Even among Harvard faculty, few professors can claim the mantle of publicly certified “genius.” As of Tuesday, however, two University scholars — an economist who tackles public problems with hard data and a pediatric neurosurgeon whose innovative techniques have been put to use in everyplace from Cambridge to Uganda — can do just that.Raj Chetty ’00, Ph.D. ’03, professor of economics, and Benjamin Warf, M.D. ’84, associate professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School and director of the Neonatal and Congenital Anomaly Neurosurgery Program at Children’s Hospital Boston, have received 2012 MacArthur Foundation fellowships, more commonly known as “genius grants.”Chetty and Warf are two of 23 recipients recognized by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation for their “extraordinary originality and dedication” to their chosen fields. The honor comes with no-strings-attached grants of $500,000, paid over five years, which recipients may use to fund the creative, intellectual, and professional pursuits of their choice.Nominations are anonymous, and recipients are not told in advance that they are under consideration — meaning that the phone calls notifying them of their awards come as a bit of a shock.“I was really surprised,” said Chetty, who was having lunch in downtown Boston with his mother at the time. “I got a call from a number I didn’t recognize. I ignored it a few times and eventually picked up.”Warf was at a hotel in Rio de Janeiro, planning to speak at a conference, when he received the news.“It was a little awkward. The [cellphone] connection wasn’t so great,” he said with a laugh. “I was floored.”Chetty is an up-and-comer who, at 28, was one of the youngest economists to be offered tenure in Harvard’s history. He has a history of precocious achievement: After graduating from Harvard College, he stayed on at the University and earned his doctorate in just three years. (He then spent several years as an assistant professor at the University of California, Berkeley, returning to Harvard to join the faculty in 2009.)His research agenda has been equally ambitious, touching on issues from taxation to teacher quality to unemployment. He hopes to steer public policy debate away from talking points toward data points, he said.Earlier this year, a finding by Chetty and his co-authors that the quality of a child’s teacher early in life can boost future income made national headlines and earned a mention in President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address.“We want to try to connect to the public discourse using rigorous scientific methods, so it’s not just public opinion,” Chetty said.The award frees up his time to pursue the next big ideas in public economics — such as an ambitious study of equality of opportunity in the United States that would track economic mobility from one generation to the next by ZIP code, pinpointing conditions that help to promote a level playing field.The MacArthur “has given me the freedom to pursue the types of large-scale projects that will take years,” Chetty said. “But it’s also a vote of confidence that people are interested in this type of research. I hope it’ll motivate our research team to do more of this type of work.”For Warf, the award is not a validation of a young career on the rise, but recognition of hard-won innovations made halfway across the world.In 2000, Warf, his wife, and their six children left his native Kentucky for Uganda, where he started a pediatric neurosurgery hospital under the auspices of the Christian medical nonprofit CURE International.While there, he noticed that the country’s poor children suffered an unusually high incidence of hydrocephalus, a fluid buildup inside the skull that puts pressure on the brain. He went on to publish groundbreaking research on the causes of infant hydrocephalus, linking it to prior brain infection.Warf also developed a novel technique for treating hydrocephalus. First-world doctors often rely on shunts, tubes that allow fluid to escape from the brain into the abdominal cavity — though half of shunts fail within two years of the procedure.In Uganda, where neurosurgeons are scarce and access to nearby hospitals is limited, Warf created a workaround procedure that dramatically lessened the need for follow-up emergency procedures. The technique, known by its shorthand ETV/CPC, cauterizes brain ventricle tissue so that less cerebrospinal fluid is produced, and with minimal invasion makes an opening inside the brain that reroutes the dangerous fluid buildup to the base of the brain, where it is supposed to flow.“That’s the interesting and quirky thing — a procedure that was developed and proven in terms of outcomes in sub-Saharan Africa is now starting to influence care in the United States,” Warf said. “It’s the way that I treat hydrocephalus in babies now here at Children’s. I think over the next decade or so, it’s going to increasingly become the first treatment for babies with hydrocephalus.”The family returned to the United States in 2006, and Warf came to Children’s, where he had been a fellow earlier in his career, in 2009. He has continued to oversee the Ugandan hydrocephalus project from abroad, including a program that has trained 20 neurosurgeons from developing countries in Warf’s methods. It has been an expensive and challenging juggling act that the MacArthur grant will make much easier, he said.“I feel a bit of a weight of responsibility,” Warf said. “There’s this opportunity that’s just fallen into my lap that I wasn’t expecting. I want to be able to be a good steward of that and make the most of it.”
Briefs The Bar’s Law Office Management Assistance Service recently received meritorious recognition from the ABA’s 2003 Louis M. Brown Award for Legal Access.LOMAS provides consulting services on a wide variety of practice management issues designed to improve the effective delivery of legal services and to enhance lawyer-client relationships. The program steps in where law school leaves off and targets newly admitted lawyers and those who become “suddenly solo.” The Florida Bar program has also been a source of technical assistance to bar-provided practice management programs among the states, where there are now 17 similar programs.The Louis M. Brown Award for Legal Access is sponsored by the ABA Standing Committee on Delivery of Legal Services, which is dedicated to improving delivery of lawyers’ services to people who do not qualify for subsidized legal assistance yet lack the discretionary income to pay for traditional legal services.“The cost-effective delivery of legal services to those of moderate income depends on the use of efficient practice management tools and techniques,” said Mary K. Ryan, chair of the ABA panel. “LOMAS is a vital resource to the practitioner and one of the most important services a bar association can provide to its members.”Section legislative agendas It may not survive the budget wrangling of a tight fiscal year, but a bill to help assistant state attorneys and public defenders pay back law school loans has cleared its first legislative committee.SB 96, sponsored by Sen. Skip Campbell, D-Tamarac, was passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee on February 4. It authorizes the state to spend up to $3.65 million to help pay back the student loans of defenders and prosecutors.Campbell told the committee it would allow for $3,000 a year after the third year of employment, increasing to $5,000 after six years, with a maximum payout of $44,000 over nine years.The state could save more than the $3.65 million on training costs if it slows down the high turnover in state attorney and public defender offices, Campbell said, although he had no exact figures.Committee Chair Sen. Alex Villalobos, R-Miami, a former prosecutor, agreed. “A lot of people go into those state attorney and public defenders’ offices and are paid very, very poorly,” he said. “There is a lot of money spent on training and two years down the road. . . the student loans come due and you have a young family. You can’t afford to stay. Someone comes along and makes you an offer and you’re gone.”Sen. Rod Smith, D-Gainesville, said he was concerned that minority law students wind up with higher law school debts than nonminorities, and that makes it harder for them to take public service jobs.“I’m a believer that the state attorneys’ offices and the public defenders’ offices ought to look like the population they serve, but minorities have disproportionally high student loans,” he said. “People come out of law school with $80,000 to $120,000 of loans; they can’t afford these jobs.”But while praising the bill, Smith, who chairs the appropriations subcommittee that oversees the budget for the judicial system, expressed doubts the money could be found.“There’s not a great likelihood this is going to be funded this year because of constraints,” he said.Sen. Dave Aronberg, D-West Palm Beach, and a former assistant attorney general, said he would like to see the program expanded for attorneys in that office as well. Smith said it could serve as a model in other areas where the state needs to encourage employment, such as nursing or teaching.The bill next goes to the Government Oversight and Productivity Committee and then to Smith’s appropriations panel.Broward Legal Aid holiday project helps 35 familiesLegal Aid Service of Broward County’s Holiday Adopt-A-Family project was a record-setting success this year thanks to the generosity and effort of 21 adopters who were matched with 35 families.One hundred and twenty children and three senior citizens and their parents or caretakers received gifts and donations of food certificates or food baskets. Many adopters bought Christmas trees and decorations. One compassionate attorney learned that his adopted family did not have a stove to prepare the food arriving in the food basket he was donating and he rallied to purchase an oven that was delivered to the client’s home in time for holiday cooking.For the third year in a row, the children and faculty at Sawgrass Elementary School adopted several families. The children made crafts which they sold at a school bazaar to raise the funds for their Christmas shopping. Their principal, Alonzetta Gibson’s office was filled with over $2,000 in gifts which included bicycles, electronics, clothes, games and other toys and gift certificates for food and other items. The children adopted 36 other children. This year teenage girls living in a group foster home were adopted by the children.This year’s adopters included Emerson Allsworth, the Ft. Lauderdale office of The Florida Bar, Dominique Levy, Robert Lochrie, Kim Marjenhoff, Valerie Judd, Oppenheim Pilelsky, Keiser College, Bonnie Meskel, Ellen Gilbert-Rose, Greg Starr, Unlimited Healthcare Services, Florida Renegades Youth Soccer Team, Sawgrass Elementary School, Deborah Carpenter-Toye, Diane Centorino, Alysia Keating, and the law firm of Vezina, Lawrence & Piscitelli which adopted four families.“Each year we are overwhelmed by the generosity of our adopters,” said Tony Karrat, Legal Aid’s executive director, “and that was the case again this year as we heard one story after another about the extra effort and incredible generosity that each person and group demonstrated. We feel a partnership with each of the adopters and are inspired by their compassion and beneficence.”Stetson captures tax moot court crown New workers’ comp. rules approved March 1, 2003 Regular News A legislative package proposed by the Family Law Section aimed at fixing glitches in Florida’s new adoption law has been reviewed and allowed by the Bar Board of Governors.The board also reviewed and okayed proposed legislative positions from several other sections at its January 31 meeting. The 2003 Regular Session of the Florida Legislature starts March 4.Under Bar rules, the sections are granted broad authority to take legislative positions. They can advocate those positions unless the board, with 45 days of section action, specifically rejects their legislative positions.Legislation Committee Chair Jesse Diner said the adoption positions taken by the section revolved around the most controversial aspects of the law. Those provisions require single mothers who don’t know where the fathers are and who are seeking to put their children up for adoption to take out a newspaper ad revealing their sexual history. Intended to give fathers a say in adoption proceedings and to avoid legal complications when fathers contest the adoptions, the provision provoked a storm of controversy, including charges it violated mothers’ privacy rights.“This is an effort to fix some of the glitches and solve some of the problems,” Diner said.Former Sen. Fred Dudley, who now lobbies for the Family Law Section, said the positions also are significant because they heal a rift between family law and adoption lawyers, who had split over provisions of last year’s legislation.“This is not only an effort to clarify the law and adopt what will become good public policy, but it is an attempt to get our practitioners in this area back together again,” Dudley said.The positions do away with the public notice requirements by mothers and instead set out a series of steps that unmarried fathers must follow to have a say in any adoption, including signing up with a confidential registry.The father would have to file a notarized “claim of paternity” form with the Department of Health’s Office of Vital Statistics and to block an adoption the father would have to affirm a willingness to support the child.The proposed legislation would create a new F.S. § 63.056 which would establish the registry, and amend several other sections of Ch. 63 as necessary.Aside from the adoption issue, the Family Law Section was allowed to lobby on three other issues:• Adding this sentence to the state law on rotating custody: “There shall be no presumption for or against an award of rotating custody.”• Deleting the words “or mediation agreement” from the law on custodial arrangements, F.S. 61.30(1)(a), since those will always be contained in or ratified by a court order, and the language could cause confusion.• Opposing any legislation that would move determination of paternity to an administrative court or agency outside of the judicial branch.The Public Interest Law Section was allowed to lobby on two positions:• Opposing, in principle, “zero tolerance” policies that have a discriminatory effect, or mandate either expulsion or referral of students to juvenile or criminal court, without regard to the circumstances or nature of the offense or the student’s history. The section favors policies that are strongly against weapon possession but leave school administrators with discretion that includes due process and allows alternatives to prosecution if that will not compromise school safety.• Supporting modification of the statutory provisions of the Road to Independence Act to enhance and expand the transition program to provide an option for continuation of foster care to youth ages 18 through 23, and to provide reasonable accommodations for youth with disabilities.The Criminal Law Section was allowed to lobby in opposition to SB 90 on the evidentiary privilege for parent-child communications because the privilege is so limited in the bill that it would not be effective.The Health Law Section will lobby for allowing the Board of Medicine to exercise discretion when imposing costs on any party, to provide methods of determining costs, and excluding attorneys’ fees from allowable costs.The Business Law Section in conjunction with the Department of State will provide technical assistance and lobby the legislature for various reforms within Ch. 607, regarding Florida business corporations.All section positions, as well as Florida Bar positions, are on the Bar’s Web site, www.flabar.org, under the “Legislative Information” section.Loan assistance bill offered New procedural rules for workers’ compensation cases have been approved by the Division of Administration Hearings after they went unchallenged during a recent public comment period.The rules became effective February 23, according to Judge Scott Stephens, deputy chief judge of compensation claims for the Division of Administrative Hearings. Judges of compensation claims have discretion on using them during the transition period, which ends April 1.The new rules, as well as the DOAH rulemaking process, have been endorsed by the Florida Conference of Judges of Compensation Claims, Stephens noted.Stephens said the rules are intended to speed the resolution of disputes without affecting the rights of any party, and to have compensation judges interfere less with attorney-client matters.The complete rules are posted on DOAH’s Web site, at www.jcc.state.fl.us/jcc/rules.cfm.The Florida Bar’s Workers’ Compensation Section last year filed a petition with the Florida Supreme Court challenging DOAH’s authority to promulgate procedural rules, but the court has dismissed that action.Rafael Gonzalez, who monitors legislative activities for the section, noted the court added a footnote to its November opinion revising workers’ comp rules saying the rules were only provisional until DOAH enacted its rules. He said the section will likely ask the legislature to amend state law to make the court again responsible for those rules.LOMAS wins ABA access award Stetson University College of Law won the recent National Tax Moot Court Competition in St. Petersburg Beach, taking the championship for the overall competition and the award for top brief.Stetson’s team consisted of students Beth Linea Carlson, Brittan Mitchell and Paige Ward, and was coached by Professor Janice Lawrence and Adjunct Professor Joe Rugg. Stetson defeated Ohio Northern University in the final round and University of Alabama in the semifinals. Sixteen law schools across the U.S. participated in the contest. U.S. Tax Court Judges Renato Beghe and Peter J. Panuthos presided over the final round.