UH-Manoa Economics: A Brief Modern History, 1962-2007
IV : Riding Hawaii's Booming Economy: 1984-1992
Hope for the Department's future revived in 1984. Hawaii's economy began a seven-year expansion. Lines of tourists piled off 747s in record numbers, Japanese investors paid record prices for already pricey properties, John Waihee became Hawaii's first native Hawaiian governor, and some of the soaring state tax revenues were directed towards a University that had endured 14 years of roller coaster support from the state. Repairing a damaged institution turned out, however, to be a job that was quite different from building a de novo institution. For instance, Hamilton Library, a highly ranked research library at the start of the 1970s, would never recover. Deteriorated research facilities and classroom and office buildings couldn't be upgraded quickly enough.
Professor Fred Hung chaired the Department from 1981 to 1987, a period spanning the budgetary retrenchments of the early 1980s and the budgetary expansions of the mid-to-late 1980s. Shortly after his retirement from UH-Manoa in 1987, Fred and his wife, Hwa, made a major donation to the University of Hawaii Foundation that provides full funding to an economics graduate student from China or Taiwan conducting doctoral research on China's economy. Fred and Hwa's gift is the largest ever received by the Department and serves as a testament to Fred's personal commitment to building an economics department with a research focus on the Asia-Pacific region.
From 1983 to 1986, Seiji Naya was the Chief Economist of the Asian Development Bank. During this time, Seiji convinced the Bank to establish Asian Development Bank Scholarships to bring promising Asian students to Hawaii to study at the East-West Center and the University of Hawaii. For the last two decades, the ADB Scholarships have funded many of the Department's doctoral students as well as students enrolled in other UH graduate programs. The ADB scholarships have contributed immensely to the success of the Department's graduate program, and we thank Seiji for his unceasing efforts supporting our programs. In May 2006, the University of Hawaii honored Seiji as a Distinguished UH Alumnus.
In 1984, the Dean of the College of Social Sciences gave the Department permission to hire two new faculty. Two new assistant professors, Calla Wiemer (Ph.D., University of Wisconsin) and Maria Gochoco (Ph.D., Columbia University) brought expertise in China's reforming economy (Wiemer) and brought monetarism a la Philip Cagan, with a heavy dose of rational expectations and assumptions of imperfect competition (Gochoco). Their appointments are particularly notable, as they were the first full-time tenure-track female professors hired by the Department. Calla Wiemer would later become the first full-time female faculty member in economics to be awarded tenure and promoted to associate professor, while in 2002 Denise Konan would become the Department's first full-time female full professor and in 2004 the Department's first female department chair.
Between 1986 and 1993, the College of Social Sciences authorized five new hires. Gerard Russo (Ph.D., Northwestern U.) would quickly become known for his inspired (and loud!) teaching of microeconomic theory. His in-depth understanding of Hawaii's Pre-Paid Health Care Act has both informed and launched a small fleet of research projects, while his willingness to speak at any and all health-related conferences, workshops, and meetings continues to provide a valuable interdisciplinary lifeline for Hawaii's community of health and health care professionals.
Carl Bonham (Ph.D., U. Texas) brought deep interests in time series econometrics and wind surfing from Texas. Why only one interest (time series econometrics) has been fully pursued is a question that only the trade winds can answer. Byron Gangnes (Ph.D., U. Pennsylvania) came to Honolulu armed with the Penn Forecasting Model. His recent papers indicate that he has yet to disarm. Carl and Byron's careers assumed a common trajectory when their leadership led to the founding of the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization in Spring 1998. Nine years later, UHERO forecasts and reports stand out as the most respected source of information regarding the current state and the future course of Hawaii's economy. The University of Hawaii selected them to be the recipients of the 2007 Hung Wo and Elizabeth Lau Ching Foundation Award for Faculty Service to the Community.
Denise Eby Konan (Ph.D., U. Colorado) arrived in 1995 from Boulder to bolster our expertise in international trade theory and computational economics. Ten years later, Professor Konan had leapfrogged through the UH-Manoa administrative ranks to become Interim Chancellor in August 2005. (See the next section for more on Chancellor Konan's career in the Department and the University.)
The impact of the new hires was partially offset by a career move, an unexpected death, and two retirements. Professor Linda Martin left the Department and the East-West Center for the National Academies of Sciences in 1988. Her subsequent career would lead her to Santa Monica, California, as the Vice President for Domestic Research for the Rand Foundation and then to New York City to become the President of the prestigious Population Council in 1999. In 2004, Linda returned to the National Academies of Science where she continues to publish at the highest levels.
Professor Larry Miller, long-time guardian of the graduate microeconomics sequence and core examinations (A sample question: Why are buildings in town tall and buildings in the country short?) and friend to many faculty and students, began a term as Department Chair in July 1987 but was immediately beset by serious illness. His untimely death in 1988 was a shock to all of us. Within the Department, the Department used donations from the Miller family, economics faculty, and friends and students to refurbish Saunders Hall, Room 515--the Department's large seminar/meeting room--and to rename it the Miller Room. It was dedicated to the memory of a senior professor who would sit at the back of the seminar room when junior faculty were presenting their research and write notes in his "little black book." While no one knew exactly what he wrote in his little black book (he never disclosed its contents), it brought fear amongst the junior faculty because it was widely believed that Larry was taking notes to use in tenure decisions. Despite the black book and a sometimes gruff demeanor, he was a low-key Department Personnel Committee chair who took relatively measured decisions.
Unfortunately, premature death would plague department faculty in the late 1980s and early 1990s, with three more senior UHM Economics faculty passing away at relatively young ages, among them Ed Fujii in 1994 and Dick Pollock in 1992. The much beloved and recently retired Burnie Campbell also suddenly passed away in 1994, just as he was preparing to leave for Japan to take up a visiting professorship there. In his memory the Campbell family and other donors established an endowment at the University of Hawaii Foundation to support needy graduate students in their final months of writing a dissertation. It is a most fitting award, as Burnie always came forth to mentor the most difficult cases among the PhD candidates to make sure that they had a fighting chance to finish.
A major change in the office staff occurred in 1995 when Juliet Pila, the Department Secretary, retired. Who can forget her? She was a fixture in the department office and had been with the Department longer than anyone else until her sudden retirement shortly after her husband passed away. The hard working Juliet Pila was also an Iron Lady. No one dared to cross her. If she liked you, you were golden; if not, the wilderness called. With her departure, much of the institutional memory of the Department was lost. Pat Nishita, whose tenure in the office overlapped with Julie's, served as Department Secretary after Juliet's retirement, along with a series of temporary or loaned personnel. Pat retired in 1997, and Jim Moncur, then Department Chair, quickly realized who did most of the work in the office. He embarked on a frantic search for her successor and came up with an experienced person, Irene Uemoto. Transferring from the UH-Manoa Department of Communications in 1998, she immediately noticed how much busier the Economics Department was. Often arriving at 6 am to tackle her growing work load, Irene's dedication and her skilled use of a huge network of UH staff has kept the Department running on a smooth path. She has survived the training of five new chairs and awaits, with some trepidation, the arrival of a sixth in August 2007.