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Courtesy of Harold T. Shapiro

Oral history interview with Harold T. Shapiro

  • 2021-Feb-15

Oral history interview with Harold T. Shapiro

  • 2021-Feb-15

Harold Shapiro was born on June 8, 1935, in Montréal, Quebec. His father immigrated to the United States from Odessa, Russia just prior to World War I as a metal worker, but spent most of his adult life as a bootlegger, moving to Canada likely to evade the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) during prohibition and starting a large, successful restaurant business. Shapiro had an identical twin brother, Bernard J. Shapiro. Although they had different interests as children, they eventually grew to be very similar in adult life, both serving as university administrators. Shapiro’s mother valued education, and his father “went along with it.” In high school, Shapiro had a strong interest in athletics, especially water polo. Without a clear academic interest, Shapiro’s father suggested he major in economics, as it was closest to business. Shapiro decided to attend McGill University and became serious about his studies after taking a class in economic history, which he found fascinating, and after meeting his future wife, Vivian Shapiro, who was passionate about her studies and planned to study social work and child psychiatry. Shortly after graduating, his father became ill and passed away, leaving the two sons to manage the family’s restaurant business for several years. They eventually sold it, which gave Shapiro the opportunity to attend graduate school. Shapiro applied to top American schools because of their reputation, choosing Princeton University based on the advice of a friend’s uncle, Louis Rasminsky (1908-1998), who served as chairman of the Bank of Canada. Shapiro completed his PhD in three years under advisor Richard E. Quandt (1930-), building a model of the Canadian economy and the behavior of the Bank of Canada.

Upon graduation, Shapiro joined the faculty of the University of Michigan as an assistant professor of economics in 1964 after being convinced by Warren L. Smith (1914-1972) that the department would allow him to pursue his research interest and teach related graduate seminars. Shapiro recalls University of Michigan’s significant computational facilities, which were critical to his research on econometric forecasting models, having learned to code on an IBM 650 as an undergraduate. During his time as a young professor, Shapiro led several projects sponsored by the Ford Foundation modeling the economies of Yugoslavia and Hungary and traveled regularly to Zagreb and Budapest during that time. After serving a three-year rotation as chair of the Department of Economics, he was asked by Michigan’s president R. W. Fleming (1916-2010) to serve as university provost in 1977 and then as president in 1980.

Shapiro became interested in public policy during his time as president of the University of Michigan, spending time with Representative William D. Ford (1927-2004) and his staff discussing issues related to student financial aid programs and the federal investment in science and technology. Shapiro was recruited to serve as president of Princeton University by then-president William G. Bowen (1933-2016), despite his wife’s lasting impressing that Princeton was too conservative of a town and their love for the city of Ann Arbor. Shapiro served as president of Princeton University for thirteen years, during which time he was appointed as vice chairman of President George H. W. Bush’s President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). Shapiro credits the success of PCAST—as well as that of the National Bioethics Advisory Commission under President Bill Clinton (1946-), for which he served as chair—to having the direct access to the president. He concludes with a discussion on the need for a critical look at the roles of universities, corporations, and government in funding scientific research and development in the context of rising investment from the private sector.

This interview was conducted remotely via Zoom.

Property Value
  • 61 pages
  • 2h 41m 15s
Rights Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License
Rights holder
  • Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy and the Science History Institute
Credit line
  • Courtesy of Science History Institute

About the Interviewers

David J. Caruso earned a BA in the history of science, medicine, and technology from Johns Hopkins University in 2001 and a PhD in science and technology studies from Cornell University in 2008. Caruso is the director of the Center for Oral History at the Science History Institute, a former president of Oral History in the Mid-Atlantic Region (2012-2019), and served as co-editor for the Oral History Review from 2018-2023. In addition to overseeing all oral history research at the Science History Institute, he also holds several, in-depth oral history training workshops each year, consults on various oral history projects, and is adjunct faculty at the University of Pennsylvania, teaching courses on the history of military medicine and technology and on oral history.

Kenneth M. Evans is a scholar in science and technology policy at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy. He received his BS in physics from the University of Virginia and his MS and PhD in applied physics from Rice University. His research focuses on the history and organization of the US federal science advisory and policymaking system, with an emphasis on the role of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Institutional location

Oral history number 1124

Related Items

Interviewee biographical information

  • June 08, 1935
  • Montréal, Quebec, Canada


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1956 McGill University B.Comm Commerce
1964 Princeton University MA Economics
1964 Princeton University PhD Economics

Professional Experience

University of Michigan

  • 1964 to 1967 Assistant Professor of Economics
  • 1967 to 1970 Associate Professor of Economics, Director of Graduate Program
  • 1970 to 1976 Professor of Economics
  • 1976 to 1987 Research Scientist, Institute of Labor and Industrial Relations & Institute of Public Policy Studies
  • 1977 to 1987 Professor of Economics and Policy
  • 1977 to 1987 Senior Fellow, Michigan Society of Fellows
  • 1977 to 1979 Provost
  • 1979 to 1988 President

Princeton Univeristy

  • 1988 to 2001 President

President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology

  • 1990 to 1993 Member
  • 1992 to 1993 Vice Chair

National Bioethics Advisory Commission (NBAC)

  • 1996 to 2001 Chair

Princeton University

  • 2001 to present Professor of Economics and Public Affairs


Year(s) Award
1989 Elected Member, Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences
1990 Elected Member, American Philosophical Society
2000 Fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciences
2000 Citation for Outstanding Leadership, Council of Scientific Society Presidents
2000 Fellow, College of Physicians of Philadelphia
2001 Fellow, College of Physicians of Philadelphia
2003 Clark Kerr Lecturer, University of California
2006 William D. Carey Leadership Award for Leadership in Science Policy, AAAS
2006 Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science
2009 Clark Kerr Award for Lifetime Achievement in Higher Education, University of California, Berkeley
2012 National Academy of Science Public Welfare Medal

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PDF — 1.1 MB

The published version of the transcript may diverge from the interview audio due to edits to the transcript made by staff of the Center for Oral History, often at the request of the interviewee, during the transcript review process.

Audio File Web-quality download

1 Interview Segment Archival-quality download