William D. Ferguson
Professor of Economics
Gertrude B. Austin Professor of Economics
The chair was created in 1963 by Gertrude Bishop Phillips (’09) Austin and Charles Burgess Austin, who was Instructor in Economics at Grinnell in 1910 and 1911. The previous holder of the chair was Bradley Bateman.
Professor Ferguson, a member of the Grinnell class of 1975 majoring in history, returned to Grinnell College in 1989 as Assistant Professor of Economics, upon finishing his Ph.D. at the University of Massachusetts–Amherst and following one semester as a visiting assistant professor at Williams College. He was promoted to associate professor in 1995 and to the rank of full professor in 2005.
His recent scholarly work has been on the cutting edge of economic theory, bringing to bear the insights of game theory and other analytical tools to address contemporary problems such as the persistence of gender discrimination, that classical economic theory declares should not occur, but which somehow manifestly persist in society. This work grows out of his previous scholarship in labor economics. Department colleagues note that most liberal arts colleges do not have anyone on the faculty who publishes in pure theory, much less one whose work has as its hallmark the ability to generate new theoretical models which can elucidate complex empirical problems. The most recent fruit of this scholarly activity is a book forthcoming from Stanford University Press with the working title Collective Action and Exchange: A Game Theoretic Approach to Contemporary Political Economy.
The word most frequently used to describe Professor Ferguson’s teaching is “passionate.” Students acknowledge how hard he works to ensure they understand the course material, while holding them to a high standard of preparation. His colleagues believe that his effectiveness as a teacher is a key to the success of the department as a whole. He has also done valuable curricular work for the department, for example by developing a new course in game theory, based on his scholarly research.
Professor Ferguson served as chair of the economics department from 1997 through 1999. He has twice been Chair of the Social Studies Division. He was an early director and chair of the Grinnell-in-Washington program, for which he developed much of the curriculum, in addition to arranging and supervising internships. He currently serves as chair of the Policy Studies Concentration, which he helped to develop based on his work with Grinnell-in-Washington. He has served as a member of the Faculty Executive Council and on virtually all major faculty committees. Service on many selection committees for student awards and fellowships reflect his dedication to seeing new generations of Grinnellians dedicate their skills and talents to the service of others. In addition to his extensive service within department and concentration, he has been active in leading the political economy reading group, which brings together anthropologists, economists, historians, and political scientists in a lively exchange of ideas.