Robert T. Michael

Robert T. Michael, the Eliakim Hastings Moore Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy, who served as the school’s founding dean, has been named the Norman Maclean Faculty Award winner for 2020.

The award recognizes extraordinary contributions to teaching and student life by emeritus or very senior faculty. Established in 1997, the award is named in honor of Professor Norman Maclean, PhD’40, the critically acclaimed author of A River Runs Through It who taught at UChicago for 40 years.

As the founding dean of Harris, serving from 1989 to 1994 and 1998 to 2002, Michael’s leadership and advocacy were crucial to the school’s formation and early growth.  

“Bob’s vision guides the school to this day, helping us champion evidence-based policy making,” said Dean Katherine Baicker, discussing Michael’s legacy in her remarks at the awards ceremony. “Generations of students have benefited from Bob’s influence.”

Michael was honored during the virtual 2020 Alumni Awards Ceremony, which was hosted by the UChicago Alumni Board. The virtual event celebrated outstanding members of the UChicago community, including alumni and faculty.

A popular professor with courses described as “life-changing,” Michael has taught more than 50 courses and thousands of students during his 40 years at the University and is lauded for the continuing impact he has made – from the Committee on Public Policy Studies, to the beginnings of the Harris School of Public Policy, to today. Still actively involved as a professor emeritus, Michael has taught courses on economic theory; economics of child and family policy; poverty, inequality and education; and leadership in Chicago.

“Bob Michael is hands-down the best professor I’ve had at UChicago,” said one student evaluation of a Bob Michael course. A student favorite, Harris alumni selected him to deliver the keynote at a Harris Connect Weekend 2018, where he explored how the school’s commitment to evidence-based policy and its belief that policymaking must span the private and nonprofit sectors, as well as government, helped to set it apart in its early years – a commitment that flows through to today. 

A renowned scholar, Michael’s research examines issues that include parental investment in children, and on adolescent and adult sexual behavior in the United States. He has written on the causes of divorce; the reasons for the growth of one-person households; the impact of inflation on families; the measurement of poverty; the consequences of the rise in women’s employment for the family, especially children; teenage fertility; sexually transmitted disease; and abortion.

In addition to his primary scholarship, Michael has worked at National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago, where he served as CEO for five years as well as the project director of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY) Program. Michael helped to design and conduct the Children of the NLSY, the NLSY97, and the Children of the National Child Development Study (NCDS) in Great Britain. The longitudinal studies provide remarkable insight into childhood development and the challenges facing youth. 

Michael was one of three who designed and published extensively using the “National Health and Social Life Survey,” America’s first national probability sample survey of adult sexual behaviors. He chaired the National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council Panel on Poverty and Family Assistance, which recommended major changes in the official measure of poverty in the United States.

“Bob Michael is a fixture at Harris, continuing to make time to mentor students and faculty alike,” Baicker added. “He is a vital part of the lifeblood of Harris, and he is richly deserving of the Norman Maclean Faculty Award.”