David Mustard is intrigued by how economics informs public policy. Students in his Economics of Education course have gone on to win the Rhodes Scholarship and other prestigious awards.
Where did you earn your degrees, and what are your current responsibilities at UGA?
I earned a B.A. from the University of Rochester, an M.Sc. from the University of Edinburgh and a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago.
At UGA, I am a professor in the economics department in the Terry College of Business. I also serve as a senior fellow in the UGA Institute of Higher Education and as an adjunct professor in UGA’s department of public administration and policy.
When did you come to UGA, and what brought you here?
In January 1997, as a Ph.D. student in Chicago, I took a cab to the airport and went through a snow storm on a day when the wind chill was about -20 degrees. The end of the trip was my job interview in Athens, which was much more pleasant than the start of the trip. I have felt at home in Athens since that first visit. I arrived permanently in the fall of 1997. My wife and five children love the university and city and are thankful that we live in such a great place.
What interests you about your field?
I absolutely love being a professor and an economist. However, I never had a long-term plan to be either one. While growing up, I did not know anyone who had a Ph.D., so I never even considered being a professor. And let’s face it; nobody grows up wanting to be an economist!
What motivated me to become an economics major in college continues to motivate my research and teaching—to better understand people and problems of people. As an undergraduate I took an economic history course about the slave trade. At the beginning of the course I considered myself very well informed about slavery. But I quickly realized how little I knew and was amazed by how economics provided insight to better understand the slave trade. Because I considered slavery to be the biggest problem of people—and economics produced some very important contributions in this area—I thought that I needed to learn more about economics.
I also love economics because it gives important insights into public policies, which often have unintended consequences. While a policy’s objective may be good, a law may be written so it produces incentives that undermine the policy’s goals. For example, one of the three main objectives of the HOPE Scholarship was to induce students to work harder in their studies. To promote this end, legislators required that students obtain a 3.0 GPA in high school and maintain that GPA in college. My research with Professor Cornwell, a colleague in the economics department, shows that the 3.0 requirement also gives students an incentive to enroll in fewer classes, withdraw from more classes, complete fewer credit hours and take easier classes, which all undermine the original intent of the program.
What is your favorite course that you have taught, and why?
My favorite class is Economics of Education (honors), which uses economic theory and data analysis to evaluate education policy. In this class, I use peer-reviewed research papers instead of a textbook. Students are expected to read this research, evaluate it and discuss it in class. Students also complete a semester-long group research project, which gives them a sense of how to do research.
I have been blessed by the extraordinarily bright and motivated students who have taken this course. Students in this class have gone on to win the Rhodes Scholarship, Marshall Scholarship, two Fulbright Scholarships, a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship and Jacob K. Javits Graduate Fellowship. Former students are currently enrolled in Ph.D. programs at Chicago, Columbia, Cornell, Duke and Northwestern as well as at highly-ranked law schools.
How does your research or scholarship inspire your teaching?
Great research should inspire great teaching, and I am glad to be at an institution like UGA that encourages this synergy. My main areas of research involve law and economics and education policy, which have informed my teaching in important ways. Before I arrived at UGA, Law and Economics was rarely taught, but now I teach it every semester, and it contains many points of intersection with my research. My research on education led me to create the Economics of Education course, which had never been previously offered at UGA.
What do you hope students gain from their classroom experience with you?
I hope that students learn to think more clearly, present more cogent arguments, present multiple sides of complex issues, articulate testable hypotheses and marshal evidence to test their hypotheses. I also want students to learn how to evaluate arguments, especially in the policy arena, that make inferences from statistical data to inform the efficacy of policies.
What are some highlights of your career at UGA?
Highlights include being named Teacher of the Year for the Terry College of Business (2004) and receiving UGA’s Richard B. Russell Undergraduate Teaching Award (2006) and the J. Hatten Howard III Teaching Award (2006).
Students I have advised have won five Best Paper Awards from the UGA Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities. I have also served on the steering committee of the UGA Christian Faculty Forum for most of my time at UGA.
Beyond the UGA campus, I like to…
…spend time with my wife Elizabeth, our five children whose ages range from 2 to 10 and our dog Glory. We enjoy traveling, learning and athletics. I have run five marathons and about 20 half marathons, but my times are getting slower. So now it is more fun to coach my children whose running, swimming and triathlon times are getting faster!
Community/civic involvement includes….
I regularly coach youth baseball, basketball and soccer. At Faith Presbyterian Church, I am the director of adult Christian education and twice directed Vacation Bible School for about 200 children in our community. I also have been involved with Partners for a Prosperous Athens and the OneAthens initiative to reduce poverty.
Lord of the Rings and the Gospel of Luke.