Syracuse economist tapped to head Claremont Graduate University

A prominent healthcare economist and former high-ranking administrator at Syracuse University will be the next leader of Claremont Graduate University, a 2,200-student campus that awards master’s and doctoral degrees, university officials said.

In an announcement scheduled for Wednesday, Deborah A. Freund, 58, will be named president of the private university, one of two graduate institutions in the seven-member Claremont Colleges consortium.

The first woman to head the school, Freund is expected to take her position in the fall, replacing Joseph C. Hough, an interim leader who has served since Robert Klitgaard left the presidency in February 2009 after differences with the university’s trustees.

Four years ago, Freund — then Syracuse’s provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs — was the front-runner to become chancellor of UCLA. But negotiations broke down, mainly because her husband, Thomas J. Kniesner, who was chairman of Syracuse’s economics department, was not offered a UCLA faculty job. Claremont has offered Kniesner a professorship.

In a telephone interview from Syracuse, Freund said that her expertise and career fit better with a private university like Claremont that emphasizes cross-disciplinary studies, and that she harbors no ill will toward UC. “I just think this is sort of meant to be,” she said. “I come from a private university now and the kind of work that CGU does really stokes my passion.”

Claremont Graduate University offers graduate degrees in the humanities, management, education, health, religion, and social and behavioral sciences, among other subject areas.

Noting that she often collaborates with doctors, lawyers and psychologists on healthcare research, Freund said she was drawn to the school’s many interdepartmental initiatives and a relatively small size that encourages personal exchanges. She said she wants to promote more cooperation among the Claremont Colleges on “all kinds of education, research and outreach.”

Freund, who has a 15-year-old son, also noted: “Who wouldn’t like the Southern California sunshine if the alternative was 12 inches of snow every other night?”

Freund earned a bachelor’s degree in classics at Washington University in Missouri, and later a doctorate in health economics and public finance at the University of Michigan. She was vice chancellor for academic affairs at Indiana University Bloomington before serving as Syracuse’s provost from 1999 to 2006.

Freund, who remains a Syracuse professor, is a nationally known expert in healthcare financing and insurance coverage, with numerous research projects about Medicaid, drug pricing and patient access to doctors.

Last year, New York Atty. Gen. Andrew Cuomo asked Freund to head an effort to establish fair reimbursement rates for out-of-network healthcare. She briefly attracted controversy when the Syracuse Post-Standard newspaper learned that Freund was a board member of Excellus, a health insurance company that Cuomo had criticized for faulty reimbursements. Freund said she had disclosed her ties to the firm from the start and made sure any data she analyzed did not include companies’ names.

But as the newspaper was about to publish its story, she quit Excellus in March, giving up annual compensation of $61,000, she said, “to avoid even the perception of a potential conflict of interest.”

In announcing the appointment, Claremont Graduate University trustee and search committee head Beverly Ryder praised Freund’s record as “a scholar, an administrative leader and a visionary to help us chart our course for the future.”

Officials said that her initial contract is for five years and that her salary would not be disclosed.