Federal Reserve chairman to lecture undergraduates

The application process to gain entrance into a class featuring four guest lectures from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has yet to be determined, a University spokesperson said.

Thirty students will ultimately be allowed to enroll in the GW School of Business course, which will begin March 20, University spokeswoman Jill Sankey said.

“It’d be hard to imagine a more important time for the Fed chairman to speak at GW,” Arthur Wilmarth, executive director of the GW-based think tank Center for Law, Economics and Finance, said. “We’ve gone through a major financial crisis that’s not yet over. Students will benefit greatly from hearing the insight on the role of the Fed.”

The lectures will be part of a 1.5-credit undergraduate class dubbed “Reflections of the Federal Reserve and its Place in Today’s Economy,” which will be taught over seven weeks by Timothy Fort, a professor of business ethics.

Bernanke will deliver lectures March 20, 22, 27 and 29 about the history of the Federal Reserve – which oversees the country’s money supply and promotes stability in the economy – and its role in the 2008 financial crisis. The lectures will be streamed live on the Fed’s website.

Fort, who is also the business school’s interim associate dean of undergraduate programs, said the school’s former dean Susan Phillips was “the matchmaker” in bringing the central bank leader to GW.

“[Bernanke had] apparently expressed an interest in an academic setting where he could explain how the Fed works,” Fort said. “Dean Phillips suggested that the Fed staff contact me to see if we could figure out something, and over a few weeks of very constructive brainstorming we developed the plan we have now.”

Phillips, who left the deanship in 2010, sat on the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, the Fed’s highest decision-making body, from 1991 to 1998.

A Federal Reserve spokesperson, who was not authorized to speak with media, deferred details about the course to GW, but said the move falls in line with Bernanke’s past teaching experience as chair of Princeton University’s economics department from 1996 to 2002.

Bernanke was appointed as head of the Federal Reserve in 2006 by President George W. Bush and reappointed by President Barack Obama in 2010.

Bernanke’s public outreach has climbed in recent years as he tries to push back against critics who scrutinize the Federal Reserve for a lack of transparency. He took questions at the National Press Club last February, and participated in a townhall with military families in November, but has yet to lecture at a university as chairman.

“There’s a great deal of mystery that has surrounded the Fed and its operation,” Wilmarth said. “With all the criticism that’s been leveled at the Fed – whether they’ve done too much or not enough in intervening to stabilize the markets – Bernanke has realized the Fed has to be more interactive in the public sphere.”

After Bernanke teaches the first four classes, other speakers will delve deeper into “issues pertaining to central banking and international banking,” Fort said.

Senior Melanie Hoffman, who is double majoring in marketing and international business and plans to apply for the course, said its small class size and subject matter added to its appeal.

“If [Bernanke] wasn’t teaching, I’d still consider registering, but you don’t always have the opportunity to learn something from the expert,” Hoffman said. “The prestige is attractive, but I already have an interest in that field to begin with.”

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