His association with the Center for Development Economics spans the better part of its existence. Now Steve Lewis ’60 shares his perspective on the program’s first half-century.
Economics professor Jerry Caprio ’72 once gave an exam with a question that began: “Suppose you are the advisor to the prime minister…” One of his students, a fellow of Williams’ Center for Development Economics, wrote in response, “I am the advisor to the prime minister in my country, and here is how I would answer…”
Imagine the experience of sitting next to that person in class, learning beside him or her, working on projects together, dining together, as some Williams students have done. Williams is perhaps the only college in the country—and the world—to offer undergraduates the opportunity to really get to know current and future policy makers from countries around the globe. And it is all thanks to the Center for Development Economics, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
The idea for the CDE, as it is known, was hatched in the summer of 1958 on the front porch of economics professor Emile Despres’ Williamstown home. At the time, African and Asian countries were emerging from colonial rule and joining Latin America in the struggle to raise their people’s living standards. Despres (who had just come back from advising the Pakistani government) and his colleagues at Williams were convinced that policy formulation required local expertise. The success of these countries hinged upon experienced professionals schooled in economic development theory and practice who could serve as advisors or senior officials.
What better place for that education to happen, they reasoned, than Williams? The economics faculty carried on the liberal arts traditions of teaching core concepts and critical thinking skills. But they also had in-country experience in positions involving policy analysis and advice. Political economist Vince Barnett had been in charge of the Marshall Plan in Italy, where Paul Clark had been on his staff. John Sheahan had worked for the Marshall Plan in France. Bill Gates ’39 had worked in Haiti. “Triple R” Brooks had spent his 1957-58 sabbatical in Latin America. Henry Bruton arrived in 1962, fresh from Despres’ Institute of Development Economics in Pakistan, where John Power also worked.
Not only would such a program enable Williams to play an important role in global economic development, but it also would bring citizens and issues of the world to Williamstown.
Despres and his colleagues designed the program with key elements that remain in place today. CDE fellows would take leave from and return to a position in their own countries. The master’s in development economics would be a “terminal” degree, not a stepping-stone to a Ph.D. Courses would focus on teaching analytics useful to those in a position to make or advise on economic policy. And the program would be no more than a year—generally the maximum time agencies would part with their best staff.
Initially financed with a $423,000 grant from the Ford Foundation, the CDE welcomed its first class in September of 1960. Twenty men from 17 African, Asian and Latin American countries moved into the Cluett Estate on Gale Road—called “the monastery” by early fellows because it was so far from campus. (Six years later, the program moved to St. Anthony Hall on Main Street.) Since that time, some 1,100 men and women from 105 countries in the developing world have graduated from the program. Ninety percent of the fellows returned to work in their home countries; most of those who did not went on to serve in international organizations concerned with development.
During my 21 years on the Williams economics faculty, I had the pleasure of teaching some extraordinary CDE fellows who went on to remarkable careers as ministers of finance, heads of central banks, government budget directors, advisors to presidents, executive directors of the IMF and World Bank, ambassadors—and two prime ministers. When my wife Judy and I visited Singapore we were invited by my former student Goh Chok Tong, CDE ’67, to lunch at the prime minister’s residence. What a treat!
Equally fascinating was the chance to recruit new students through the relationships I formed with alumni of the program and my work in developing countries. Ever since Williams President James Phinney Baxter, Class of 1914, brought Despres, Kermit Gordon and others to Williams from their World War II positions in Washington, D.C., the economics faculty have been encouraged to take frequent leaves to recharge their intellectual batteries.
In 1986 I was the junior member of an Asia Society delegation that went to the Philippines just before Corazon Aquino’s election. Our first meeting was with Minister of Finance Cesar Virata. In his introductory remarks he noted that he was glad to have “Professor Lewis from Williams” in the delegation, since so many of his key staff and advisors had been trained at Williams College. My stock in the delegation rose.
Personal interviews have always been a key part of the CDE’s recruiting process, since generally no more than one in five (in recent years, one in seven) applicants is selected for the program. I recall a recruiting trip to Ethiopia in 1972, when Woldemariam Woldemichael, CDE ’67, introduced me to Addis Ababa. He had just been promoted to a vice ministerial position in charge of the national budget, and we celebrated at a dinner in his home with other fellows. On that trip I recruited three Ethiopian civil servants to join CDE’s Class of 1973. Botswana’s current finance minister, Ken Matambo, CDE ’75, served for many years as the head of economic planning, directing the economics staff for the whole government. He made sure the cream of the crop came to Williams, as he and other CDE alumni served as “quality controllers” in recruiting.
Indeed, much as the College is known in the Western world for its unmatched undergraduate experience, Williams is known in the developing world for the prominence of the men and women who studied at the CDE. As Dr. Gaositwe Chiepe, an exceptional woman who held major cabinet positions in Botswana for more than 20 years and worked with many CDE alumni, once told me, “We in Botswana think of Williams as our college.”
Quick to Question, Slow to Answer
In the early years, 20 fellows came annually from 12 to 15 different countries throughout the non-Communist developing world—Asia, Africa, Latin America, with occasional students from the former Yugoslavia and the Middle East. As the world changed, the countries represented at the CDE changed. The number of Latin American fellow s dropped when financing for those students to attend programs in the U.S. became scarce. India, like some other countries, stopped sending students to Williamstown when it developed its own programs. The end of the Cold War brought opportunities for countries that had been part of the Soviet Union. Georgia, for example, had sent 13 fellows to Williams by the time of the “Rose Revolution” that brought President Mikheil Saakashvili to power. The graduates, in turn, were brought into the new government in a variety of senior positions, including as minister of finance and deputy governor of the central bank.
CDE fellows over time ranged in age from 24 to some in their mid- to late-30s. All had to adjust to an American approach to education that emphasized challenging your teachers and fellow students and frowned upon rote learning. Many had to re-learn skills in economics, math and statistics, as well as how to study for exams. Almost all had to become accustomed to taking classes and living with people from very different cultural backgrounds.
For me, the classes were fascinating, stimulating—and often hard to teach. Among the greatest pleasures was getting fellows to engage with and learn from one another and to think beyond their local or regional circumstances. Early on, for example, when I used rupees (used in India and Pakistan) as the local currency in an international trade example, fellows from Latin America or Africa quickly lost interest. I asked my historian colleague Frank Oakley to suggest a once-important currency no longer in circulation; he suggested that of the Byzantine Empire. Thereafter the byzant (Bz) became the local currency in all my examples, and the fellows seemed to identify with it as their own!
How did the descendants of Mark Hopkins converse with the CDE fellows on the other end of the Log? Despres and his founding colleagues wanted the analytical techniques presented in the courses to be applied to real policy situations. Thinking this sounded something like a trade school, one young, outspoken, untenured faculty member named Bob Gaudino strongly and publicly objected. As a student at the time, I well remember Mr. Gaudino’s assault on the concept of CDE. However after he spent time living in India in the early 1960s, developing his ideas about “uncomfortable learning,” Mr. Gaudino became a strong supporter of the CDE.
Unlike large university programs, where students might take a smorgasbord of courses that may or may not add up to a focused course of inquiry, the early CDE curriculum was carefully planned out. I can still visualize super-organized Paul Clark laying out on his desk each topic in each course, week by week. The idea was that a subject or technique required in the middle of the first term in one course must be taught in another course before it was needed!
For many years, the curriculum consisted entirely of required courses; every student took every course. In the 1970s, more flexibility was introduced, as was more work on individual projects. Electives in areas such as environmental policy and natural resource management, public health, the role of social safety nets, and urbanization and development were introduced as the nature of policy problems and approaches to development economics evolved. The CDE remains one of the few programs in the world in which all courses are specifically designed around developing country policy issues.
When the CDE was founded, the optimists thought that the world might deal with economic development in a couple of decades. I didn’t know anyone who seriously thought that the program would continue to be an important resource for developing countries 30 years later, much less after half a century. And yet, during the CDE’s 50th anniversary celebration last October, one alumnus after another, from the earliest fellows to the most recent, spoke of the enduring lessons they learned in Williamstown, such as the importance of critical thinking and of challenging assumptions—lessons also learned by generations of Williams undergraduates.
Fakhruddin Ahmed, CDE ’71, chief advisor (effectively the prime minister) for the interim government of Bangladesh from 2007 to 2009 and previously the governor of the Bangladesh Bank, was among those at the anniversary celebration enumerating the changes affecting developing countries since his graduation: the greatly increased role of international flows of private capital; the emergence of stock exchanges and internationally traded bonds issued by developing countries; the demise of the system of fixed exchange rates among major currencies; the rise of nongovernmental organizations. All of these, Ahmed said, clearly illustrated that one could not rely on a fixed body of knowledge or a formula when it came to economic policy. Instead, he and others learned at the CDE how to ask questions and to seek solutions.
Elsie Kanza, CDE ’00, advisor to Tanzania’s president, put it another way: She recalled learning from Professor Henry Bruton that she should be “quick to question and slow to answer.” Indeed, one alumnus from an African central bank remarked that his boss preferred to send staff to Williams instead of Harvard, since those from the CDE came back with challenging questions, while those from Harvard came back thinking they knew all the answers.
Asked what she had learned at Williams, Colombia’s Ana Maria Rodriguez, CDE ’87, now at the Inter-American Development Bank, cited three messages emphasized throughout the program. One: “There is no good policy if you cannot implement it.” Two: “Think about what you are thinking; think about what you are saying.” And three: “Don’t take anything for granted.”
A Very Humbling Experience
The CDE has had an effect on nearly every aspect of the College, but perhaps the most visible benefits can be seen in the economics department. The concentration of prominent development economists has been a magnet for both the young and the experienced. In the past 25 years Jerry Caprio ’72, Ken Kuttner, Peter Montiel and Dick Sabot joined the senior faculty, bringing extensive experience from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Federal Reserve. (Caprio and Cappy Hill ’76, who was also at the World Bank and the Congressional Budget Office prior to joining the faculty, took courses in the CDE when that was the exception.)
Teaching and administration at the CDE absorbs the equivalent of four full-time faculty, so the economics department is larger than it otherwise would be. Meanwhile, since faculty seldom teach more than one CDE course per year, they naturally bring their specialties in monetary, fiscal, environmental or regional economics to the undergraduate curriculum. As a result, Williams has two to three times the number of economics courses with international content as Amherst or Swarthmore, a huge advantage in a more globalized world. Lectures and seminars sponsored by the CDE are open to the whole campus.
There’s also the chance for Williams undergraduates to work alongside CDE fellows in graduate-level courses that satisfy their major or degree requirements. When I began teaching in 1966, we had at most one or two undergraduates in any given class. In many classes there were none. The experiences of those few students were exceptionally rich, however, as they got to know the fellows in class and during lunches or suppers at St. Anthony Hall.
By the late 1990s, 15 to 20 Williams students per year were taking CDE courses; in 2008-09 the number reached a high of 73. The increase can be attributed to growing interest in global issues as well as a growing population of international undergraduates, many from developing countries, says CDE director Tom Powers ’81. In fact, Powers says, the program has never made a formal effort to integrate undergraduates into the curriculum (which could result in overly large classes). Much of the interest has been via word of mouth.
At the same time, the CDE fellows have become more involved in campus life. As the economics of running a full-time dining operation at St. Anthony Hall became more difficult, fellows began eating evening and weekend meals in other College facilities. So the interaction with undergraduates has increased—with conversations taking place in a variety of languages. A more diverse array of cultural and intellectual offerings also has attracted fellows to the Williams College Museum of Art, the ’62 Center for Theatre & Dance and lectures and talks across the disciplines.
When Williams President Adam Falk spoke at the CDE’s 50th anniversary gathering in October, he pointed to the need to provide the program with “hard money” funding, since so much of the center’s budget depends on fellowships from third parties. New funding would ensure its selectivity, the diversity of country experience and the quality of its instruction for the future. Fortunately, several individual alumni have made very significant gifts to the College for the CDE, and the Class of ’61 is designating part of its 50th reunion gift to the center, so the program is on its way to being funded in line with the president’s vision.
President Falk also emphasized the potential for even more synergy between the undergraduate and master’s programs, both for students on campus and among alumni. Given the level of accomplishment and the positions of responsibility held by both CDE and undergraduate alumni (particularly Ephs working in international business and finance, development or diplomacy), both groups have much to be gained from the kind of networking that has gone on for decades among the traditional alumni body. With e-mail and Facebook making communication easier, there is clearly a base from which to build.
Ana Maria Rodriguez of Colombia echoed the thoughts of many CDE alumni and, probably, those of undergraduate students and alumni as well, when she spoke during the anniversary celebration of one more lesson she learned at the center. “You get together with people from such different ends of the world with such different traditions of all types,” she said. “It really opens a window for you. It becomes a very humbling experience. You discover that you don’t know anything, and you become more tolerant, more open to ideas, and I think honestly you become a better human being.”
Stephen R. Lewis ’60 was a student at Williams during the founding of the CDE. He earned a Ph.D. at Stanford and worked at Emile Despres’ Institute of Development Economics in Pakistan before joining Williams’ economics department in 1966. Lewis taught both undergraduate and CDE courses and twice served as provost of the College before he left Williams to assume the presidency of Carleton College in 1987. He is chair of the CDE’s Visiting Committee and occasionally returns to the center to give seminars.