Chances and Choices
My Years at Indiana University
“Chances and Choices” probably sums up anyone’s life—it does mine. IU Economics gave me the chance to become who I am today—Professor Emeritus at one of nation’s premiere academic institutions, Georgetown University.
It was back in 1962 when I received my acceptance letter to come to IU. I could not believe my eyes, but I was too excited to think of anything else at the time. I prepared, packed up, booked my PanAm ticket to New York, and left. I arrived in New York and promptly booked my Greyhound bus ticket to Bloomington. I met with Taulman Miller, Economics Department Chair, who prepared my course schedule and wished me good luck with a warm, strong handshake.
I went to my first class after spending a week at the University Infirmary. Weak and exhausted, I found myself no match for the ongoing academic discussions. It all looked surreal to me. I started to doubt my chances and choices. But soon I remembered my father’s advice: “You reap what you sow.” So, I chose to sow—and sow hard. Before long, I established myself as a serious contender for the highest academic degree. But, it wasn’t over until it was over. I finished IU after completing my course work and field exams but, before my dissertation—a choice that nearly ruined all of my chances. The rule then, as I recall, was to finish and defend one’s dissertation within five years after the field exams, or else. Well, easier said than done with a young family and while working full time. I almost ended up with an ABD (All But Dissertation) instead of a PhD! But, it wasn’t over till it was over. My dissertation adviser was none other than the Great Franz Gehrels, who was my mentor in international trade theory. His influence on me, my thinking, and academic career are difficult to overestimate. His rigor and deep analytical instincts made me to want to be just like him—which I could never be. Anyway, he pushed me hard to finish and defend my dissertation, which I did on May 21, 1969—just by the time my 5-year deadline was about to expire. Oooh!
There were other luminaries in the Department, of course. Standouts among them were Henry Oliver, Samuel Loescher, and James Witte. Professor Oliver was exceptional for rigor. Nothing was ever rigorous enough for him. Professor Loescher was the standard bearer for equity and social justice. For him, economics was, after all, for bringing about social justice to help the underserved and underrepresented. Professor Witte made a laughing-stock of bureaucrats and politicians who advocated policies out of sheer ignorance. But, a unique highlight while I was at Indiana was interacting with a world-renowned visiting professor by the name of Harry G. Johnson who was actually a member of the famed Milton Friedman’s school of monetary economics at the University of Chicago. He would travel to Bloomington every Friday to conduct a graduate seminar in international economics and would start filling the board with mathematical equations and kept on, without stopping. He assumed that we graduate students were up to date on the latest journal articles—but that was not the case, of course. And many of us, including me, were lost, and I mean totally lost, in his classes. So many memories from those formative years!
While laboring in Washington, D.C. on my PhD dissertation, by happenstance I connected with the late Harry Guenther, an IU graduate (D.B.A.), who at the time was Dean of the business school at Georgetown. He kindly offered me a position on the faculty—and I made the choice to take advantage of this incredible chance. The rest is history, as they say.
I am eternally grateful to Indiana University for the chance to come to the U.S. and learn from so many accomplished faculty. As forks in the road presented themselves along the way, I made many choices, with expert faculty guidance and support. My career would not be what it is today without Indiana University. Chances and choices.
Editor’s note: Professor Fekrat fulfilled a wish on his bucket list when he returned to Bloomington in October 2022 to visit the IU campus and the Department of Economics.