Krueger will depart Treasury to retain tenure
“It was a great opportunity for me to take a leave from Princeton and work at the Treasury Department at a critical time in our nation’s history,” Krueger told The Daily Princetonian. “The University, I think, really does stay true to its motto of ‘In the Nation’s Service’ by encouraging faculty to take public service leave.”
Krueger could risk losing tenure if he extends his two-year leave of absence from the University.
While he was originally planning to return to the University in time to begin teaching this fall, Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner convinced him to stay at his post for a few more months, his colleague, economics professor Alan Blinder ’67 told the ‘Prince.’ Krueger will return after fall break and teach a course on the state of the current economy in the spring.
“I personally and our whole department are just delighted to get him back,” Blinder said.
Blinder, who took a three-year leave of absence in the mid-1990s to serve on President Bill Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisors and as vice chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve, explained that the University usually allows only two years of leave for professors, with a few exceptions.
Princeton’s stricter time requirements governing professors’ leaves of absence, compared with those at other universities, ensure a robust faculty, he noted.
“The University wants to defend its faculty,” Blinder said. “It’s nice to have very good faculty, but if you just have them on paper and not teaching or doing research, it’s not much good.”
President Harold Shapiro GS ’64, who led the University when Blinder left to work under the Clinton administration, was very dubious about extending his leave of absence past three years, Blinder added. “There has to be a limit, or else you kind of have an absent faculty.”
During his time at the Treasury, Krueger specialized in unemployment reduction but worked on a variety of projects, including the Build America Bonds included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the Car Allowance Rebate System, also known as the “Cash for Clunkers” program. He also worked on policies regarding health care reform, national infrastructure, subsidies for oil and gas industries, and cap and trade.
Blinder said that the breadth of topics Krueger worked on has strengthened his knowledge and experience and required him to delve into areas outside his expertise. The fast-paced world of the executive branch, where “everything is at double speed,” required Krueger to learn in an environment far removed from the contemplative nature of academia, Blinder added.
“Professor Krueger, in the position he holds, is essentially the chief economist of the Treasury,” Blinder explained. “He has a good mind and picked up a huge amount fast ... He ran into a number of things that he was never involved with before and got into them very deeply. This was not a superficial experience.”
Wilson School professor Robert Willig, who served as deputy assistant attorney general for economics in the Department of Justice’s antitrust division, said his own time in government strengthened his belief in the value of learning and research — an experience he thinks Krueger will likely share.
“I felt deeply responsible for the mission of my organization and the public interest, and I was very grateful to feel that my academic experience was productive for carrying out that mission,” Willig said. “When I returned, I was first of all reinforced in the value of academic work from my experience in applying it in the government, and I was also greatly stimulated for the need for additional research in my field to help the next generation.”
But, while the University will be regaining a “great economist and a great teacher and a great citizen of the department,” Willig said, the effect of Krueger’s departure on the Treasury is more uncertain.
Krueger is just the most recent in a series of economic officials who have announced their departures from the Obama administration, including Peter Orszag ’91, who stepped down from his post as White House budget director last summer. The question remains of how the government will tackle continued economic difficulties as key staff depart.
Willig said he thinks Krueger may be difficult to replace.
“I think the original economic team was one of the highest level of talent for the challenges of the day and the academic prestige that they carried into office,” he said. “I’m also relatively confident that the administration can find reliable people to replace them. Relatively — no one’s as good as Alan Krueger.”