At commencement convocation Sunday, Robin Dubin stood at the podium on stage at the outset of the event and declared: “The 2018 commencement convocation ceremony of Case Western Reserve University is hereby convened.”
Dubin relished the moment, realizing it would be the last time she’d have the chance to say those words as the university marshal, a position she’s held since 2002. At the end of this academic year, she will retire from Case Western Reserve University, where she is a professor and chair of the Department of Economics at the Weatherhead School of Management.
The call to order at the start of the ceremony and leading the academic procession that precedes it are two of the biggest and most visible responsibilities of the university marshal.
“It’s just fun. I love graduations; everybody is happy. The students are happy because they’re graduating, the parents are happy because the student’s graduating,” Dubin said. “I love standing on stage. I have the best role, I think, in commencement because I have lines, but they’re very easy.”
Though she’s been dedicated to the university marshal role for years, she admits it wasn’t something she actively set out to do. Previously, she had served as a faculty marshal and the lead faculty marshal. When the spot for university marshal opened up years ago, Dubin was next in line.
“It was kind of just happenstance,” she said. “It wasn’t anything I set out to be, but it was fun. I’m really glad that it happened that way.”
Much of Dubin’s career path follows that trend, often determining her next step along the way.
As she started her undergraduate education at Case Western Reserve, Dubin had no idea what she wanted to do. She took introductory courses in as many subjects as possible, eventually landing on urban and environmental studies.
To pursue the subject further, Dubin studied geography and environmental engineering in graduate school at Johns Hopkins University. But having never enjoyed the hard sciences much, she soon questioned her decision to study something rooted in engineering.
“Many of my fellow students were engineers. I thought: ‘Well I can’t do this. I’m not an engineer. There’s no way I can be an engineer,’” Dubin said. “It turns out that what they were doing, I actually could have done—but I did have this panic moment.”
In her first year in her graduate school program, she took an economics course and fell in love.
“I thought it was the most amazing thing I had ever studied,” she said.
Her department’s flexibility allowed her to pack her schedule full of as many economics courses as possible. Upon graduation, she sought out positions in both geography and economics departments, ultimately finding a position in the Department of Economics at Wayne State University.
“It really wasn’t planned out. It was all just things happened. But it worked out,” she said.
In 1988, Dubin came to Case Western Reserve, where she further established her career in economics.
Drawing upon her diverse background, Dubin ultimately built upon a technique used by geologists called kriging and applied it in economics to try to measure the impact of a neighborhood on home values.
Her most recent addresses the blight caused by the foreclosure crisis by using voluntary moves to restore neighborhoods to their original densities.
She hopes to continue working on this subject in her retirement. She also looks to get back into the classroom—this time as a student.
“I really enjoy being on the other side of the podium—being in the classroom and hearing somebody explain something very clearly to me,” Dubin said. “I love learning new things.”
Before her retirement officially begins, take the time to get to know Dubin better with this week’s five questions.
1. What do you like most about Cleveland?
I love Cleveland. I grew up in Dallas, which is like the anti-Cleveland. I didn’t like Dallas very much. I like Cleveland because it’s pretty compact; it doesn’t take very long to get any place. There’s not a huge amount of traffic that you have to deal with.
I love the older houses. I live in Cleveland Heights and I love the fact that we’ve preserved our older housing stock rather than knocking it all down. There are also some beautiful buildings downtown.
I love the theater district; we have season tickets to the Cleveland Play House and the Broadway Series. The Cleveland Orchestra is a tremendous asset. The Metroparks. I love the change of the seasons. I just love Cleveland. I think it’s a great place to live.
2. What’s a hidden skill or talent you have that most people would be surprised to know?
I like to sing. I may actually take voice lessons in retirement.
3. Who is the best teacher you’ve had throughout your education?
It was either Chuck ReVelle or Jerry Cohon. They team-taught a lot. This was at [Johns] Hopkins. I actually think that all of my professors at [Johns] Hopkins were wonderful. You went into the classroom and it was just an awe-inspiring experience. They were so smart and they laid out the material so clearly and it just was amazing.
4. What moment in history do you wish you could have experienced firsthand?
Actually, I really like the present time. I think that I have been very fortunate to have been born in the time and place that I was. As a woman, I have had opportunities, both educationally and professionally, that women in earlier times only dreamed about.
5. What’s your favorite thing about Case Western Reserve?
The people and the history of the institution. I just think it’s amazing that Western Reserve was in Hudson and it moved here and then Leonard Case founded an engineering school right next to it. They became rivals but then they federated in the ’60s. And there was a college for women when it was very difficult for women to get educated and that flourished and became incorporated into Western Reserve and then into Case Western Reserve. We have these old buildings—of course, we have new buildings, too—but we have these old, historic buildings and you can see the history of the university. Adelbert Hall, that’s where it all started. The whole Adelbert College was in that building. There was a very similar building called Case Main, which is where the fountain is now, and it was the same thing. The whole thing was in that building. The College for Women was started in a farmhouse, which is where Allen Memorial Library is, but then Flora [Stone Mather] built Guilford House and the whole thing was in Guilford House. It’s just amazing that from those buildings, we have this whole campus.