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DECEMBER 2003
Volume 96, Issue 2
 

GRAPHIC:  About AlumniCATCH UP WITH...

Gerardo della paolera, AM’85, PhD’88

In 1990 Gerardo della Paolera, AM’85, PhD’88, was named the first president of Universidad Torcuato Di Tella, a small university in his native Argentina. In a country where Chicago-trained economists are well-known—often called simply “Chicago Boys”—della Paolera, then just 30, had an ambitious plan: create an elite, private university, modeled after Chicago, in Buenos Aires. During his first months as president, the economic historian read everything he could find about his alma mater—from departmental teaching manuals to essays on the University's intellectual history. “Thomas Goodspeed's A History of the University of Chicago,” says della Paolera, “was like a bible to me.” With Chicago as his blueprint, della Paolera built Di Tella into what is widely considered Latin America’s leading university in its fields (social science, business, and law). In September 2002 della Paolera undertook a new challenge: he’s the 11th—and first non-American—president of the American University of Paris (AUP).

Why did you choose to model Di Tella after the U of C?
I had an extraordinary educational and intellectual experience as a student at Chicago. Throughout my time there I was wondering, Why can’t my country have a university like this? Having graduated from an Argentine university, Chicago was an epiphany. Argentine universities are based on the European model—they have large, formal classrooms; there’s nothing like an economics department workshop. Argentine universities are very hierarchical but not meritocratic. So when I had this opportunity to create a university in Argentina, I wanted to create a culture that was passionate about ideas, a place that blended teaching and research to serve both the needs of scholarship and education and, perhaps most importantly, a university with an incentive structure that rewarded performance. Chicago was the obvious model.

The American University of Paris, like Di Tella, is one of a few private universities in a nation dominated by publicly financed universities. Why are there so few private universities in France?
In France, like many countries in continental Europe, there’s a tradition: public universities supply higher education. Moreover, the labor-tax structure is not naturally conducive to a private university. For every euro we pay in salary, we pay the French government 59 cents in taxes. In Argentina, by contrast, it was only about 33 cents, and in the United States it’s only between 11 and 15 cents per dollar. So this obviously presents a challenge in a human-capital intensive field like higher education. The other major challenge is in implementing a merit-based pay structure. The pay scale at AUP is currently like that of the French civil service; pay is based on seniority. The idea of changing this pay structure—to one which responds to the signals of the academic market—has been met with resistance.

What’s your top goal as president of the American University of Paris?
When I first started here people asked me when we would get a new building on campus. The staff are certainly justified in their complaints about infrastructure. But I said to them, “We’ll get a new building when we have 30 first-rate scholars.”

AUP has tremendous potential. We have an incredibly desirable location—the opportunity to live and work at a small liberal-arts college in Paris is obviously a huge draw for faculty and students. What AUP lacks, though, is the investment to support scholarly activities. Most faculty are extremely loaded with teaching courses, and they can’t allocate enough time to do research and attend workshops. The road to improving AUP begins, I firmly believe, with world-class scholarship. I’ve done a cost-benefit analysis, and I really believe that—if we get the necessary capital—AUP has the ingredients to become a smaller version of the London School of Economics, a university that top American scholars will consider as a site in Europe to base their research.—Josh Schonwald



 


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