Pioneering economist Jill McCluskey named WSU Regents Professor

Breaking new ground on how incentives and reputations change markets and our world, Jill McCluskey, Distinguished Professor of Sustainability and Associate Director of the School of Economic Sciences, has been named a Washington State University Regents Professor.

Photo of Jill McCluskey
Jill McCluskey, Regents Professor from the WSU School of Economic Sciences.

McCluskey is one of two professors in the WSU College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences to receive the distinction this year, announced by the WSU Board of Regents on February 12. Regents Professor is the highest rank a faculty member can attain and is reserved for no more than 30 faculty members at any given time.

Joining WSU in 1998, McCluskey is an acclaimed economist and fellow of the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association. She has conducted ground-breaking research in economic incentives, product quality and reputation, consumer acceptance of technology, and women in STEM fields.

McCluskey is the first economist to model the “free rider” problem with products who share a collective reputation. The idea is that crops from a region share a common reputation, which affects the price they can get in the market. Yet individual growers incur costs to produce quality products. If one grower reduces his quality, it hurts all other growers since they share their collective reputation. Her research provides an argument in favor of minimum quality standards, which were often regarded by economists and anti-trust lawyers as collusive devises used to restrict supply. Her work is particularly important in agriculture, where consumers are unable to distinguish which farm or individual grower may have produced the goods they are buying.

Her major contributions include how collective reputations for quality, such as the reputation for Washington apples, affect commodity markets, and how dual reputations, such as region and winery, affect the wine market.

In 2018, McCluskey won the WSU Association for Faculty Women’s Samuel H. Smith Leadership Award, in part for her research into the ways that work-life and partner accommodation policies can affect the representation of women in STEM.

“I was part of a dual career hire, so I have first-hand knowledge of partner accommodation policies,” McCluskey explained.

“There’s this idea that if someone is hired as a partner instead of via a national search, they might not be as good,” she said. “However, thanks to funding from the National Science Foundation, I was able to show that at Washington State University, people who are hired as part of a dual-career couple actually publish more and get more grants. It’s my hope that this research will have a positive impact and help to increase the number of women in STEM.”

Although McCluskey’s work has been honored by both national and international societies, the Regents Professorship is particularly meaningful.

“It goes beyond economics,” McCluskey said. “Regents Professors are chosen from across all fields at the university level. I’m honored to be a Regents Professor, and I think it’s so important that women are represented in this group.”

Increasing representation for women in the academy is important to McCluskey. Recalling her days as a new faculty member, McCluskey said her focus was simply on the work.

“It was just important for me to publish and be the best I could.”

That changed, she said, when she became more active in professional societies and realized she was one of only a handful of women in her field.

“As my career progressed, I started looking around and thinking about the fact that there are so few women,” she said. “It became more important for me to encourage other women and tell them, ‘Listen, I did it. You can do it too.’”

Her passion for empowering others is evident when asked what she hopes her legacy will be.

“My students,” she said, smiling. “One of my most rewarding experiences is advising and working with doctoral students. I’m so proud of their accomplishments. They are such wonderful examples of the excellence that comes from WSU.”