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Kumbhakar named distinguished professor

Distinguished Professor Subal Kumbhakar
The State University of New York Board of Trustees recently appointed Subal Kumbhakar to a distinguished professorship.

A letter from Chancellor John Ryan noted that the Binghamton economics professor has made “seminal contributions in developing the new field of frontier analysis” and done “pioneering work in the econometric estimation of efficiency, productivity and technical change.”

Kumbhakar, who holds master’s and doctoral degrees in economics from the University of Southern California, came to Binghamton in 2001 from the University of Texas at Austin, where he had taught since 1986.

Very few people attain the rank of distinguished professor. Fewer than 20 Binghamton faculty members and professors emeritus now hold the title, which is awarded to individuals who have achieved national or international prominence and a distinguished reputation in their field.

In her letter nominating him for the honor, President Lois B. DeFleur noted that Kumbhakar has more than 700 scholarly citations and has given nearly a hundred invited and keynote lectures. “His accomplishments unquestionably measure up to the high standards for this promotion,” she said last week. “He is not only an exceptional scholar but also a remarkable teacher. His ability to convey both the complexity and excitement of his field to all students is a special talent.”

Kumbhakar’s research focuses on productivity and efficiency. Studying efficiency ensures that resources are optimally used, he said. This is especially true for industries that are regulated by the government. Inefficiency is likely to grow in an atmosphere where there’s less competitive pressure.

Efficiency studies give credibility and transparency to the activities of public service providers. In the private sector, a study that finds few problems can also provide a boost. It’s akin to a person who gets a clean bill of health from a doctor, Kumbhakar said.

Kumbhakar applies the concepts of efficiency to a set of data and tries to make sense of the results. He doesn’t collect the data himself, which has allowed him to focus on such diverse areas as agriculture, banking, fishing, manufacturing, transportation and public utilities in countries including Sweden, Norway, Finland, Spain, Romania, China, India, Japan and the United States.

Kumbhakar said he is excited to see more people putting his work to practical use lately. Governments, especially in the United Kingdom and Australia, are examining the efficiency of public services such as water and electric utilities and the rail system. Private efficiency studies in several European countries also use Kumbhakar’s techniques.

“Now some people are benefiting from the methods that I have been working on for many years,” he said. “This is gratifying.”

Kumbhakar’s interest in efficiency extends back to his dissertation. He’s now at work on a book with Hung-Jen Wang, who is visiting the University from Taiwan. In 2000, he published Stochastic Frontier Analysis with co-author Knox Lovell, which is well received among researchers in this field.

“I was very pleased to hear about Professor Kumbhakar’s well-deserved promotion,” said Jean-Pierre Mileur, Harpur College dean. “He is one of the world’s best economists in his sub-field and an excellent colleague as well.”

Kumbhakar said he enjoys the open and friendly atmosphere in Binghamton’s Economics Department. He appreciates the support of his colleagues and Mileur. He also enjoys the view of the area’s rolling hills from his 10th floor office in the Library Tower.

Kumbhakar traveled a long road to Binghamton University.

He’s from a remote village in India, a community so small that in ninth grade Kumbhakar did not have the traditional choice of studying the sciences. There simply was no science curriculum available at his school. He was, however, one of five students chosen for a special math class.

When he arrived at college in Calcutta, he found economics the most appealing subject. After graduation from Calcutta University, he taught at a university in India. His studies took him to California and then to Texas, where he taught for about 15 years.

Now Kumbhakar is truly a citizen of the world. Though he lives in Vestal with his wife and three daughters, he travels frequently. Last summer, for instance, he visited nine countries to deliver lectures, work with colleagues and relax with his family. He is often invited to speak at efficiency and productivity conferences around the world and in 1997 received an honorary doctorate from Gothenburg University in Sweden.

Today, Kumbhakar’s the one challenging young people to grasp new concepts in mathematics as they relate to statistics and econometrics.

Kumbhakar understands that these topics can be dry, but insists that they’re fascinating once one knows enough about them. The trick is bringing his students past that threshold. He finds that computers make it easier to bring practical examples from his work into the classroom.

He said: “I try to tell the students, ‘It’s difficult but it’s still worth going through it because this will be the most useful skill in your life as an economist.’”

That has certainly been true for Kumbhakar, who contrasted growing up in that remote village with his current life this way: “First you were looking through a pinhole. And now the whole window has opened up.”
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Last Updated: 10/14/08