Robert LaLonde, Professor of Public Policy in the Harris SchoolBy Peter Schuler
Bob LaLonde likes to tell a story to explain why he believes graduates from the Irving B. Harris Graduate School of Public Policy Studies’ Master of Public Policy program will be outstanding policy analysts. “A headhunter was looking for someone with an M.P.P. background for a foundation position and asked for my opinion of one of our former students,” said LaLonde, Professor in the Harris School. “I told her it didn’t matter who else was being considered because the Harris candidate was one of our top students. Our best students are without a doubt the best analytically trained students going into professional management in the public sector.”
Students at the Harris School recently chose LaLonde to receive one of two annual teaching awards for his three non-core courses.
“Bob LaLonde is the quintessential, busy, productive professor who gives me the feeling that he knows more about a subject than I ever possibly will,” said M.P.P. student Jacob Plummer. “And at the same time, he’s incredibly accessible and willing to take on extra work in order to help you do what you want. I went to his office wanting to learn how to write a research paper from scratch—researching my own papers; evaluating them; putting them together—the type of work I want to do as a policy professional.
“His phone must have been ringing every three or four minutes with someone else asking for help or adding on another responsibility. But without hesitation, he told me what I needed to do and told me to come back for the next round of help. He has my vote as the best teacher at Harris, and there’s some tough competition.”
LaLonde’s research and writing is focused on five areas: program evaluation; education and training of the work force; economic impacts of immigration on developed countries; the costs of worker displacement; and the impact of unions and collective bargaining in the United States.
He is currently one of the principal investigators on a major research initiative, “The Chicago Project on Female Prisoners and Their Children,” which will provide policy-makers with the first reliable benchmarks of the social and economic circumstances of imprisoned mothers, as well as suggesting policy alternatives.
“Professor LaLonde has innovative ideas on how social programs should be rigorously evaluated,” said another M.P.P. student, Christian Vega. “His contributions not only enrich us as policy students, but also represent a milestone of knowledge for this particular field of study.”
LaLonde is a graduate of the College and earned a Ph.D. at Princeton University. He was a senior staff economist on the Council of Economic Advisors in the White House from 1987 to 1988.
He first joined the Chicago faculty as an Associate Professor of Industrial Relations at the Graduate School of Business and joined the full-time faculty of the Harris School in 1999. He also serves as a faculty affiliate with the Center for Human Potential and Public Policy.
“Bob LaLonde has a gift for presenting complicated ideas clearly,” said Charles Glaser,Deputy Dean and Professor in the Harris School. “He teaches a number of elective courses that provide our M.P.P. students with extremely useful analytical skills that can be applied across a wide range of public policy issues.”
LaLonde said his belief is that professional education is extremely valuable and produces better analysts and managers. “And it’s fair to say,” he said, “that managerial talent in the public sector is simply not as deep as in the private sector, so our graduates will make just that much more of a difference, and that’s very rewarding for me.”