Oliver Hart.

Kris Snibbe/Harvard file photo

Campus & Community

Oliver Hart named University Professor

4 min read

Nobel-laureate economics leader awarded highest faculty honor

Oliver Hart, the Andrew E. Furer Professor of Economics at Harvard University and joint recipient of the 2016 Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, has been appointed a University Professor, Harvard’s highest faculty honor.

His appointment as the Lewis P. and Linda L. Geyser University Professor began Jan. 1.

A member of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) since 1993, Hart has made important contributions to pure and applied economic theory, especially in areas such as contract theory, corporate finance, the theory of the firm, and law and economics. His scholarship has generated insights into central economic problems and led to the development of theoretical tools adopted and applied in a range of related fields including finance, government, and law. The author of “Firms, Contracts, and Financial Structure” (1995), he has published scores of articles, book chapters, and papers, and he has lectured at numerous institutions of higher education including Oxford, Chicago, and Yale.

In awarding him a prize, the Nobel committee pointed to his contributions to contract theory. His work on incomplete contracts contributed much to the general understanding of how companies are governed and how laws and institutions are designed. Contracts cannot account for every eventuality, and Hart determined that the allocation of authority to make decisions in different circumstances powerfully affects outcomes. The fundamental principles he developed help to reveal the role of contracts in generating better or worse outcomes, and his scholarship has had wide-ranging implications for organizations and for society.

“Oliver Hart is a brilliant scholar whose ideas have not only deepened our knowledge of economic theory but also driven its application in a range of contexts,” said President Larry Bacow. “His crossings of intellectual boundaries are animated by a deep sense of adventure and possibility, and he brings the same qualities to his teaching and to his service to the University. I’m pleased to acknowledge and celebrate his many contributions to our community, to the academy, and to the world.”

“I am very honored and excited to be named the Geyser University Professor,” Hart said. “During my over 25 years at Harvard I have benefited enormously from interactions across the University, particularly with the Law School, and I am looking forward to exploring new possibilities for collaboration.” 

Born in London, Hart studied mathematics at the University of Cambridge and received his B.A. in 1969. He then earned an M.A. in economics from Warwick University in 1972 and a Ph.D. in economics from Princeton University in 1974. After a year as a lecturer at the University of Essex, he served from 1975 to 1981 as an assistant lecturer and then lecturer at Cambridge, including a one-semester appointment as a visiting senior lecturer at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. From 1981 to 1985, he served as professor of economics at the London School of Economics (LSE), including a one-year appointment as a visiting professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). From 1985 to 1993, he served as professor of economics at MIT, including a visiting professorship at LSE and one-year terms as a visiting scholar at Harvard Law School and as a Marvin Bower Fellow at Harvard Business School. He went on to join the FAS, where he served as chair of the Department of Economics from 2000 to 2003. He has also served as the John M. Olin Visiting Professor of Law and Economics at Harvard Law School and Centennial Visiting Professor at LSE, among other positions.

Past vice president of the American Economic Association, past president of the American Law and Economics Association, and past chair of the governance committee of the Econometric Society, he has also served on numerous advisory and editorial boards. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences,  the British Academy, the Econometric Society, and the American Finance Association, a Distinguished Fellow of the American Economic Association, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, among other professional associations, and he has been recognized with several honorary degrees from institutions across Europe.

The University Professorships were launched in 1935 to recognize individuals of distinction whose work on the frontiers of knowledge crosses the traditional boundaries of academic disciplines. Hart succeeds the eminent sociologist William Julius Wilson, who retired in September 2019, as the Geyser University Professor.