Don Coursey, Ameritech Professor of Public Policy in the Harris SchoolBy Peter Schuler
Don Coursey, a respected and widely cited experimental economist and the Ameritech Professor in the Irving B. Harris Graduate School of Public Policy Studies, has for the sixth consecutive year been voted to receive one of two annual teaching awards for the core course he leads, Microeconomics for Public Policy II.
“His classes are one of the strongest attractions for the new students and leave the warmest memories of the Harris School for its graduates,” said a student of Coursey’s, Mei Wen.
Coursey’s scholarship is focused primarily on eliciting reliable measures of preferences and monetary values for public goods, such as environmental quality. Two of his studies challenged conventional wisdom and attracted national attention—his 1996 report on environmental justice in Chicago, in which he examined the relationship between the location of older hazardous industrial sites and the racial composition of the surrounding neighbors, and his 1994 report on public preferences and expenditures on endangered species.
He also has studied comparisons of demand for international environmental quality, environmental legislation in the United States, and public preferences for environmental outcomes compared to other social and economic goals.
“Professor Coursey has an eloquent way of teaching difficult economic concepts,” said Rudee Roth, another of his students in the Harris School’s Master of Public Policy Program. “He provides an accessible and approachable journey into economics that is infused with compassion, consideration and most of all, kindness. His unique presentation style not only captures the attention of his students, it also compels them to apply theoretical concepts to their own environment.”
Professor Charles Glaser, Deputy Dean in the Harris School, praised Coursey’s teaching. “Don is highly regarded as an engaging lecturer, and his core course makes microeconomics come to life for our students.”
Notoriously conscientious, Coursey impressed one student, Giang Do, who noted, “He is the only professor I have known so far, in both college and graduate school, who comes to class half an hour early to prepare.”
Coursey also is well known for an impressive ability to translate the abstruse into the lucid. “He brings clarity and simplification to what appears at first glance to be extremely complicated social phenomena,” said student Bruce Sugden. “In the end, he reduces the frustration in making sense of microeconomics, and the process becomes quite enjoyable.”
Students in Coursey’s classes also are consistently trained to use the analytical tools of the classroom to solve public policy problems when they graduate. “He is unique in bringing his real world background and experience into his teaching,” said student Timothy Dorsett. “Using personal anecdotes, games and other fresh methods, he breaks things down for students in a practical way that most other professors lose sight of.”
Stacy Gray, who is earning an M.P.P. at the Harris School, said of Coursey, “Don is truly inspiring. His class was engaging, entertaining and thought provoking. His manner of teaching not only helped me understand the basic principles of economics, but it also helped me see the world in a slightly different way. It is difficult to thank someone for a gift of that magnitude.”