Legacy Bells: How a Nobel Prize Became Secondary

By Oma Nwabudike '17

Oma Nwabudike '17

Oma Nwabudike '17

What a person is remembered for tells you a lot about the person. When a Nobel-Prize-winning economist is remembered in his home university more for hosting dinner parties than for his research, you have to wonder how influential the dinner is in the fabric of the community. That is the case of Robert (Bob) William Fogel, the late Charles R. Walgreen Distinguished Service Professor of American Institutions, who passed away in 2013.

Professor Fogel intended to be a physicist or a chemist, but talks of a so-called great depression got him interested in economics. Buoyed by his interest in history, he focused on economic history. In 1993, Professor Fogel won the Nobel Prize in economics (along with Douglass C. North) “for having renewed research in economic history by applying economic theory and quantitative methods in order to explain economic and institutional change.”

The Late Enid and Bob Fogel. Image courtesy of The University of Chicago News Office.

The Late Enid and Bob Fogel. Image courtesy of The University of Chicago News Office.

In an interview at the 1st Meeting of Laureates in Economic Sciences, Professor Fogel said he’d wanted to change the world as a child and that he - like other young people at that age - thought the world’s problems were caused by an absence of good will in humanity. As an economist he’d be the first to say “It’s not that simple, but I’m not an economist.” The world’s problem may not be the absence of goodwill but its presence can alleviate some of those problems. 33 years ago, Professor Fogel and his wife, Enid (former dean of student affairs at Booth), started a tradition at the GSB (before it became Booth). Every year. they opened their home to members of the GSB community, to the women, the ethnic minorities, anyone who made the school more diverse. Diversity meant a lot to the Fogels, They wanted to make sure that everyone knew they were welcome for their backgrounds not in spite of it. Each of such evenings began with supportive words for everyone followed by the traditional ringing of the dinner bell that Enid used to announce that “dinner is served.”

In the words of Sunil Kumar, “Bob Fogel is remembered in this community as the man with the dinner bell, who also won a Nobel Prize.” Professional accomplishments inspire a feeling of pride but the Fogels’ inspired a sense of belonging and as Maya Angelou said “...people will never forget how you made them feel.”

In keeping with his tradition of goodwill, Booth still holds the Fogel Diversity Dinner every year. However, it is now held at Gleacher Center rather that the home of the Fogels. I attended this year’s event, which was very well put together. Diversity has come a long way since the Fogels held the first dinner; the class of 2017 has representatives from 54 countries. There is no better time to expand the legacy that Professor Fogel and Enid Fogel left us; from increased faculty involvement to diversity events that focus on international students. The opportunities ahead of us in terms of diversity are boundless, by taking advantage of them, we can reinforce the message of the Fogels: everyone is welcome here.

Oma looks forward to hearing the Fogel dinner bell again next year.