In the Limelight

By Rebecca Rolfes

An academic in a public policy role has "a much larger megaphone" than an academic in the classroom, according to Randall Kroszner. Some of the job, in fact, is public relations.

Kroszner often is quoted in the media and says, "Having been there during a lot of key decisions, people are interested in this 'insider's' perspective on current policy debates. Austan Goolsbee is a frequent guest on The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. A number of Booth professors write op-ed columns for national publications and are valuable sources for journalists. Raghuram Rajan spent a significant part of a recent visit to India making the rounds of television shows and newspapers.

"A fair amount of my job is explaining in simple economic terms why we need to do X, Y, or Z," he said, "explaining why the government did what it did and why we need to do more. You try to make the case as best you can in a language that people understand, [and] that is apolitical."

The apolitical part is what makes academics especially valuable in policy roles. They never face voters, are beholden to no constituency or special interest, and so can say what they think. Presumably, what they think is what they would say in public or private.

"I'm not wedded to a political party," Rajan said. "I'm more impartial. If I can continue to be perceived that way, I can be valuable. One of the advantages of being a college professor is that you never have to sell your soul. You never have to face that choice. In the world of politics and bureaucracy, where your career can be destroyed by standing up at the wrong time, you do have to face that choice."

Last Updated 1/16/14