Would Controversial Glenn Hubbard Be Treasury Secy 'Disaster' if Romney Wins? Ponders NYT

The front of the New York Times Sunday Business featured a long and pretty hostile article by David Segal on Glenn Hubbard, economist and dean of Columbia Business School who some think could be Treasury Secretary in a Romney administration: "Romney’s Go-To Economist."

It was packed with anonymous gripes from Hubbard's (liberal) colleagues at Columbia, who accuse him of embarrassing the school with a rage-filled performance in a left-wing documentary. Segal also suggested Hubbard had "a certain amount of baggage," and if made Treasury Secretary, would risk "disaster" by following through on Mitt Romney's tax cut promises.

After praising Hubbard's "rare ability to translate complex policy into plain English, Segal brought down the hammer:

Mr. Hubbard also brings to this job a certain amount of baggage. He appeared briefly in “Inside Job,” a scathing and Oscar-winning 2010 documentary about the financial crisis. The film has a segment about high-profile professors who blessed many of the financial instruments that led to the fiasco. Enter Mr. Hubbard, who is presented as a leading thinker far too cozy with industries he ought to be assessing at a critical distance.

“You have three more minutes,” he tells an interviewer who is pressing for the names of his consulting clients. And then, as his face contorts with rage, he adds, “Give it your best shot.”

Segal laid on the criticism from "faculty members," nearly all of whom remained anonymous despite Times' pressure to get soruces on the record.

Some of Mr. Hubbard’s extracurricular activities have also made faculty members at his Columbia Business School unhappy, because, they say, they reflect poorly on the institution. Others complain that he has run the school with a somewhat autocratic hand and feel that they have been buffaloed into casting votes and rallying behind causes that they haven’t necessarily supported.

Segal finally found a professor willing to go on the record in criticizing Hubbard:

There is another, more prickly side to Mr. Hubbard, though it is not a side he has shown very often. One faculty member who saw it is Noel Capon, a tenured professor in the school’s marketing department. In October 2010, he received a letter from Christopher J. Mayer, a professor in the finance and economics division who was then the senior vice dean, accusing him of violating a number of Columbia University rules on outside commercial ventures. The letter had what Mr. Capon considered an aggressive tone; it took him aback. After a few months and a conversation with a fellow professor, Mr. Capon concluded that Mr. Hubbard was behind what he regarded as a carefully orchestrated campaign against him. The point, he believes, was to bully him into line.


As dean, Mr. Hubbard has made some high-profile hires, including Patrick Bolton, a specialist in contract theory who was lured away from Princeton, and twice revamped the curriculum, to give students more flexibility in choosing classes and to shorten the time it takes to complete required courses.

Neither change was controversial, but the way some decisions have been made at the school was described as “Brezhnevian” by one professor, who like many interviewed for this article requested anonymity in order to preserve relationships with the school. In one vote, faculty members were asked to raise a hand if they were in favor of a particular change. There were no dissenters, several attendees recalled.

The most memorable vote came in the fall of 2008, when Mr. Mayer gathered senior faculty members and made a surprising announcement: Dean Hubbard’s job was in peril. President Bollinger was balking at appointing him to a second five-year term.

According to several participants, Mr. Mayer urged professors to demonstrate their support for Mr. Hubbard with a petition, which attendees were asked to sign on the spot. Several current and former faculty members used the identical word to describe the experience: bizarre.

Segal prodded at the liberal conspiracy-mongering among faculty as to why Hubbard gained a second five-year term as dean.

In absence of any official word, faculty members have been left to speculate about why Mr. Hubbard nearly lost his job. Nor does anyone know why Mr. Bollinger decided to reappoint him, though current and former faculty members have a pet theory: that Mr. Bollinger was worried about losing the financial support of Mr. Hubbard’s friends, most notably Mr. Kravis.

As several faculty members pointed out, a little acidly, Mr. Hubbard had helped to cut taxes for people like Mr. Kravis. “They owed him,” one professor said.

In conversations with Columbia Business School faculty members, you hear occasional hints of irritation with Mr. Hubbard over his cameo in “Inside Job” and the embarrassment they say it visited on the school. Part of the reason is that the fallout led to new and more stringent conflict-of-interest and disclosure rules -- and that those forced many professors to drop lucrative side projects. It’s as though Mr. Hubbard was caught overeating, so everyone had to go on a diet.


There are plenty of centrist and right-of-center economists who think that Mr. Hubbard would make a fine Treasury secretary. They are impressed by his intellect, trust his instincts and commend his leadership during previous stints in Washington.

Some right-leaning economists, though, have reservations. Their worry is that Mr. Hubbard is not enough of a deficit hawk, and that if he follows through with tax cuts as articulated in the Romney plan, the results could be a disaster.