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U-Md. Is Basking In Professor's Glory

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By Nick Anderson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 11, 2005

For Thomas C. Schelling, winning the Nobel Prize in economics yesterday capped a half-century of study of the dynamics of relations between and among people and nations.

But for the University of Maryland, the honor Schelling won for game-theory analysis also reflected the rising prestige of the College Park campus that he has called home for the past 15 years.

Now the university has two Nobel laureates, distinguished professor William Phillips, who won the physics prize in 1997, and emeritus distinguished professor Schelling, who retired in 2003.

William W. Destler, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost, said Maryland's flagship public university is now known for more than the physics department that put it on the national academic map.

The university has become a "powerhouse in social sciences and policy in recent years," Destler said before a celebratory news conference at the campus alumni center. Schelling's award, he said, is "confirmation of the progress we've been making."

Mahlon R. Straszheim, a University of Maryland economist, helped bring Schelling to College Park in 1990 after the future laureate had spent most of his academic career at Harvard University. Straszheim said the prize boosted the university's economics department and its College of Behavioral and Social Sciences. "For our entire college, it gives us visibility," he said. "It's a signal."

Schelling, who shared the prize with Robert J. Aumann of Hebrew University in Jerusalem, said he chose to settle at the university, in part, for its proximity to Washington. He is an expert in such subjects as nuclear deterrence and has participated in post-Sept. 11 policy discussions about terrorist threats.

University officials cited rankings in U.S. News and World Report that show a number of departments and programs have become nationally recognized. This year, the magazine ranked the university 55th nationally and 18th among public institutions.

Such recognition has come even though budget troubles have beset Maryland's public universities in recent years, fueling tuition increases and concerns about the state's commitment to higher education.

Destler said, however, that private donations have risen sharply -- to about $150 million in the 2004-05 academic year. That was, he said, nearly double the $80 million raised the previous year. He said having two Nobel laureates on the faculty could help the university raise more money and attract top students and researchers.

At minimum, the prizewinners enhance the university's academic reputation. Juan Ramon Jimenez, who taught at the university from 1948 to 1951, won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1956.

"For major research universities, having Nobel prizewinners on the faculty is a sign they've arrived," said Ben Wildavsky, education editor for U.S. News and World Report. "Universities love to have them around."

Sometimes universities claim credit for Nobel laureates even when they're not around. The University of Virginia -- second nationally among public universities in the magazine rankings -- noted that Barry J. Marshall, a winner of this year's Nobel Prize in medicine for his research on ulcers and gastrointestinal disease, was a member of its faculty. True enough. But Marshall also is on the faculty of the University of Western Australia and is now there, not in Charlottesville.

Kathleen Valenzi, a University of Virginia spokeswoman, said Marshall was the only Nobel laureate currently associated with the university. College Park, she said, was entitled to celebrate having two. "Bragging rights," Valenzi said. "We'd be doing the same thing if we could."


© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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