The Department of Economics received a total of $5 million dollars in grants during fiscal year 2014, most of which was given by Richard Aster, an alumnus who passed away in 2012.

Richard Aster received his Bachelors and Masters degrees at UCSB in economics and later created the Meridian Funds company. The economics department has not yet decided specific areas for allocating the $5 million.

Economics Department manager Kenneth Freeland said the donations from Aster have been cumulatively given to the university through his estate, and the main gift came this past December and consisted of $1.3 million.

“This is coming through in all sort of varying amounts over time,” Freeland said. “They range from about 100k to around 4 million, so we have gotten several distributions and are expecting more. We got one over Christmas break, which is money we didn’t even know about that came in at about 1.3 million.”

According to Freeland, the money will go to an Endowed Chair, to be called the Aster Chair to honor Richard Aster.
“We can hire a very senior, you know, kind of high level, renowned economist to have an Endowed Chair here with the money,” Freeland said.

Vice Chair of the Economics Department Kelly Bedard said donor money affects the campus as a whole and not simply the economics department.

“Donor money is used in a variety of ways on campus broadly — it is not unique to economics — to do a variety of things,” Bedard said. “One thing is to have what are called endowed chairs to attract nationally known scholars and hiring people doing important work in whatever area that we happen to be talking about that is beneficial to the campus and the students.”

Bedard also said department faculty will decide where the money goes.

“We give a lot of thought to how it gets allocated and where we think it would have the benefits and so on,” Bedard said. “And of course it is also in consultation with the Dean of Social Science and the Administrators in Cheadle Hall and so on.”

According to Bedard, economics is among the largest majors at the university and new funds are always welcome.
“We are certainly one of the biggest if not the biggest,” Bedard said. “I think most years we are the biggest, but you know things do fluctuate.”

Economics department Academic Personnel Specialist Anne Ellis said the money can be used to host talks for students, and right now they have three lecture series: the Philip Babcock Lecture Fund, the Herb Kay Lecture and the Carl Snyder Memorial Lecture.

“They all have a different emphasis, so the Babcock one has more of an undergraduate emphasis, so there is a couple undergraduates students who get to choose the speakers so it is more geared towards the undergraduates,” Ellis said. “Herb Kay is more of a business related one, it’s usually a prominent business person, it is not necessary a professor or something, they have a business, and Snyder is usually a very high level economist, so someone famous in the economist world.”

Freeland said the Graduate Student Administration will be able to make improvements to the facilities and give more financial support to the current 107 graduate students.

“Some of our offices are going to get new paint and new carpet — so the Administrative Offices, so the facilities — because the university doesn’t have a lot of money to really make fancy facilities,” Freeland said. “Some of the money is going to go to graduate student support, so we are going to spin off some money that we can use to offer to Ph.D. students and to provide financial support for grad students.”

According to Freeland, it is because of donors such as Aster that undergraduates have a career center that is unlike those of most campuses.

“We have an undergraduate career center, which is unusually unique for campuses. Some schools have new graduate career centers — we actually have an undergraduate career center which focuses on our accounting students because even though we are not a business school, the degree is a professional degree and a lot of our students actually have permanent job offers by the end of their junior year,” Freeland said.

A series of lectures will be funded by Aster’s donations towards public lectures for speakers, students, faculty and staff that are free and open to people in the community.

“The department is doing more public lectures and inviting people in who are business leaders, from alumni who have been very successful and also Nobel Laureates and people who are very famous economists,” Freeland said.