 2003 she has served as co-director of the Program in Monetary Economics at the National Bureau of Economic Research and has been a visiting scholar at the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. Romer’s previous research includes comparisons of the Great Depression and volatile economy of the 1930s and 40s. Romer is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and recipient of the Distinguished Teaching Award at the University of California, Berkeley. She has received a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, the National Science Foundation Presidential Young Investigator Award, and an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship. She has also served as vice president and a member of the executive committee of the American Economic Association.

Obama praised her experience and expertise in last week’s announcement.

“Christina is both a leading macroeconomist and a leading economic historian, perhaps best known for her work on America’s recovery from the Great Depression and the robust economic expansion that followed,” Obama said at the press conference. “Christina has done groundbreaking research on many topics our administration will confront – from tax policy to fighting recessions. And her clear-eyed, independent analyses have received praise from both conservative and liberal thinkers alike. I look forward to her wise counsel in the White House.”

Romer won’t be the only member of the Tribe working closely with Obama. The president-elect announced Monday that U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, a member of the William & Mary Class of 1965, would remain in that cabinet post after Obama takes office in January. Gates has served as the nation’s defense secretary since December 2006.