Rice University President David Leebron and Provost George McLendon today announced the appointment of renowned economist Antonio Merlo as chair of Rice University’s Department of Economics and director of the Rice Economics Initiative, a new multiyear plan to enhance economics research and teaching at Rice. Merlo has also been named the George A. Peterkin Professor of Economics. The appointments are effective July 1.
“I am delighted that we have attracted someone of Antonio’s intellect, energy and accomplishment to fulfill these critical leadership roles at Rice,” Leebron said. “Our students are more interested than ever in the study of economics, and economics research is critical to making good and effective policy choices. Through this appointment and those that will follow, we intend to build an economics department of the highest quality and impact.”
“Antonio is a superb scholar,” McLendon said. “Among the leaders in the field of political economy, he is also a visionary leader who has already galvanized economists within and beyond Rice around the economics initiative.”
Merlo is a political economist who currently serves as director for the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Institute for Economic Research and the Lawrence R. Klein Professor of Economics, a professorship named for the late Nobel laureate economist and longtime Penn professor.
“I’m absolutely thrilled,” Merlo said of the opportunity to lead the new initiative, which is intended to create an environment for research and teaching that will enhance Rice’s role as one of the leading institutions in the world for the study of economics.
“Economics is central to what we do as human beings,” Merlo said. “Regardless of profession, it plays a critical role in daily life. And the vision for this initiative is beyond hiring new faculty and a new chair – it’s the notion of reconceiving what it means to be a forum for an exchange of ideas, redefining the culture of what economics means and how it relates not to just the individual members of one department, but the whole university.”
A native of Italy, Merlo describes himself as a firm believer in team building, something instilled in him during his youth as a member of Italy’s national water polo program. He said it’s something that he has embraced throughout his education and career. He served as head coach of Penn’s men’s water polo team, which in 2013 won the Ivy League Collegiate Club Championship and placed fifth at the National Collegiate Club Championship.
“The whole notion of allowing a team or institution to achieve its full potential is not just about recruiting the best athletes, but also the best team, who are capable of working together effectively,” Merlo said. “It’s the same in sports as it is in academic departments. We need people who complement each other, and who can achieve much more together than working individually. That’s the spirit of what I intend to accomplish at Rice.”
Merlo said he is also looking forward to the opportunity to collaborate with different departments, centers and institutes on campus, and to make Rice a destination for visiting scholars and major events to generate excitement about the field of economics.
“The goal is to establish Rice as one of the leading places where economic science is done and to elevate the level of discourse and intensity and quality of the engagement that people are going to have,” he said.
Lyn Ragsdale, dean of the School of Social Sciences, is enthusiastic about welcoming Merlo to Rice.
“Antonio Merlo is one of the world’s most renowned economists,” Ragsdale said. “He will bring his intellectual strength, leadership skills and unbounded energy to the Rice Department of Economics.”
The first member of his family to attend college, Merlo graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in economics from Italy’s Bocconi University and received a Ph.D. in economics from New York University. Before joining the economics faculty at the University of Pennsylvania in 2000, Merlo taught at the University of Minnesota and New York University; he has held numerous visiting positions throughout the U.S. and Europe.
Merlo has published numerous articles in the profession’s leading journals, including the American Economic Review, Econometrica, the Journal of Political Economy and the Journal of Economic Theory. He is an elected fellow of the Econometric Society. He also serves as a research fellow of the Center for Economic and Policy Research and the Center for Economic Studies and Ifo Institute for Economic Research and a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Merlo’s wife, Gia, will also be joining the Rice community. Gia Merlo is a psychiatrist who completed her training at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and later received an executive MBA from Temple University. She will serve as managing director of Rice’s Entrepreneurship Initiative and as a Rice liaison with the Texas Medical Center.
The Merlos have two daughters: Monisha, a brand strategist in New York City, and Martina, a junior at the University of Pennsylvania.
Merlo said both he and his wife are “genuinely enthusiastic” to be joining the Rice community.
“I am grateful to be given this historic opportunity to build something unique in the field that I love,” Merlo said.