Distinguished Alumni Award
Donald L. Kohn '64
Donald L. Kohn grew up in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, just north of Philadelphia, and came to Wooster in the fall of 1960 from Cheltenham High School. He brought with him an interest in soccer and playing the violin, both of which he pursued at Wooster, albeit, he noted, from the end of the bench and the nether regions of the second violin section of the Wooster Symphony Orchestra. If you were looking for Don during his years at Wooster, a good place to check would have been the pinball machined and bridge tables of The Shack.
Academically, the intellectual rigor, real-world grounding, and public policy applications of economics captured his interest. He wrote his junior Independent Study under Alvin Tostlebe and senior thesus on “Flexible Exchange Rates” for Richard Reimer (economics,, emeritus). After graduating in 1964, Don went on to the University of Michigan, receiving his Ph.D. in economics from there in 1971.
In 1970, he joined the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, and he has spent his entire career in the Federal Reserve System, our Nation’s central bank. In 1975, he transferred to the staff at the Board of Governors un Washington. He has held a variety of positions related to research and analysis of financial markets and monetary policy. Sine 1987 he has been director of the Board’s Division of Monetary Affairs and Secretary to the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), the Federal Reserve’s principal monetary policy decision body.
In these positions, Don serves as chief advisor to Chairman Alan Greenspan, the Board, and the FOMC on issues related to the conduct of monetary policy and its implementation through open market operations, reserve requirements, and discount window policy. He initiates and supervises research on monetary policy, directs the collection and analysis of data on money, bank credit and interest rates as background for that policy, and he analyzes and presents policy options for the FOMC at each of its meetings.
An important part of his job is to help explain the complexities of monetary policy to a puzzled public. He works closely with Chairman Greenspan on his speeches and testimonies, and those who are C-Span junkies and remember Don from Wooster can often spot him behind Chairman Greenspan at Congressional hearings (though with a somewhat more expensive forehead than in 1964.) The records he most directly controls – the minutes of the FOMC – are considered by connoisseurs to have become considerably clearer and more complete over the last 10 years.
He has written extensively on monetary policy and often appears at conferences to comment on policy issues and explain the Federal Reserve’s approach. He enjoys teaching and keeps his hand in with an occasional visit to classes as a guest lecturer, including a couple of trips to Wooster in the last decade and a semester at Stanford. Don has served as an “acquaintanceship” host for Wooster’s Leadership and Liberal learning program, entertaining a Wooster student who spent three days in Washington studying his style.
Don’s wife of 32 years, Gail is executive director of a retirement community outside of Washington which delivers a continuum of services, from housing for the well and able to nursing for those residents in need of it; she is prominent in state and national organizations dedicated to improving the provision of housing and health services to the elderly. The Kohns have two grown children, Laura and Jeffrey. In those brief moments when he isn’t doing Alan Greenspan’s bidding, Don enjoys skiing, hiking, sailing, and listening to classical music. (The violin has lain dormant for 30 years; his interest in soccer was exhausted by three years as assistant coach of Jeff’s team.)