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Roger Congleton, BB&T Professor of Economics: Have laptop, will travel

There’s a method to the way Roger Congleton works: he has his schedule down to a science, and it’s not that of a typical nine-to-five lifestyle.
There’s a method to the way Roger Congleton works: he has his schedule down to a science,
and it’s not that of a typical nine-to-five lifestyle.

Congleton wakes up and writes every day from 6:30 a.m. to noon before coming in to work at the  College of Business and Economics to teach in the early afternoon, attend committee meetings and tend to students’ needs until the evenings. With multiple simultaneous book projects on the horizon, he also takes time to write on the weekends.

“Just during weekdays, 50 hours is a light work week for me,” he said. 

Congleton, the BB&T Distinguished Chair of Free Market Thought and professor of  economics, is in his fifth year at West Virginia University and teaches both graduate courses in public economics and undergraduate courses in various topics of economics.

He earned a bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degree in economics at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, and attributes his initial interest in becoming a professor to what he calls a “goofy story.”

“I saw my professor walking on campus in sneakers, carrying a backpack and not wearing a tie – and I thought to myself that it didn’t look like a bad gig,” Congleton said. “Most of my peers went to the ‘real world,’ so to speak, where there’s a dress code and less flexibility to their lives. My professor’s lifestyle looked attractive.”

He thought once he got into academia that he might take to teaching more than research, but that just wasn’t the case.

“Not that the two different tracks in academia are completely independent, but I got more and more interested in research – things in print, getting ideas that I could hopefully pass on. That, for me, explains the long hours. You don’t work an extra 30 hours a week if you just want to punch the clock and do the minimum requirement.”

Humbly describing his life as “fairly dull,” Congleton fills his time with writing books and journal articles, coordinating big projects and conferences and traveling to give lectures on his research findings. His most recent articles include “ The Nature of Rent Seeking,” “ On the Evolution of Organizational Governance,” and “ Risk, Uncertainty, and Constitutional Design.”

This period of time has brought on more simultaneous book projects than ever before in his career, with four in motion throughout the last year. Congleton described the feeling that comes from putting his work out into the world as that of pure satisfaction. 

“Nothing else compares to the feeling of creating new arguments, new ideas and discovering things that at least very few people understood before, and trying to get those ideas out and into print and coherence,” he said. “Part of it is teaching yourself – the writing process isn’t just ideas that come out of your head; it’s the creation of ideas as you work through the material and getting a better understanding of your particular subject, whatever it may be, and what other people have done in the field.”

Congleton is not only well-written, being among the most cited professors at B&E, but he is also well-traveled. He has visited 21 countries in his lifetime for work purposes including Australia, Norway, Netherlands and Mexico just in the last 12 months. He has spent upward of six months in at least ten of these countries.

His most recent appointments prior to WVU include being a professor of economics at George Mason University and a senior research associate at the Center for Study of Public Choice; a visiting fellow at the Amsterdam Center for Law and Economics, University of Amsterdam; a Fulbright distinguished professor of American studies in Odense, Denmark; and was the Adam Smith Professor of Economics and Philosophy at Universitet Bayreuth, Germany. 

With the point he has gotten to in his career, he is often invited abroad to speak on his expertise, as well as taking over the coordination and organization of conferences for fellow researchers who have either fallen ill or passed away.

“With this position comes a lot of travel and being invited to places, getting to see and meet lots of people in the field, which is fun for me,” he said. “I couldn’t even name a favorite place I’ve visited, because every place becomes your favorite when you spend time there.

“It’s amazing how interesting these different places are, having other people host me in these countries makes it a very special experience. My hosts take care of me and take me around, and tell me the history of the places we visit. It’s a fine way to travel.”