New Tippie economics department executive officer looks to rebuild program

David J. Cooper, the new departmental executive officer for the economics department at the Tippie College of Business, will look to simplify the economics major and focus on recruitment.


Daniel McGregor-Huyer

Professor of Economics and Economics Department Officer David Cooper poses for a portrait on Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021.

Ryan Hansen, News Reporter

The new head of the University of Iowa Tippie College of Business Department of Economics is looking to revitalize and return the program to its previous reputation.

Newly selected Departmental Executive Officer David J. Cooper said he believes redesigning the major will help solve faculty appointments and student enrollment problems.

“Rebuilding the faculty will help make the undergraduate major more attractive,” Cooper said. “Having more people means we can offer a fuller spectrum of electives [and] offer more exciting things.”

Cooper said his position allows him to dedicate a lot of time toward building the department. He realizes he’s able to make a large and lasting impact for the UI economics program in what could be the last position he ever holds, he said.

“You reach a point where you say — not what’s the next mountain to climb, but what’s, maybe, the last mountain to climb,” Cooper said. “You start to realize at some point in time, the sand is running out of the hourglass, this is a big job, and it’s going to take like 10 years to do.”

Thomas Rietz, departmental executive officer of the finance department at the college of business, served as head of the search committee that hired Cooper in 2021. Cooper started his role in August.

“He has got great leadership experience that he brings to the job,” Rietz said. “He is also [a] very level-headed, calm, rational decision-maker.”

Rietz said Cooper’s journal of work on experimental economics and his personality made him a great candidate for the position.

“I think he has the backing and support of the faculty, and he has the opportunity to build trust as a leader to create a vision for the future of the department that the members of the department buy into,” Rietz said.

Cooper said his vision will begin with an alumni workshop on Nov. 10. The alumni panel was crafted to represent the different career paths available to students with an economics degree to draw more students to the major, Cooper said.

“We wanted it just to be diverse,” Cooper said. “You have somebody who is a corporate executive, somebody who is working for the state department, somebody who is a lawyer.”

Cooper previously worked at Florida State University. His research and teaching focus on the field of experimental economics, a sector of behavioral economics that looks at how people make decisions and how that relates to economic decision making.

He said he was brought to the UI because of the storied history of the economics department and the pioneering work it did in his field of experimental economics. Cooper said the opportunity to play a large part in returning the economics department to its former glory was too big to pass up.

“This is a department with a really great history,” Cooper said. “What I was brought in to do, largely, was to take a leadership role in helping to rebuild the department of economics at the University of Iowa, and for me, it was just a very exciting opportunity.”

A large barrier to departmental growth has been the confusing and unclear construction of the economics major, Cooper said. He said it can be very confusing how the classes fit together on a certain track, or why students should choose one track over another.

Cooper said he finds it confusing himself, despite years of experience.

“If you think about some 18-year-old person who’s in their first year of college, it had to be super confusing,” Cooper said.

Tippie College of Business Dean Amy Kristof-Brown said Cooper’s prior academic and administrative history makes him a good fit for the leadership position, and his presence adds to the prestige of the program.

She said recruiting workshops like the ones Cooper is investing in help demonstrate the various forms a student’s degree can take.

“Economics is a really interesting degree at the University of Iowa,” Kristof-Brown said. “Being an economics major is really open to almost everyone on this campus, and I think this could be a great opportunity for people to take a look.”