Honoring Alice Rivlin: A Distinguished Career in Public Service

Commencement Dinner
Federal Room
Indiana Memorial Union
IU Bloomington
Bloomington, Indiana
December 18, 2015


I am delighted to welcome all of you to this evening of celebration in honor of our distinguished guest, eminent economist Alice Rivlin, who grew up in Bloomington and who has deep connections to Indiana University.

Dr. Rivlin has devoted her life to public service. She was the founding director of the Congressional Budget Office, was the first woman to serve as director of the Office of Management and Budget, and served as vice chair of the Federal Reserve—positions in which she made major contributions to some of the most important economic decisions affecting the United States. She remains a leading and highly respected analyst on issues ranging from monetary policy to the Congressional budget process to reforming our health care system so that it delivers effective care at a sustainable cost.

We will have more formal remarks a little later in the evening.

For now, welcome, please enjoy your meal, and this opportunity to get to know our distinguished guest and tomorrow’s Commencement speaker, Dr. Alice Rivlin.

Welcome and Acknowledgments

I want to thank all of you again for coming this evening.

We are delighted that so many distinguished guests could join us this evening.

Laurie and I are pleased to welcome our Indiana University Trustees. We are joined tonight by:

  • the chair of the trustees, Randy Tobias;
  • vice chair, MaryEllen Bishop, and her husband Michael;
  • Phil Eskew and his wife, Ann;
  • Pat Shoulders; and
  • Anna Williams, our student trustee.

Would you join me in welcoming them?

I am also very pleased to welcome Lee Hamilton, who represented Indiana’s 9th District in the U.S. House of Representatives with great distinction for 34 years, and who has been a longtime colleague of our guest of honor. Lee now serves as a distinguished scholar and professor of practice in IU’s School of Global and International Studies, and was recently honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, our nation’s highest honor. Would you help be welcome Congressman Hamilton?

And Ilya Friedberg, who has been providing the wonderful music for us this evening, is a doctoral student in the Jacobs School of Music and an assistant to the world-renowned pianist, Distinguished Professor Menahem Pressler. Would you join me in thanking Ilya Friedberg?

Introducing Alice Rivlin

Tonight’s guest of honor, Alice Rivlin, is widely recognized as one of the foremost analysts of the United States’ economy and one of the nation’s leading experts on fiscal and monetary policy.

As I mentioned earlier, Dr. Rivlin grew up here in Bloomington. Her father, Allan C. G. Mitchell, was a longtime member of the IU faculty who served as chair of the Department of Physics from 1938 to 1963. He also led the department in building IU’s first cyclotron—and one of the first in the world—which operated in Swain Hall from 1941 to 1968.1 In fact, when he was notified that the cyclotron had achieved its first successful beam, President Herman Wells went directly from his office in Bryan Hall, through Dunn’s Woods, to Swain Hall with a bottle of champagne to toast Professor Mitchell and his colleagues.

Dr. Rivlin’s mother was an early civil rights leader. Her efforts in the 1940s helped to close down Bloomington’s segregated elementary school and to desegregate the city’s swimming pools,2 and she later served on the Indiana State Advisory Committee of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.3

Dr. Rivlin earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Bryn Mawr College and a doctorate in economics from Harvard University’s Radcliffe College. She initially wanted to major in history, but during a summer home from Bryn Mawr, she took an economics course at IU from the legendary teacher and scholar Reuben Zubrow, which prompted her to change her major to economics.4 5 At the time she earned her Ph.D., less than 35 percent of women worked outside the home, very few women were earning doctoral degrees, and, of course, even fewer entered the field of economics. She truly was a pioneer in the field.

Dr. Rivlin now serves as a visiting professor at the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University. She also has taught at Harvard, George Mason, George Washington University, and The New School.

She has also long been associated with the Brookings Institution, where she now serves as director of the Health Policy Center, as the Leonard D. Schaeffer Chair in Health Policy, and as a senior fellow in the Economic Studies Program.

Early in her career, she served as Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation at the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.

She went on to become the first director of the Congressional Budget Office, and served in that role from 1975 to 1983. She is credited with helping to mold the CBO into a respected government agency responsible for long-term analysis and planning of the nation's government spending. She ran the CBO as a nonpartisan office and was known to call the office the "official purveyor of bad news to Congress.”

In 1993, Dr. Rivlin was appointed by President Bill Clinton as deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, under director Leon Panetta. When Panetta became White House Chief of Staff, President Clinton appointed Dr. Rivlin as director of the OMB, and on her confirmation by the Senate, she became the first woman to hold the position. When she joined the OMB in 1994, the U.S. had a budget deficit of more than $200 billion. By 1998, only two years after she had left the OMB, the massive budget deficits had been transformed into substantial surpluses.

In all of these roles, Dr. Rivlin developed a well-deserved reputation for her integrity, her commitment to bipartisanship, her forthrightness. In fact, she was not hesitant to criticize the fiscal policies of the president who had appointed her when she believed such criticism was warranted. To his credit, President Clinton remained confident in her abilities and valued her insight. In 1996, he nominated her as vice chair of the Federal Reserve System, where she continued to raise questions about the viability of federal deficits and the need for entitlement and tax reforms.

Dr. Rivlin also devoted considerable attention to improving the financial affairs of Washington D.C. through her service as chair of the Commission on Budget and Financial Priorities of the District of Columbia—known as the Rivlin Commission—and as chair of the D.C. Financial Authority, which turned the District’s financial crisis around.

In 2010, President Obama appointed her to the Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform—also known as Simpson-Bowles. While the commission’s recommendations to overhaul the tax code, lower rates, and raise net revenue to trim the deficit never came to a vote in Congress, their recommendations continue to be the subject of national attention and debate.

Her numerous books include Systematic Thinking for Social Action, which she published in 1971, and which is still assigned in university classrooms around the country, and Reviving the American Dream.

Dr. Rivlin is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a MacArthur Fellow, and a recipient of the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Prize, which recognizes social scientists and other leaders in the public arena who champion the use of informed judgment to advance the public good.

She was named one of the greatest public servants of the last 25 years by the Council for Excellence in Government in 2008.

She received an honorary Indiana University doctorate in 1976 and has also received honorary degrees from Harvard, Yale, the University of Maryland, and the University of Michigan.

Alice, would you join me at the podium for a moment?

On behalf of Indiana University, it is my great pleasure to mark this occasion by presenting you with these tokens of our esteem and to thank you for your extraordinary service to this nation over many decades and for all that you do to promote fiscal discipline.

Will you all please join me in welcoming tomorrow’s Commencement speaker, Alice Rivlin.


Thank you all for coming this evening, and I look forward to seeing you at tomorrow’s commencement ceremony.

Source Notes

  1. Allan C. G. Mitchell, Obituary, Physics Today, January 1964, 124.
  2. Harry Jaffe, “What Made Me: Alice Rivlin. The Former White House Budget Director on Discovering How to Shape Opinion,” Washingtonian, August 5, 2014. Web. Accessed December 14, 2015, URL: http://www.washingtonian.com/articles/people/iq/what-made-me-alice-rivlin/
  3. “Federal Rights Group Meeting in Gary Feb. 8,” Indianapolis Recorder, February 5, 1966, 13.
  4. “Famed CU-Boulder Professor Reuben Zubrow Dies at 83,” University of Colorado-Boulder news release, October 28, 1997.
  5. Harry Jaffe, “What Made Me: Alice Rivlin. The Former White House Budget Director on Discovering How to Shape Opinion,” Washingtonian, August 5, 2014. Web. Accessed December 14, 2015, URL: http://www.washingtonian.com/articles/people/iq/what-made-me-alice-rivlin/