Jim Leitzel, Co-Chair and Senior Lecturer in Public Policy Studies in the CollegeBy Peter Schuler
Jim Leitzel, Co-Chair and Senior Lecturer in Public Policy Studies in the College and a 2004 recipient of a Llewellyn John and Harriet Manchester Quantrell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, said he is amazed at the intellectual ability of his students and their willingness to rise to any challenge. “What we ask them to do is way beyond anything I recall doing in my undergraduate education. And the intellectual opportunities they have here are wonderful,” he said. “This is an exciting place to be.”
Leitzel decided to become a teacher during his third year of graduate school at Duke University, when he had the opportunity to teach his first course while pursuing a Ph.D. in economics. He earlier earned a B.S. in mathematics from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
After graduate school, Leitzel taught at Vanderbilt and Duke universities, and briefly taught at other universities in the United States and England, but he said his experience here at Chicago, where he has been a member of the faculty since 1998, has stood out among the others.
“It’s a unique environment,” he said. “The kinds of workshops and seminars available here in a week—even just looking at my fields of economics, policy and law— represent a good year at some other places.”
Leitzel, who wrote Russian Economic Reform, a book that charted Russia’s transition from socialism to capitalism, is familiar with teaching awards, having been voted best professor in 1999 by the graduating class at the New Economic School in Moscow, where he taught for one year. He described that teaching opportunity as a “fantastic experience.”
The author or editor of three other books, including, most recently, The Political Economy of Rule Evasion and Policy Reform, Leitzel said he came to Chicago by the invitation of Richard Taub, Chairman of the Committee on Human Development and the Paul Klapper Professor of Social Sciences in the College, who also co-chairs the Public Policy Studies Program in the College.
Leitzel said he was amazed at the intellectual freedom he has been afforded. “For my public policy courses, I was able to employ my earlier work on Russian economic transition, my more recent work on how rule evasion prompts policy reform, and the subject that I’m now teaching, the regulation of vice. As far as I know, none of these courses had been taught here before. The support I’ve received that allows me to teach subjects I really care about has been terrific,” he said.
Leitzel also was asked to teach a course in the College Core by Taub and Donald Levine, the Peter B. Ritzma Professor in Sociology and the College. “They asked if I was interested in teaching in the fall when the students read Adam Smith, Karl Marx and Emile Durkheim. I was reluctant because I felt unqualified, but Richard and Don prevailed, and I’ve been teaching a version of the course ever since. It’s been tremendous for me and my chance to learn a lot about these great thinkers,” Leitzel said.