President Barack Obama’s chief economist, Austan Goolsbee, is considering resigning and returning to the University of Chicago where his leave as a professor is about to expire, according to two people familiar with the matter.
Goolsbee, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers for the past nine months, is awaiting word from the university about whether he would lose his tenured post at the Booth School of Business if he doesn’t return to teach in the fall, said the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity to talk about private discussions.
Goolsbee, 41, has advised the president since Obama ran for the U.S. Senate from Illinois in 2004 and was with him during the 2008 presidential campaign. Since Obama took office, Goolsbee often has been the administration’s main spokesman on economic policy.
With the release of major economic news, such as last week’s Labor Department report that showed employers added fewer jobs than forecast and the unemployment rate rose to 9.1 percent, it is Goolsbee who makes the rounds of television news programs to frame the White House argument.
‘Don’t make too much of any one jobs report because they’re highly variable,” Goolsbee said yesterday on ABC’s “This Week” program.
“He has been very visible from day one,” even when he was deputy at the CEA, said Keith Hennessey, director of the National Economic Council under President George W. Bush.
If Goolsbee returns to Chicago, Obama would be losing a key member of his economic team who had deep knowledge of the underpinnings of Obama’s policies, Hennessey said.
“That’s a valuable thing to lose,” he said. “That intellectual consistency, knowing what happened the last time the question came up a year ago or four years ago is important.”
Goolsbee and the White House press office didn’t respond to e-mails seeking comment.
Three other top Obama economic advisers already have departed. At the CEA, Goolsbee replaced Christina Romer, who returned to teaching at the University of California at Berkeley last September. National Economic Council Director Lawrence Summers and Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag left the administration last year. Summers returned to Harvard University and Orszag is now vice chairman of global banking at Citigroup Inc.
The University of Chicago, according to its faculty guide, allows tenured professor a one-year leave and requires them to petition for additional time away from the university, which has ties to more than 80 Nobel laureates. Goolsbee, who Obama nominated as CEA deputy at the start of his term, has already received dispensations from the university and is now in his third year of leave.
A university spokesman, Jeremy Manier, declined to comment on an individual professor’s petitions.
Some universities are more lenient than others in requiring that their professors return to teaching duties. Stanford University allowed former Secretary of State Condeleezza Rice to return to her teaching post after eight years in the Bush administration.
“It varies by institution,” said Cecilia Rouse, who served with Goolsbee on the CEA before returning to Princeton University in February. “The longer you’re gone, the less you’re doing the core work that you were hired to do.”
A return to academia might translate into a salary increase for Goolsbee, a father of three. In his last year at Chicago, he earned $465,000, according to federal financial disclosure reports. As the CEA chairman, Goolsbee’s salary is $191,300 a year.
Goolsbee earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in economics from Yale University and received his Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, according to the University of Chicago’s website. He began at the Booth School of business in 1995, where he has focused on the rise of Internet commerce, government policy and taxes.
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