It’s safe to say that Dean Harrison’s industrious parents had much to do with her ultimately becoming the 15th dean of Berkeley Haas. As a renowned economist and professor, Dean Harrison has quite a storied background. 

Her father was born in the Bronx, New York. Having attended public schools like Stuyvesant, and Cooper Union, his eventual goal was to earn a Ph.D. in chemical engineering. He accomplished this in France by making use of the GI bill. 

It was here that he would meet his future wife. The two fell in love and soon had Dean Harrison, who was born in France. Dean Harrison would learn the French language before she learned English, although it wasn’t long after.

At the age of two, she and her parents moved to the United States, near the Bay area. But they always kept close ties with their French connections. So much so that they would return to France every other summer to visit her mother’s family.

From a young age, Dean Harrison was familiar with UC Berkeley due to her parents often visiting the area. If she only knew back then of the impact she would have on the school. She didn’t always know what she wanted to do with her life, however.

Economics was for her, by all accounts, an accident. It’s no secret that her love for all things international stems from the changing cultures she had to adapt to at an early age. Her ties to both the States and France would be enough for most people to want to revisit that connection.

But changing cultures weren’t the only things that Dean Harrison would grow up with. Her parents followed different religions. It is perhaps for this reason alone that she was always focused growing up. And yet when it came time to choose her major at UC Berkeley, she would find herself exploring different avenues.

Major Changes

As an undergraduate at UC Berkeley, Dean Harrison initially began as a math major. This soon changed to a history major, as she wanted her culturally rich background to be a part of her life going forward.

Dean Harrison absolutely loved Berkeley’s history department. She studied French history and cherished her time learning more about her roots. But when a summer internship program afforded her the opportunity to attend Cal-in-Sacramento, her views on what was important in life changed.

It was here that she would learn about economics. This all came about by chance, as it was the only topic anyone wanted to talk about. And yet the seeds would be planted in the short time she had been exposed to this new view on the world.

The Beginning of Economics

Still finding history just as fascinating as ever, Dean Harrison felt the need to add economics as her second major. And that’s exactly what she did. 

She had the intention of becoming a lawyer in her sights. She took a job working for a law office in Oakland, but she hated it. Fortunately, fate would intervene, and she soon got the chance to work for Kaiser as a health economist during her time applying for law school.

It was here that she would fall in love all over again. This time, instead of with history, it was with the research and data work she was doing for Kaiser. 

To no one’s surprise, Dean Harrison was accepted into law school. She first attended Yale, but soon deferred to Princeton due to them paying her way. From here, two years coursework left her exhausted and burned out.

She knew practicing law was not meant for her. She still wanted to make the world a better place, just in a much different capacity. And so, she dug her heels into economics and never looked back.

The Need for Open Markets

With an area of research on international trade, Dean Harrison’s dissertation would be on the effects that trade policy has on firms and how they behave. She took an interest in the things that firms have to deal with, including competition from globalization.

She is quite interested in the lives of the people working in those firms. But on a much larger scale, she has a keen interest in the global openness of the world.

She is very adamant about the need for access to global markets. In the past 50 years alone, poverty-stricken countries have dug themselves out of poverty thanks to an open, global trading system.

This has allowed Asia, for example, to prosper and thrive. It’s no secret that Dean Harrison wants to see the world reopen sooner rather than later. The more access each market has, the better chance they will have of caring for their own.

And yet, Dean Harrison isn’t blind to the fact that our own domestic economy has to be protected. But in doing so, we have to protect those who don’t benefit from reduced imports. By and large, she maintains that more people will benefit than those who won’t.

When speaking with the OneHaas Podcast, she stated, “If we reduce imports from some countries, that’s got to benefit our population. I would say that it’s true for some parts of the US population.

“But if you add up all the winners and losers, typically the winners are going to outnumber the losers. And so, where we made a huge mistake was in not taking care of our losers. And that’s not just true in trade.”

But one of Dean Harrison’s biggest concerns for lost jobs is the fast-approaching robot factor. It is for this reason that she feels we need to put a hard focus on what’s to come and work to better the lives and economy of those who are affected by this rapid change.

As someone who cares for the planet and the people who live on it, she wants to see the workforce protected from these changes. She continues, “What we really should be thinking about is how [we] train our workforce.

“[We need to] protect them by investing in them through health investments and education investments in order to be able to face the future. That is, to me, the right conversation.”

Dean Harrison’s viewpoint on the world and the way it works is largely due to her time traveling abroad and seeing firsthand the way that markets operate.

Dean Harrison’s Vision for Berkeley

Having taken courses on China and Russia as an undergraduate, she has been fascinated with why some countries thrive and others don’t. It is because of this fascination that she wants to impact the world and help everyone grow.

And since UC Berkeley is at the epicenter of entrepreneurship in America, Dean Harrison’s vision for the school is simple, yet compelling. When tasked with summarizing her vision, she answers with just three words: “Innovation, inclusion, and sustainability.”

Her goal is to deepen the school’s offerings in academia and really take full advantage of what they can do for the world. She would like to see even more courses offered in addition to more professors. 

Dean Harrison doesn’t feel that Berkeley or Hass is as inclusive or diverse as other parts of California. A lot of work has been done to change that, with her leading the charge. 

When you look at Dean Harrison’s educational background and her time spent lecturing, it’s not surprising to see her working so diligently to employ her vision.

The Need for Change

Dean Harrison recognizes Berkeley’s strong law school, as well as its great public policy. If these can be leveraged the right way, she feels that Berkeley will be on the right path to sustainability. But it’s important that business and other programs become integrated in the school.

This will allow for an even greater focus on sustainability. Just in the last year, Dean Harrison has improved the joint degree program with engineering. And even with the looming pandemic, she is driven to provide students with the best educational experience possible.

She is continually working to deliver an engaging program for students that innovates in new and exciting ways. 

Dean Harrison is currently working on ways to increase not only diversity, but the faculty, as well. Just last fall, Berkeley’s admissions criteria changed for the full-time MBA program.  

In doing this, it has placed a greater value on diversity in student applicants’ backgrounds. This is just one small step toward her vision for the school. When completed, Berkeley will better off with this vision fully implemented.

A Call to Action

Dean Harrison’s passion for the betterment of both Berkeley and the world are evident in her teachings and lectures. She is an extraordinary woman taking on extraordinary goals. What did you learn while reading about her and her storied background?

Do you have any relatable experiences you would like to share? Feel free to leave a comment; we would love to hear your feedback!

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