Why I Gave Back
Fall 2016 | By Glenn Hubbard ’79
When I think about how I prepared for my career as an economist, I feel fortunate for opportunity — opportunity leading to my appointment as dean of Columbia Business School and taking me into meeting rooms as an advisor to then-President George W. Bush, the Federal Reserve Board and many leading CEOs.
That opportunity began during my time at UCF. It was there I grew to love economics.
Although I recently endowed a professorship in economics at UCF, when I arrived here in 1976 I wanted to become an engineer. I loved my advanced math classes at Apopka High School, and I was excited to take my first steps into the profession. Everything seemed to be falling into place, so I was almost shocked at what happened next.
I had enrolled in an introductory economics course taught by Professor James Xander. I did not know what to expect, but it changed my life. Xander was a brilliant teacher who cared about his subject and his students, and he amazed me by connecting economics with my main interest — public policy. He really opened my mind. I saw how mathematics and analysis could be tools to not only construct impressive skyscrapers and innovative machinery, but also build healthy, secure families, businesses and nations.
In that aha moment, I saw economics transformed from abstract theories into a toolkit for solving problems. It suddenly seemed a valuable way to cut through all of the noisy opinions of political debate and get to the core of public policy options.
When I followed up with courses from Professor Kenneth White, I was completely converted to business and economics as a career. White somehow managed to infuse statistical and numerical analysis with humor. He made us laugh out loud, and students could not wait to attend his classes. But as he entertained us, he also educated us about the vital need to make complex issues clear. Why? Because so many lives depend on economic decisions and seemingly small differences in economic growth rates.
The more our students use their knowledge to create jobs and bring better goods and services to market, the stronger our economy will grow.
Those two professors taught me that patient, prepared and compelling teachers can reshape our dreams. Decades later, as I teach my students at Columbia University, I reflect on my experiences at UCF. I often reinforce the idea of economics as a toolkit to help make good decisions about careers, retirement, and how we spend our time and energy as a family, corporation or nation. Economics is both global and personal.
Economics, as anyone who studies it at a basic or advanced level should know, can be a guide through all the emotional and partisan appeals that surround these central issues. If we want to know whether a trade deal will help or hurt Main Street, economics provides methods for finding and interpreting that data. Or at least clarifying the choices. If we want to compare the cost of federal job training programs with other options for people to get ahead, economics helps us develop toolkits to show how to analyze that as a nation. If we want to know if it is personally worth it to borrow money to fund advanced training, economics teaches us how to compare costs and interest on loans against future earning potential in the field we choose.
I often tell my academic colleagues that our job is to save souls — to help students learn to appreciate the power of economic knowledge. As a writer of textbooks such as Economics, I know we need to approach the subject in the clear, engaging ways that first enlightened me at UCF. That’s why I chose to honor my former professors with a professorship endowed in their names for $1 million. We need more professors like James Xander and Kenneth White and more people who are passionate about economics.
I don’t know if there’s another kid from Apopka, FL whose destiny will be shaped by a UCF economics course exactly the way mine was. But I do know that the more young people there are who understand both the basics of our national economy and their own personal finances, the more secure our future will be. And the more our students use their knowledge to create jobs and bring better goods and services to market, the stronger our economy will grow.
Thinking back on my early days at UCF always evokes pleasant memories. It was such a small place in the late 1970s. But I’ve never forgotten how attentive and caring my professors were. And it reminds me of how much I owe this university that continues to attract so many talented people. I admit to feeling a little lost on today’s sprawling campus, but I’ve never lost my pride in being an alum. UCF is still my school; it’s still the place that changed my future.
Glenn Hubbard ’79 is the dean of Columbia Business School in New York, a highly sought-after consultant and a well-known commentator in newspapers, magazines and television.
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