Prof. Nancy Wallace wins Williamson Award, top Haas faculty honor

Berkeley Haas Prof. Nancy Wallace
Prof. Nancy Wallace

Prof. Nancy Wallace, who uses her deep knowledge of finance and the mortgage market to influence policy to protect the public good, guide UC Berkeley in complex real estate and financial issues, and help launch the careers of students for 35 years, has received the school’s highest faculty honor. 

Wallace is the fifth recipient of the Williamson Award, named after Nobel Laureate and economics professor Oliver Williamson, who passed away last year. The award recognizes Haas faculty members who exemplify all four of the school’s Defining Leadership Principles.

“Nancy’s research has repeatedly questioned received wisdom, pointing out the structural weaknesses in the mortgage markets and recently sounding the alarm on wildfire risks and the urgent need for more sustainable development,” says Dean Ann Harrison. “She works tirelessly for her students and colleagues, the school, and the greater good.” 

Wallace joined Haas in 1986, and is the Lisle and Roslyn Payne Chair in Real Estate Capital Markets, chair of the Real Estate Group, and co-chair of the Fisher Center for Real Estate and Urban Economics. She has served on multiple committees advising the Federal Reserve and the U.S. Treasury on financial crises and reform, and for five years was a leader on the Campus Academic Planning and Resource Allocation (CAPRA) committee, for which she won the Berkeley Faculty Service Award in 2019.

Hard-working and thoughtful

In the award nomination, Professors Candi Yano and Richard Stanton wrote that Wallace has made huge contributions without “the slightest thought of personal gain or advancement” and without demanding “recognition for her contributions.” They also noted that she is “almost universally…viewed as the hardest-working, most thoughtful voice on campus on matters of financial analysis, control, and reporting.”

Wallace played an important role at the national level as one of the very few people who warned of the 2008 financial crisis, after she recognized that the entire underlying structure of the mortgage lending market was collapsing. Since then, she has advised the Fed and the Treasury on reforms to the mortgage and banking industries. She has also warned that the mortgage industry remains on shaky ground today.

Beyond herself

In addition to her work for the campus and the federal government, which required nearly weekly flights to the East Coast, Wallace has for two decades taken on much of the administrative burden of running the Fisher Center, including conferences, fundraising to support PhD students and faculty, and collecting an “unparalleled suite of data sources and computational resources,” Stanton noted. 

Under her leadership, the Haas Real Estate Group “is now regarded as the best in the country,” allowing the school to recruit the best new PhDs to its faculty, he said. 

“It is hard to think of anyone who exemplifies (the principle Beyond Yourself) more than Nancy,” Stanton wrote.  

Passionate teacher

A passionate researcher and teacher, Wallace has also given generously to her students and other faculty members, said Yano, who previously served as Associate Dean for Academic Affairs. For example, when she co-teaches a course with a more junior assistant professor, Wallace often gives them her instructional points (IPs)—which faculty earn for teaching. 

“Despite this, she has still managed to accumulate probably the largest teaching surplus at the Haas School,” Yano wrote. 

“As long-time chair of the Real Estate Group, even if someone drops out of a teaching assignment at the last minute, she views it as so important that core real estate courses are taught well that she will often step in to teach additional courses herself, despite having a surplus equivalent to almost six years of extra teaching.”

Past Williamson Award winners are Prof. Andy Rose, Prof. Toby Stuart, Prof. Teck Ho, and Prof. John Morgan. Recipients are selected by a committee made up of prior winners and the dean. 

Williamson was the winner of the 2009 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences and was a beloved teacher and leader at Berkeley Haas. He embodied the spirit of the Haas School Defining Leadership Principles: Question the Status Quo, Confidence Without Attitude; Beyond Yourself; and Students Always.