February 14, 2020

As a teenager growing up in the Oak Cliff area of Dallas, Dr. James M. Griffin became fascinated with economics. “I was impressed with the kinds of questions that economists were asking, and the power of economics to find answers,” said the senior professor of economics and public policy at Texas A&M University’s Bush School of Government and Public Service.

That passion led him to earn two degrees in economics, study with world-class economists and pursue a 38-year career at Texas A&M analyzing some of the most important questions in the field of energy policy.

Now in his final semester as a faculty member, Griffin is giving back by committing $500,000 toward two endowed professorships in energy policy and health policy at the Bush School. His gift includes a two-for-one matching opportunity to incentivize other donors to give toward the $1.5 million goal to fund the two professorships, with the matching donor having naming rights.

Dr. James M. Griffin, senior professor of economics and public policy at the Bush School of Government and Public Service, has committed $500,000 toward two endowed professorships that will focus on two of the century’s most pressing issues—health policy and energy policy.

Importance of Education

Griffin’s interest in education was sparked by his parents, neither of whom attended college. Nevertheless, dinner table conversations frequently emphasized the importance of education—a practice continued at his dinner table, resulting in his three children all holding advanced degrees.

Griffin’s older brother was the first to attend college, enrolling at Texas A&M, while Griffin attended Southern Methodist University. His decision proved fruitful when the aspiring scholar was encouraged by his professors to apply to the doctoral program at the University of Pennsylvania, one of the nation’s top-ranked schools in economics. He was accepted and had the opportunity to take classes with three Nobel Laureate economists.

After earning his Ph.D., Griffin worked briefly in the oil industry before joining the University of Houston faculty. A year later, he accepted a position at the University of Pennsylvania, where he remained for five years before returning to the University of Houston as a full professor.

A Home in College Station

A friend who was chairman of Texas A&M’s economics faculty reached out to Griffin when a position became available. “The economics department here was the best in Texas, and I was thrilled to be part of it,” said Griffin, who joined Texas A&M in 1982 and focused much of his research on the energy industry during a time of extreme volatility and increased globalization.

In 2002, Griffin was approached by Dr. Robert Gates, who was then serving as the Bush School’s dean, about joining the young but promising school. This personalized recruitment by Dean Gates was indicative of Griffin’s stature as a top energy economist.

As part of the transition, Griffin (known by Bush School students as Dr. G) was named the Bob Bullock Chair in Public Policy and Finance, which he has held during his 17-year tenure at the school. This announcement made a positive and resounding statement about not only the quality of Griffin’s academic work but also the role he wanted to play at the Bush School. “As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more interested in policy issues and less interested in high-brow mathematical work on economics,” he said. “It was a good fit.”

Griffin’s influence in the Bush School grew when he was named founding director of the Mosbacher Institute for Trade, Economics and Public Policy. Established in 2009 upon the request of President George H.W. Bush to honor Robert A. Mosbacher Sr., who served as the U.S. Secretary of Commerce during Bush’s presidency, the institute’s work addresses the most pressing economic challenges confronting the United States and world economies. The institute’s three core programs include: global markets and trade; energy; and governance and public services.

Starting the Next Chapter

Griffin remains committed to using economics to inform the pressing policy issues of the day and feels that the Bush School needs to play a major role in fashioning workable policy solutions in two key areas—health policy and energy policy Therefore, he stipulated that the professorships he is creating will focus on these two areas. “The Bush School needs to have a nationally prominent scholar in these two areas affecting policy,” he said. “Health policy is terribly complex and we’re spending an immense amount of money, so we need to have a voice in helping make the system more efficient. In the energy policy arena, climate change has emerged as huge issue. We have two extremes— climate hysteria and climate change denial. We need to find workable solutions and chart a way forward on one of the most important questions of the day.” 

He also stressed that professorships like the Bullock Chair that he held for almost two decades are critical in maintaining the quality of graduate education. “Over the past 10 years and especially in higher education, there’s been a major emphasis in cutting costs—often at the expense of excellence,” Griffin added. “The administrations at Texas A&M and at other universities are facing ever-increasing restrictions on their budgetary options. The consequence of this is a diminished ability to attract top-flight researchers and educators particularly in graduate education. We are seeing this at Texas A&M and elsewhere in higher education.”

Griffin believes faculty members who can financially afford it should join with alumni and other stakeholders to create professorships and chairs, which are essential to maintaining faculty excellence. “If you want to attract and retain really top-level professors, professorships and chairs are absolutely essential,” he said. “They are a valuable tool in recruiting these individuals in an academic labor market that is very competitive.”

The creation of these types of endowments is especially crucial for the Bush School. “In the Bush School, this is even more important because many of our students end up in government or policymaking areas,” Griffin said. “They need to have exposure to professors who are doing cutting-edge policy-oriented research.”

To learn how you can support endowed chairs or professorships at the Bush School of Government and Public Service, contact Michael Bottiglieri ’89, senior director of development, at (979) 458-8035, (832) 540-1970 or mbottiglieri@txamfoundation.com. You may also contact Ale Rainey ’15, director of development, at (979) 458-8035 or arainey@txamfoundation.com.