In 1980, when I left Temple University to join George Mason University's Economics Department, it was a little known school in northern Virginia. Dr. George Johnson, also from Temple University, was president. In an early meeting, to settle my dispute with one of the deans, I learned that Dr. Johnson was an entrepreneur with a vision. In 1983, Dr. Jim Buchanan, a former mentor during my doctoral student days at UCLA, was enticed to join our economics department, bringing with him several members of the Center for Study of Public Choice that he founded at Virginia Polytechnic Institute. In 1986, Dr. Buchanan won the Nobel Prize in Economics.
In 1986, Henry Manne was offered the deanship at our law school. At the time, the law school was less than nondescript, with most of the faculty having only a tangential academic relationship with the school. Mr. Manne was given complete control over hiring and firing. He hired legal scholars, established the Law & Economics Center and laid the groundwork for GMU Law School to become a first-rate law school.
Today, GMU Law School is in the nation's top tier of law schools. According to the latest U.S. News & World Report's "America's Best Graduate Schools 2007," GMU Law School ranks 37th among 193 law schools. One uniqueness of our law school is that its professors revere and respect the U.S. Constitution.
In 1995, my colleagues asked me to become department chairman, and I reluctantly accepted. Our department was under siege by a hostile administration because we all shared characteristics that don't go over well in today's academy; we are libertarian-leaning free market economists. My confrontational stance as chairman didn't endear me to the administration. I decided that the only way to improve our department was to "privatize" it -- go out and raise money. With the help of my colleagues, generous donors and a new dean, we built a first-rate department. In 2001, the last year of my term as chairman, Dr. Vernon Smith and six of his colleagues at the University of Arizona's Economic Science Laboratory joined our department. A year later, Dr. Smith became GMU's second Nobel Prize-winner.