Michael Robinson

Citation for 2004 Meribeth E. Cameron Faculty Award for Scholarship

Mike Robinson's research is impressive for both its scale and breadth. Over the last 14 years he has published 28 articles in refereed journals, in addition to numerous reviews, chapters in books, and papers in conference proceedings. What interests him? Nearly everything. A casual dinner conversation can launch him into an obsessional quest as he strips off layers of chaff, arriving a few core questions that might conceivably be settled with data. Then comes the quest for data, the beloved Mac, and the econometric models. (Never mind that the conversation was about the chaff.)

Mike has published papers on topics ranging from discrimination in Baseball Hall of Fame voting to trade liberalization and productivity growth in Latin America. Reading his papers, you can learn what happens to undergraduate dance majors, the costs and benefits of debt rescheduling, and the publication patterns of liberal arts faculties in different fields. What fuels this large, continuous research agenda? First, Mike is insatiably curious. Second, he is an enormously skilled applied econometrician with a large panoply of techniques ready to use, and a willingness to learn more should the question call for it. Finally, he is an enormously generous and good-humored colleague.

Mike is one of those rare people who are not only extremely productive themselves, but around whom others work better. He shares his work, and his knowledge, and his talent. He seeks others and is sought as a collaborator. He has published jointly with almost half the present and recent members of our economics department. His colleagues attest to the sheer joy he takes in his subject and the fun it is to work with him. He is, to coin a phrase, a catalytic research scholar.

There are recurring themes in Mike's work. One probes the existence of racial or gender discrimination in various contexts. Such work is painstaking, as it requires rigorous examination of possible confounding factors. Carefully specifying what else could be associated with differences in the academic salaries of men and women of various racial backgrounds, he and Jim Monks found that there are still unexplained residuals that may be the result of discriminatory or preferential treatment. With Monks and Arna Desser he looked for evidence of discrimination in the balloting for the Baseball Hall of Fame. They modeled career achievements associated with players' nomination and election and found "a preference in placing white players on the ballot and a strong voting bias against both African Americans and Latin Americans in Hall of Fame balloting."

Another interest of Mike's is higher education. He and Jim Hartley have authored a series of articles on faculty research at liberal arts colleges. They have uncovered a two-tiered pattern with most publications written by faculty at a small number of colleges. They also have identified a positive relationship between the amount of faculty research at an institution and the number of its students going to graduate school. With Monks, he has used the college as a case study in the effects of making the submission of SAT scores optional. Their, as yet unpublished, paper was presented at a prestigious National Bureau of Economic Research conference.

A third interest is labor economics, both on an international and a microeconomic level. A recent article with Eva Paus examines the connection between neo-liberal openness policies and productivity growth in Latin American manufacturing. Two earlier papers asked about the effects of trade liberalization on real wages. With Sally Montgomery, he has studied the work lives of artists. Both visual and performing artists routinely divide their time between low paid art employment and much better compensated non-art work. They ask what affects artists' career decisions and whether they respond as economic theory would predict to changes in the relative returns to their art and non-art work.

Mike's infectious enthusiasm for tackling economic problems and econometric modeling extends not just to his colleagues, but to his students who consistently rave about his teaching. He has taught outside the department in the college's quantitative reasoning course, contributing several case studies to it. His patience, good humor, and expert advice have guided generations of independent students. His service to the College has been second to none. His rigorous modeling of entering classes has greatly enhanced Mount Holyoke's admissions process, and his exuberant irreverence prevents us from taking ourselves too seriously. We are a better place because of Mike. To paraphrase Falstaff in Henry IV, Part II: Mike is not only witty in himself, but the cause that wit is in other men.