Hoover Institution (Stanford, CA) – John Raisian, the Hoover Institution’s Tad and Dianne Taube director for a quarter-century, from his appointment in 1990 until his retirement in 2015, died on April 24, 2023 after battling a long illness. He was 73. During his tenure, Raisian led the Institution to become the most important academic public policy research center in the nation.
“A highly regarded economist, dedicated public servant, and of course, twenty-five-year director of the Hoover Institution, John was the embodiment of putting ideas into service for the betterment of humankind,” said Condoleezza Rice, the current director of the Hoover Institution. “His legacy is one that will live on every day as we seek to put ideas into action that will help define and sustain a free society. He was a pillar of the Hoover community, a cherished colleague, and friend to so many.”
Prior to his arrival at Hoover, Raisian had a distinguished career that spanned the executive branch of government, academia, and the private sector.
After earning his PhD in economics from the University of California–Los Angeles, Raisian was a visiting professor of economics at the University of Washington (1975–76) and an assistant professor of economics at the University of Houston (1976–80).
Raisian began government service in 1980 as senior economist at the Office of Research and Evaluation, US Bureau of Labor Statistics. He joined the office of the assistant US secretary of labor for policy as the special assistant for economic policy (1981–83) and then was named director of research and technical support (1983–84). He also served as the executive director for President Reagan’s Task Force on Food and Assistance in 1983.
From 1984 to 1986, Raisian was the president of Unicon Research Corporation, an economic consulting firm in Los Angeles.
In 1986, Raisian joined the Hoover Institution as a senior fellow and associate director. Two years later, he assumed the post of deputy director under W. Glenn Campbell, who had, since 1960, guided and overseen Hoover’s growth into a world-renowned policy research center as well as a distinguished Library & Archives. When Campbell retired in September 1989, Raisian took over as interim director. In May 1990, the Hoover Board of Overseers appointed Raisian as permanent director.
According to Bertrand Patenaude in Defining Moments, his comprehensive history of the Hoover Institution’s first hundred years, Raisian proved every bit as formidable a leader, visionary, and fundraiser as his predecessor.
Raisian began his tenure at the dawn of the post–Cold War era and organized the Institution’s research initiatives under three core themes that addressed opportunities and challenges emerging for America and the free world in the coming century: democracy and free markets; American institutions and economic performance; and international rivals and global cooperation.
In an essay for the Hoover Digest, Raisian wrote that the research focus was to be “broad and philosophical.” In his vision, a research center seeks “to contribute to the well-being of citizens therein and make states true laboratories for observing diverse approaches to public policy formation and dialogue.”
To illustrate this point, Raisian cited the prolific work of the late historian of the twentieth century, the Cold War, and Stalin’s great terror, Robert Conquest. “What is the Hoover Institution’s directive to Robert Conquest?” Raisian asked rhetorically to his readers. “It is to continue to be Robert Conquest. By selecting a range of scholars with a diversity of interests, we naturally manage to produce incisive research on our institutional initiatives.”
John Hennessy, Stanford’s president between 2000 and 2016, praised Raisian for strengthening Hoover’s relationship with the university at large. “With you at the helm,” wrote Hennessy in a 2015 letter congratulating Raisian on his retirement, “the Hoover Institution has flourished—extending its reach, making policy discussion and the research of its scholars available to the greater community.”
Under Raisian’s leadership, the Hoover Institution was able to attract preeminent scholars from a broad range of fields and perspectives. Among them were award-winning economists John Taylor and John Cochrane; classicist and military historian Victor Davis Hanson; historian Niall Ferguson; the late renowned Middle East scholar Fouad Ajami; and education economist Eric Hanushek.
In the mid-1990s, Raisian launched a five-year campaign, titled Ideas Defining a Free Society: Investing in Knowledge and Scholarship, aimed at cultivating a new generation of donors and raising $75 million. The campaign raised $101 million in new gifts and pledges, far surpassing its original goal and enabling the Institution to both expand the scope of its public policy research and support the growth of the Library & Archives’ conservation and preservation programs. He also initiated various other innovations, including semiannual Hoover retreats during which fellows could present their research to overseers and donors, as well as discuss national public policy challenges, in an intimate setting.
Hoover's endowment grew prodigiously during Raisian’s tenure, from $100 million to $600 million, enabling the ranks of the senior fellowship to more than double.
Having amassed this financial support by the dawn of the twenty-first century, Raisian ushered in many important policy research initiatives. To help guide positive change in school reform, the Hoover Institution launched the Koret Task Force in K–12 Education Reform. This task force examined the national education landscape and provided pioneering recommendations on issues including vouchers, charter schools, student testing, and school accountability.
Under Raisian’s leadership, Hoover increased communication efforts so that the fellowship’s policy research would be more accessible to media and the attentive public. To this end, he established a public affairs office responsible for distributing news releases and fellows’ opinion commentary to media, and for scheduling fellows to appear on influential cable news television programs. Hoover also started inviting journalists to the Stanford campus to engage with fellows and attain broader and more in-depth perspectives on the policy issues that they were writing about.
In 2013, Raisian opened Hoover’s Johnson Center in Washington, DC. The offices in the nation’s capital provide fellows with access to journalists and media outlets and allow them a setting where they can interact with the policy community, prepare for testimonies before US Congress and federal agencies, and brief policy makers in the executive and legislative branches.
A defining moment of Raisian’s career was his acceptance of the National Humanities Medal on behalf of the Hoover Institution in November 2006. The prestigious award was presented by President George W. Bush at a White House ceremony. Upon receiving the medal, Raisian said, “To have the medal awarded by the president to the Hoover Institution . . . is a wonderful tribute and a huge source of pride for all of us.”
From his retirement in 2015 until his passing, Raisian served as an indispensable advisor to his successors, Thomas W. Gilligan and Condoleezza Rice. In the past eight years as a senior fellow, emeritus, he was able to renew his focus on his research interests, especially the application of economic principles to public policy and the importance of human capital accumulation for economic prosperity.
Raisian’s colleagues speak of him affectionally as having a unique combination of professional and interpersonal skills and use words to describe his personality such as genial, gracious, accommodating, tenacious, focused, and deeply principled.
At a recent ceremony dedicating the south terrace of Hoover’s Traitel Building in Raisian’s honor, John F. Cogan, Leonard and Shirley Ely Senior Fellow, gave a toast to Raisian, recalling their close friendship over the past half-century and their shared career experiences.
Cogan related that the characteristic of Raisian that stands out the most to him is empathy. “John has this uncanny ability to understand what motivates individuals, what their concerns are, and what their needs are.” Cogan added, “it is key, I think, to his great leadership.”
Cogan concluded his remarks with a toast that invoked Herbert Hoover’s own words.
“Hoover said, ‘The great human advances have not been brought about by mediocre men and women. They were brought about by distinctly uncommon men and women with vital sparks of leadership,’” Cogan stated. “I am sure that if Herbert Hoover were around today, he would be joining us in saluting John Raisian, an uncommon man.”
John Raisian is survived by his wife, Claudia Morgan, and his daughters.