Dean Faye Duchinís office on the top floor of Russell Sage Laboratory boasts a unique design; try to imagine new-age interior design reminiscent of a high-class Starbucks, decorated with the bookshelves and charts of an economics scholar. After a brief talk about my own academic career as a Humanities and Social Sciences student at Rensselaer, I took a seat at a comfortable coffee table area to begin the interview.
Bayonne, N.J., is Duchinís hometown, where she grew up in a "very conventional setting."
"It seems like another planet to me today, because itís been a long time since Iíve been back. I was pretty dreamy in high school, because I was brought up the way most women were at the time. My family didnít have career aspirations for me," said Duchin.
From Bayonne, she went on to Cornell University, where she originally majored in French, but eventually graduated with a degree in psychology. "When I graduated, I got an army jacket and a backpack and hitchhiked around Europe, without any thought to ĎIíd better get a job,í" she said. After a few years she settled in Paris, France.
It was at this time that she met her husband and registered for a masterís degree in philosophy. "My husband said, ĎThis is ridiculous. An American reading Plato in French, when you know no mathematics, and itís the late 20th century,í" said Duchin. She remained in Paris through such times as May í68, a time of civil uprising that was what she calls "a revolutionary moment," and the beginning of her political interests. However, in 1969 she moved back to the States and studied for her Ph.D. in
computer science at UC Berkeley.
"I was nearly ready to drop it because computer hardware, software, and analysis werenít really my thing," remembered Duchin. However, she was able to turn her interest into a viable computer science model, and did her dissertation on the recently passed rent control at Berkeley. "It was great, I loved Berkeley, and I loved Paris too!" mentioned Duchin. Her decision to study computer science reflected a desire to understand the society she was living in and a desire for certain mastery in it and not to remain a passive observer. She became an economist working with computer models, and was involved with many prominent economists of the day, including one of the first Nobel Laureates in economics, Wassily Leontief. Duchin took a 60 percent cut in salary to work with him, doing input/output economics.
From 1977Ė1996, she spent time on the New York University faculty, and succeeded Leontief as director of the economics research center there. Duchin considers Leontief her mentor, and called the experience of being able to collaborate with him on a daily basis remarkable. But during their work, the two economists searched for more robust facilities. "Leontief and I were looking to move to a place with a school of engineering, because the work we did together was all about technology," she said.
After an exhaustive search of New York City engineering colleges, two economists from RPI approached Duchin with the idea of being dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences. Although she originally had no desire to be dean, Duchin was impressed by Rensselaerís campus in the mid-í90s. "I found a graceful, green-roofed campus and lively, engaged faculty. The other piece is that I felt I needed to find another base," stated Duchin. Leontief was nearing retirement and she felt it was time to move on, so she became a professor of economics and dean of H&SS at RPI.
Her time as dean of H&SS was marked by distinguishing the school by establishing it as a "true" academic school of social sciences. The school began to attract faculty who were pursuing scholarly projects, build its strengths in the arts, and expand the social and behavioral sciences. Earlier this academic year, Duchin announced her decision to step down from the deanship and return to research in economics, mathematics, and technology. A search committee is currently working to find a new H&SS dean.
Duchinís advice for students is simple; broaden yourself in the ways of the world. "Youíre getting a fine education in math, and science, and technology, but in order to advance to a position of leadership, you need to have a broad understanding of the world we live in, especially post-September 11. People in a society as affluent as this, in a world where there is little affluence, have a responsibility to see that this affluence is not misused," said Duchin. She also advised students to follow their passions when looking at their academic careers.
Duchin can be reached at email@example.com.
NEXT WEEK: Thomas Apple, Dean of Graduate Education