The Economics Department is launching the Professor Wayne Gray Fund as one of the University’s longtime faculty members prepares to retire in 2025. Meanwhile, Gray’s students and colleagues have begun recalling the economics professor’s steadfast devotion to teaching, service, and research in his four decades at Clark.
“The thing that sets Professor Gray apart is his unwavering commitment to ensuring that his students learn,” says Dawn Chinagorom-Abiakalam ’24, who is currently taking Gray’s economics honors class, which he has taught for two decades. “He likes to joke and say that he’s been at Clark forever, and honestly, I think we’re all better off for it. He makes this community a better place.”
Michael Endale, Ph.D. ’23, who had Gray as his dissertation advisor, describes Gray as “a no-nonsense professor. He sets a quite high standard for everyone — including himself — and makes sure you are up to it. But at the same time, he is fair, and he cares about you. He has the patience to guide you through the challenges.”
Junfu Zhang, professor and chair of the Economics Department, appreciates that he can call upon Gray, who twice served as department chair, at any time for advice. “I’m not exaggerating. He’s one of the nicest persons I have ever met in my whole life,” Zhang says.
Educated at Dartmouth and Harvard, Gray came to Clark in 1984, and has held the John T. Croteau Endowed Chair in Economics since 2009. He won the Outstanding Graduate Teaching Award in 2016 and the Outstanding Graduate Mentoring/Advising Award in 2017.
Gray’s research interests include environmental economics, productivity, and regulatory economics. Many of his nearly 40 journal articles have focused on the economic costs and benefits of government regulation, particularly regulation of environmental and worker health and safety hazards. His research has been funded by numerous agencies, including the National Science Foundation and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and he’s served on EPA’s Environmental Economics Advisory Committee. Since 1978, he has been affiliated with the National Bureau of Economic Research and has served since 1993 as the executive director of the Boston Research Data Center, a partnership of NBER with the U.S. Census Bureau.
Around Clark and in the field of economics, Gray is known as a meticulous researcher with a penchant and love for statistics. He collects and analyzes data for the Faculty Compensation Committee and teaches the Applied Econometrics course, taken by all Ph.D. students in economics.
For that reason, many Ph.D. students ask him to serve on dissertation committees, and Zhang believes Gray may have set a Clark record: By the time he retires, he will have served on more than 150 dissertation committees, helping guide 85 percent of economics Ph.D. students’ most significant bodies of work.
Gray simply acknowledges that he’s involved in so many dissertation committees because many doctoral students are pursuing careers where economics research informs policymaking, and they must rely heavily on econometrics.
“That shows how important statistics are,” Gray says. “You understand how the world works by seeing data and how it’s working and combining that with economic theory to conduct a careful statistical analysis. Nearly all of our dissertations are fundamentally about that sort of applied research.
“If you aren’t able to make a connection to data in the real world,” he adds, “then it’s going to be fairly hard to get most people excited about changes in policy.”
“If you aren’t able to make a connection to data in the real world, then it’s going to be fairly hard to get most people excited about changes in policy.”
— Professor Wayne Gray
Gray isn’t always so serious, however. His students and colleagues note he has a fun side, too, according to Cindy Rice, the department’s managerial secretary since 1999.
For years, Gray and his wife, Liz, have taken their daughter and son on a trip to Disney World during fall break; the vacation has expanded to include their daughter’s husband, two granddaughters, and their son’s girlfriend. Also each fall, the couple return to Dartmouth College, where they first met, for the homecoming football game. Gray joins other alumni of the college’s marching band on the field; this year, he played his baritone horn in the pouring rain.
Gray also has played the baritone horn during TubaChristmas, a music concert held in cities worldwide around the holidays, and at church, where he sings in the choir, according to Rice.
Around Clark, Gray is known as an avid squash player who wouldn’t miss a scheduled match.
“He’s just a wonderful guy. He’s going to leave a big hole,” Rice says.
Gray is on sabbatical next spring, then returns for one final year of teaching. After that, he looks forward to continue working at the Boston Research Center, pursuing research, and traveling to Europe — and, of course, Disney World.
“I feel sorry for future Clark economics Ph.D. students who may not have the opportunity to learn from and work with this great man,” Endale says.