Economics celebrates 50th anniversary of SMU’s oldest Ph.D. program

Richard B. JohnsonThe Department of Economics in SMU’s Dedman College celebrated the 50th anniversary of its Ph.D. program – the University’s first – on May 7, 2010, in the Jones Great Hall of Meadows Museum.

The program was founded by Richard B. Johnson, chair of the Economics Department from 1952 to 1968 and founder of SMU’s Southwestern Graduate School of Banking. The “Johnson Document” of 1957-58 laid out the proposed Ph.D requirements, and the University’s Board of Trustees approved the new program in May 1958.

A key step in the program’s beginning was the 1958 hiring of Paul T. Homan as the department’s new Director of Graduate Student Studies. Formerly of the University of Southern California, Homan was also the longtime editor of the American Economic Review.

Economics Ph.D. David Bowers with Willis Tate and Paul Homan, 1963On January 5, 1963, David Bowers received SMU’s first Ph.D. degree from the Department of Economics; he was one of the first 6 students admitted to the program in 1959. He made his career as a faculty member at Case Western Reserve University, where he specialized in macroeconomics, business cycles and economic forecasting. He also served as chair of Case Western’s Department of Managerial Studies and its Department of Banking and Finance.

In addition, the Department of Economics produced SMU’s first woman Ph.D. recipient. Mona Hersh-Cochran successfully defended her dissertation on “Milk Distribution: A Study in Market Structure and Regulation” on April 26, 1966. She then began a long career as a professor of economics at Texas Woman’s University, where she had begun teaching during her last year of Ph.D. studies. Hersh-Cochran was a 1991 recipient of TWU’s most prestigious award for faculty, the Cornaro Outstanding Professor Award. She received SMU’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 1995.

Economics, as part of a combined department with history, was one of SMU’s original programs of study during its 1915-16 opening year. Two professors taught 8 undergraduate courses during that first academic year.

Today, the department has 15 faculty members and 3 full-time lecturers teaching nearly 80 undergraduate, Master’s-level and Ph.D. courses. As of March 2010, the department listed 438 undergraduate majors, and it grants an average of 3 doctorates in economics each year – with 5 and 6 Ph.D. candidates earning degrees in 2009 and 2010 alone.

(Above right, Richard B. Johnson, chair of the SMU Department of Economics from 1952 to 1968 and founder of the economics Ph.D. program and SMU’s Southwestern Graduate School of Banking.)

(Above left, economics student David Bowers receives SMU’s first Ph.D. degree from President Willis M. Tate – left in photo – and Director of Graduate Student Studies Paul T. Homan. Dallas Morning News staff photo by Bill Winfrey.)