Austan Goolsbee, President Barack Obama’s chief economist, is resigning from the administration and returning to the University of Chicago, the White House announced.
Goolsbee, 41, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers since September, has been on leave from his post as an economics professor at the university’s Booth School of Business while working for Obama. He will be back in Chicago for the start of the school year, the White House said. No replacement was named.
In a statement, the president called Goolsbee “one of America’s great economic thinkers.”
Goolsbee is a longtime adviser to Obama, starting with his run for the U.S. Senate from Illinois in 2004 through the 2008 presidential campaign. Goolsbee was confirmed as a member of the CEA in March 2009 and was often the administration’s spokesman on economic policy.
With the release of major economic news — such as last week’s Labor Department report showing that employers added fewer jobs than forecast for May and the unemployment rate rose to 9.1 percent — it is Goolsbee who has made the rounds of television news programs to frame the White House argument.
“We should never read too much into any one month’s report,” he said in an interview on Bloomberg Television a little more than an hour after the jobs report was released.
“He has been very visible from day one,” even when he was deputy at the CEA, said Keith Hennessey, director of the National Economic Council under President George W. Bush.
With Goolsbee’s departure, Obama is losing a key member of his economic team who has deep knowledge of the underpinnings of the president’s policies, Hennessey said.
“That’s a valuable thing to lose,” he said. “That intellectual consistency, knowing what happened the last time the question came up a year ago or four years ago, is important.”
Three top Obama economic advisers have already departed. At the CEA, Goolsbee was named chairman to replace Christina Romer, who returned to teaching at the University of California at Berkeley last September. National Economic Council Director Lawrence Summers and Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag also left the administration last year; Summers returned to Harvard University and Orszag is now vice chairman of global banking at Citigroup Inc.
The University of Chicago, according to its faculty guide, allows tenured professors a one-year leave and requires them to petition for additional time away from the university, which has ties to more than 80 Nobel laureates. Goolsbee, whom Obama nominated as CEA deputy at the start of his term, has already received dispensations from the university and is now in his third year of leave.
A university spokesman, Jeremy Manier, declined to comment on an individual professor’s petitions.
Some universities are more lenient than others in requiring that their professors return to teaching duties. Stanford University allowed former national security adviser and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to return to her teaching post after eight years in the George W. Bush administration.
“It varies by institution,” said Cecilia Rouse, who served with Goolsbee on the CEA before returning to Princeton University in February. “The longer you’re gone, the less you’re doing the core work that you were hired to do.”
A return to academia might translate into a salary increase for Goolsbee, who has three children. In his last year at Chicago, he earned $465,000, according to federal financial disclosure reports. Goolsbee’s salary as CEA chairman is $191,300 a year.
Goolsbee earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in economics from Yale University and received his Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, according to the University of Chicago’s website. He joined the Booth School of Business, where he has focused on the rise of Internet commerce, government policy and taxes, in 1995.
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