Professor Russell Cooper rejoins EUI as Professor of Economics after five years away in the US teaching at Pennsylvania State University. Over coffee at a streetside cafe in San Domenico, we discuss his work at EUI, the ideal curriculum, and how an academic’s work is never done.
For Professor Cooper, his new post is a welcome return: “I was here as a faculty member five years ago for three years, from 2009 to 2012, and then I went back to the States for five years. I loved being here – I loved the setup of the university, the camaraderie with faculty members, that was just great. I’m as happy as could be to be back here. I think as a student, this is paradise. There’s no dead wood in this institution, and that’s so important. It makes it so vital and so interesting. Everybody here is doing research all the time.”
Neither is the professor immune to Florence’s charms: “I live in a farmhouse near to the Badia. To live on a farm, almost, and walk to work – it’s just perfect. I love everything about being back in Florence except for two things: I think there are more mosquitos, and they moved the Le Cure market “temporarily” to the football stadium.”
Professor Cooper will be teaching the same core PhD programme that he was previously teaching: “[The programme] has three branches: macroeconomics, microeconomics and econometrics. I generally teach one of the parts of macroeconomics and then I usually teach a topics course to the more advanced researchers.”
Discussing the teaching style of EUI compared to institutions in the US, the professor, who received his PhD from the University of Pennsylvania, praises EUI’s mixture of flexibility and structure: “We have a responsibility to provide the students a structure of courses on topics which we think are actually important for them, and I think that’s how we design the core material. But then after the first year, their tastes and their needs should dictate what we offer, so we have to moderate between those views. And when the students do independent research, I believe that should be based on their interests. However difficult it might be, we should provide a supervision for their research.”
As for his area of research, Professor Cooper says: “I have an endless supply of research interests – the problem is harnessing them! But that’s another nice thing about being here, that there are so many students to work with and consider ideas. There’s only 12 of us and 100 students who are working on a number of different things – it’s so alive, it’s beautiful. I often get stimulated by conversations with students and just work on something with them or on my own.
“I’m currently working on a few topics, all of which have European content. There’s a set of papers I’m working on and a course I’m teaching under the heading of ‘Household Finance’, and one of the central questions there is why some households participate in various markets like stock markets, and why the remainder don’t. Those rates of participation vary pretty widely across the world, even across Europe. When the ECB undertakes monetary policy it matters what markets people are involved in, in terms of the impact of monetary policy for them as individuals, and of their economies overall.
“And since around 2007, even before I came here the first time, I was interested in monetary union, and the interaction of monetary and fiscal policy. The structure here is very odd – there’s a lack of fiscal integration compared to monetary integration. It’s always been a sore spot in the design of the European monetary union, and I’ve written extensively on those sore spots and what issues might arise.”