While moving from a small private liberal arts school solely focused on undergraduate education to a graduate program within a large public research university may seem like a big transition, for Dr. Raymond Robertson, it is a perfect fit. As professor and holder of the Helen and Roy Ryu Chair in Economics and Government at the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University, Robertson gets to do what he loves—impact public policy through the study of economics and train future leaders entering public service.
“A graduate program within a large public university is a better fit for me,” says Robertson. “One, all of my work—even before I started graduate school—has focused on applied research: How do we solve real-world problems? How do we improve the lives of others? Second, I really like working with master’s students because they come in more prepared and with much more focus on making the world a better place, and they’re the type of students I really want to work with.”
A self-described “economic evangelist,” Robertson sees the study of economics as vital to any understanding of public policy. Among his current courses, he teaches Fundamentals of the Global Economy, where he hopes students develop an ability to speak the language of economics before they enter the work force.
“I believe economics informs just about every policy,” says Robertson. “I think being able to apply some of the fundamentals of economic thinking to policy decisions would really improve policymaking in general because I think a lot of policy mistakes have been made without having that kind of thinking. If students can carry that understanding with them after graduation, I will be very proud.”
While he knew from a young age he wanted to pursue a career in public policy, Robertson began to view economics as a way to impact public policy after spending a year teaching as a Fulbright scholar in Mexico.
“I knew when I was an undergrad and even in high school that I wanted to focus on public policy for my career,” said Robertson. “I thought I was going to go to law school because it was lawyers who were doing public policy. But when I went to Mexico it was all economists who were leading the government. I realized that to impact public policy you should have a background in economics. The reason I went into the PhD program was because of my experience in Mexico.”
After returning from his time in Mexico, Robertson continued his education, receiving a PhD in economics from the University of Texas at Austin. During his career, he has been widely published in the field of labor economics and international economics. Robertson has been published in the American Economic Review, the Review of Economics and Statistics, the Journal of International Economics, Review of International Economics, and the Journal of Development Economics. He has also co-edited three books that draw heavily on his work in development with the World Bank in Washington, DC, and the International Labor Organization in Geneva.
In addition to his academic contributions, Robertson is able to impact public policy as current chair of the US Department of Labor’s National Advisory Committee for Labor Provisions of the US Free Trade Agreements. In this appointed position, he advises the US Department of Labor on labor standards and trade agreements. This typically involves pulling together stakeholders from the business community, private sector, public sector, and labor in order to get feedback on major trade initiatives. He has chaired the committee since 2011, and his term was recently renewed for another three years.
Before coming to the Bush School, Robertson taught for more than a decade and a half at Macalaster College, a private liberal arts school in Robertson’s native state of Minnesota. During his time at Macalaster, he served both as a professor of economics and as the director of the college’s Latin American Studies Program. Prior to his time at Macalaster, he taught as an assistant professor of economics at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University.
Having led the Latin American Studies Program at Macalaster College, Robertson hopes to bring a Latin America focus to his teaching at the Bush School, something several students have eagerly welcomed. In addition to his current courses on global economy and the effects of globalization on workers, he hopes to create a course examining the economic policies of Latin America for the past 500 years up to today.
Robertson says he feels right at home at the Bush School and Texas A&M. “It’s a perfect fit for me in every way,” said Robertson. “One thing I really like about the Bush School is that it’s ambitious. I think that by encouraging the students and faculty and everyone to aim high, this place has an incredibly bright future. I’m really excited to be a part of that.”