B.U. Bridge is published by the Boston University Office of University Relations.
Nobel Laureate Sen to deliver BU lecture series
By David J. Craig
Amartya Sen, who won the 1998 Nobel Prize in economics, in part for his research on poverty that changed the way governments deal with famines, will join Boston University as the first scholar to hold the visiting professorship in the Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future.
During the 2001-2002 academic year, Sen will deliver a series of lectures at BU exploring the ways people define themselves as members of groups. Dates have not yet been announced for the series, which is entitled The Future of Identity.
"Professor Sen is the outstanding authority on the nature of economic development," says BU President Jon Westling. "As the first Frederick S. Pardee Visiting Professor, he will direct our attention to the issues of growth, freedom, and happiness that will shape human society in the century ahead of us and beyond."
Sen, who taught at Harvard University from 1988 to 1998 and has been head of Trinity College of Cambridge University since, is widely credited with restoring an ethical dimension to the traditionally value-free field of economics. His writings are wide-ranging and diffuse, often combining economics and philosophy, and always focused on the plight of the poor.
Sen's most influential work is his 1981 book Poverty and Famine, in which he argues that the causes of mass starvation lie in economic systems of food distribution more than in nature. He found, for instance, that famine-stricken nations often have food surpluses or money enough to import food, but that rulers in such countries often fail to intervene. Partly because of the book, nations threatened by famine now more commonly use public works and other state-funded initiatives to help their poor citizens survive.
Through his dense, statistical research, Sen also has identified biases underlying what were once accepted ways of measuring economic inequality, and has created new ways of measuring poverty and economic development.
In his 1999 book Development as Freedom, he argues that the personal freedom of all people should be the goal of economic development, and that democracy's value should not be reduced to its contribution to a nation's growth as a whole.
David Fromkin, BU's Frederick S. Pardee Professor and director of the Pardee Center, says that the breadth and ambitious nature of Sen's research is harmonious with the goals of the center, which was established last year to bring together scholars from diverse disciplines to study the forces that will shape the world in the next 35 to 200 years. The center's research emphasizes the impact such forces will have on people's everyday lives.
"Sen is a broad-based thinker with an enormous wealth of information to share," says Fromkin. "He will address the very large topics the center was formed to explore."
Real estate entrepreneur Frederick S. Pardee (SMG'54, GSM'54) funded the center with a $5 million gift that includes the endowed professorship held by Fromkin and the visiting professorship. Sen will be the first of many visiting scholars at the center to deliver a series of lectures, which will be published in monograph form.
"Dr. Sen's incredible research and policy-oriented career directed toward alleviating poverty, and his pioneering work in creating the [United Nations] Human Development Index, make him eminently qualified to serve as the center's first distinguished visiting professor," says Pardee. "It is genuinely thrilling to learn he has agreed, through his lecture series, to help build the center's research program."
Born in Santiniketan, India, in 1933, Sen received his doctorate from the University of Cambridge. He has been a professor in India, England, and the United States and is the Lamont University Professor Emeritus at Harvard.
Sen has served as president of the Econometric Society, the Indian Economic Association, the American Economic Association, and the International Economic Association. He is also honorary president of OXFAM.