January 20, 2013

Cornell Economics Professor Remembered as ‘Exceptional Friend’

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Friends and colleagues of Prof. Uri Possen, economics, who died on Dec. 12 at Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse, N.Y., remembered him as a kind person and a thoughtful teacher. He was 70 years old.

“He was one of the most gentle people I’ve met in the whole university. I keep thinking about other things to say, but that’s really the first thing that comes to mind: his nature,” Prof. Emeritus Richard Schuler, economics, civil and environmental engineering, said.

Prof. Emeritus Pierre Pestieau, Université de Liège in Belgium — a close friend and colleague of Possen — noted Possen’s impact on not only the field of economics but also his friends and family.

“Cornell and the profession have lost a great scholar; I have lost an exceptional friend,” Pestieau said.

Pestieau and Possen studied at Yale University together and became close when they were both hired by Cornell in 1971 — even collaborating on several papers together, Pestieau said.

Pestieau, who left Cornell in 1976, also noted that, since their first class together in 1977, Possen was “always available” and “highly motivated.”

“He was a great scholar who deliberately chose to devote as much time to his students as to his papers. He managed to be an outstanding teacher and an excellent researcher,” Pestieau said.

Prof. Francesca Molinari, economics, echoed Schuler’s sentiments, saying Possen was extraordinarily kind and dedicated to Cornell’s faculty and students.

“He was an extremely honest and pleasant colleague, and a great asset for the Department of Economics and Cornell University, where he spent his entire career,” Molinari said.

Pestieau added that, even while he was teaching at Cornell, Possen was “terribly helpful” to his students.

“I was always astonished by his unlimited dedication to his students, both undergraduate and graduate,” Pestieau said.

Possen was also dedicated to his colleagues in the economics department, especially when he was chair of the economics department from 2002 to 2008, according to Molinari.

“[Possen] displayed extraordinary leadership, and worked tirelessly to rebuild the junior faculty group in our department,” Molinari said. “He was willing and eager to advise junior faculty members on their research and teaching duties, and was always encouraging during tough times and joyous in moments of success.”

Possen was an expert in public finance and monetary economics, focusing on subjects such as tax evasion and social security, according to a University press release.

Schuler, who knew Possen for over 40 years, said Possen’s work with Pestieau, a public sector economist, showed an important mix of two different fields of economics.

“Those two people working together worked at the interface between macroeconomics, the large picture, and microeconomics, the small picture,” Schuler said.

After joining the faculty in 1971, Possen became an associate professor in 1977 and was then promoted to full professor in 1987, according to a University press release.

Throughout his time at Cornell, Possen was open-minded and “a true scholar,” Schuler said.

“[Possen] was a far more reflective person, trying to understand a wide range of perspectives,” Schuler said.

Possen was born in 1942, and received his bachelors degree in mathematics from the University of Toronto in 1965. He continued at the University of Toronto until he obtained his masters degree in economics in 1967. Possen then went to Yale, where he received his Ph.D. in economics in 1971, according to a University press release.

Possen is survived by his children, Rachel and David, and his wife Rhoda Possen, a senior lecturer in the Department of Romance Studies. Possen was dedicated to his family, Pestieau said.

“I was impressed by his deep attachment to his family. The welfare of his wife Rhoda and of his children, David and Rachel, was clearly a top priority in his values,” Pestieau added.

Molinari noted the grief evoked by Possen’s death, saying “Uri Possen will be deeply missed by all members of our community.”

Original Author: Caroline Flax