By Maria Saporta
Friday, June 11, 2010
With the appointment of a new dean, Georgia State University is sending a signal that it is committed to growing the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies.
GSU President Mark Becker has named Mary Beth Walker, chair of the school’s Department of Economics, as the new dean of the Andrew Young School.
In an exclusive interview, both Becker and Walker said they were committed to helping the school prosper and grow, especially in its international outreach.
That was not a given last March when the university faced the possibility of drastic budget cuts and discussed folding the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies within the J. Mack Robinson College of Business. Bart Hildreth, then dean of the Andrew Young School, resigned abruptly under pressure when he challenged the idea of such a merger. He is still a member of the school’s faculty.
Becker said there never had been a formal proposal to do away with the school and that the controversy “spun out of control.” The university then decided to conduct a search for a new dean among the existing faculty. Walker was one of three internal finalists for the position.
“The time is right for her and the school,” Becker said. “I think the waters are pretty calm right now. This appointment will be another clear sign that there is no reason for turmoil. The school is headed in a very positive direction and bright future.”
Walker has been at Georgia State since 1991, when she joined the faculty as an assistant professor of economics. In 1997, she was named an associate professor, and then from January to August 2009, she served as associate interim dean of the Andrew Young School. She was named chair of the department of economics last August.
Before coming to GSU, Walker was an assistant professor at Emory University and an instructor at Rice University. She holds a bachelor’s degree in economics and math from Rhodes College, and a master’s degree and doctorate degree in economics from Rice University.
Much of her teaching and research has focused on taxation, education and health care, including a recent study in the racial disparities in the health of newborns in Georgia.
“I really like theoretical statistics, but I’ve grown to understand and appreciate the policy work that we do — evidence-based policy decisions,” Walker said, adding that the school can help provide “hard answers to important public issues.”
The school also wants to continue to leverage its relationship with its namesake — former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young. Young has established ties to leaders all over the globe, especially in Africa.
Young was out of the country and unavailable to comment on the new dean.
Becker said the school’s global relationship fits in with his vision to enhance Georgia State’s international outreach. GSU’s student body has representatives from 140 nations. Also, through Young’s ties, the school has helped educate and train numerous international students who have become leaders in their own countries.
“You will only see more in the international space,” Becker said. “Ambassador Young is a hero for our country. It’s an honor to have him affiliated with the university. There will be an opportunity to get to know the dean better. She can work with him to raise philanthropic funds for the school.”
The Andrew Young School had 879 students in its degree programs the past quarter and about 10,000 GSU students enroll in the school’s classes every year. It has 60 faculty members and seven research units. During the last calendar year, it received $28.5 million in grants; and, as of Dec. 31, had an endowment of $9.6 million.
Walker said she plans to “hang onto my faculty” and to “work hard to recruit additional faculty.” She said there are opportunities for the school to expand its relationships with the other colleges and programs at GSU and to solidify its role in the community on public policy questions.
“We really are, and have always been, an integral part of all those different issues,” Walker said. “I really want us to maintain our clear focus on policy research so we can continue to have the impact that we have internationally and in the state.”
GSU also is in the midst of a strategic planning process to map out the future direction of the university. The strategic plan will be presented next January, but Becker said he is confident that there will be a renewed focus on global education, urban studies and interdisciplinary programs. And it is likely that the Andrew Young School will be a critical part of each of those initiatives.
In other words, the Andrew Young School is expected to continue operating as its own entity without the fear of being absorbed within another college.
“That’s behind us now,” Becker said. We are not merging the Andrew Young School with the business school. If we were going to merger, we would have done it by now.”
The other two finalists for dean were Robert Moore, associate dean and associate professor of economics, who was filling in as the interim dean; and Harvey Newman, chair of the Department of Public Management and Policy. Newman has been with Georgia State since 1970.
Both Moore and Newman will remain in their current positions.
“They will be great,” Walker said about her relationship with Moore, Newman and Hildreth. “Bob Moore and I have had many conversations. Harvey I don’t know as well, but I know he is a wonderful man and he cares about the school. I don’t see that as a problem at all. And Bart has been very positive.”