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Chapman hires a Nobel winner and his team

The move is part of an effort to boost the Orange university to world-class status.

July 27, 2007|David Haldane | Times Staff Writer

In the latest and most dramatic move to elevate a small Orange liberal arts campus to a world-class institution, Chapman University announced Thursday that it had hired a cutting-edge Nobel laureate in economics and his entire research team.

"This is a defining moment," university President James L. Doti said in announcing the appointment of Vernon L. Smith, who won the Nobel Prize in 2002 and is known internationally as the father of experimental economics.

"They will be stellar in the sense that they are doing incredibly important research," Doti said. "This not only puts Chapman on the map, it's a big plus for California."

Edward Leamer, a professor of management economics and statistics at UCLA and director of its quarterly economic forecast, agreed. "Vernon Smith is not only a towering intellect but a very distinctive one," Leamer said. "He's a major figure who does the kind of economics that few people do."

Smith, 80, won the Nobel Prize for his pioneering work in experimental or scientific economics, which sparked a revolution in the field by borrowing techniques used in psychology to demonstrate how new markets are formed and what drives them. His findings, experts say, continue to have a critical and significant effect on business and government, particularly in social and economic policy.

"This is a significant step for the university and represents a major coup," said Art Kraft, dean of Chapman's Argyros School of Business and Economics, where Smith and his team members will teach.

The renowned professor, he said, will be the university's first Nobel laureate.

His arrival -- along with that of associates David Porter, Bart Wilson and Stephen Rassenti -- represents the culmination of several major efforts in recent years to boost the school's status.

The university opened a law school in 1995, followed by a film school housed in a $41-million studio that was completed last year and which administrators say puts it at the forefront of the field.

A $200-million construction and expansion effort has added a new library, residence hall and buildings for the law school, music conservatory and an interfaith center.

Now under construction is a $21-million athletics complex that will include football and aquatics stadiums, an athletics pavilion, coaches' offices and classrooms.

"It's part of a 15-year vision," Chapman spokeswoman Mary Platt said.

Porter is expected to arrive on campus this fall, she said, followed by Smith in January and the final two team members next summer. A fifth appointment is pending and should be announced soon.

All four new hires currently teach in the economics department at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. At Chapman, Platt said, they will be headquartered in a new economic science institute to be established this fall.

That was one of the draws, in fact, that got them on board.

"This is an incredible opportunity for the kind of work we do," said Smith, reached in Virginia by phone. "They're not only financing new laboratories and a place for us but will be adding new positions down the road."

Smith said he was particularly excited about the prospect of teaching undergraduates, as well as working with other departments.

Chapman University, he said, "is on its way to becoming a world-class university. All indications are that this development will continue, and we're going to be part of that."

david.haldane@latimes.com

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