SEC Commissioner Returns to NYU Law as a Professor
Prior to his appointment as SEC Commissioner and at NYU Law, Robert J. Jackson Jr. served as a professor at Columbia University School of Law as well as in the Treasury Department and at Bear Stearns.
January 29, 2020
Securities and Exchange Commissioner Robert Jackson has spent the past two years lobbying for transparent trading policies and protecting everyday investors, but this year he is leaving his post to return to teaching at NYU Law.
At NYU Law, Jackson will begin teaching an investment banking course starting Feb. 24. NYU Law Dean Trevor Morrison expressed excitement at Commissioner Jackson joining the faculty.
“We are thrilled to count Rob as a member of our faculty,” Dean Morrison told WSN in an email. “He is a widely respected scholar and, in addition to a distinguished career in public service, he has a record of outstanding teaching and institutional leadership.”
Jackson holds five Ivy League degrees, is an accomplished professor and researcher and he’s a “lifelong Yankees fan,” according to his page on the SEC’s website. The commissioner was born in the Bronx, where his mother worked the early shift at Dunkin Donuts — later working as a teacher — and his father sold encyclopedias. He was appointed by President Donald Trump and confirmed by the Senate on Jan. 11, 2018. What he remembers most fondly from the process was giving his confirmation speech with his parents sitting in the front row.
“[My speech] talked about the fact that I only went to college because my parents saved in the stock market, and that those were the kinds of investors I promised I would have in mind at the SEC,” Jackson said.
The Securities and Exchange Commission is an independent government agency based in Washington, D.C. and made up of five policymaking commissioners. The commissioners are tasked with maintaining the functioning of the stock and securities markets, protecting investors and encouraging investment. Currently, there are two Republican commissioners, one Democratic commissioner and two Independents. After Jackson leaves, the Democratic slot will be empty.
Jackson has aimed to fulfill his promises by advocating for rules that protect investors, such as supporting denials of applications for potentially fraudulent securities to be sold to investors, passing a resolution establishing that insider trading is fraud and supporting a rule that would require companies to disclose political spending.
“The interest of the political beliefs of the CEO might not be the same as those of the shareholders, in part because the shareholders don’t pick companies based on the politics of the CEO,” Jackson said.
While forming policies like the ones above, Jackson imagines that he is explaining the ideas to everyday investors like his parents.
“The reason I’m so big on making it simple is that every American family should know what I do,” Jackson said. “They should know there’s a guy who’s keeping their markets fair and safe.”
Though Jackson dealt with policy and politics in Washington, at NYU he will teach future lawyers to navigate the world of finance. But Jackson doesn’t see huge divides between the role of commissioner and professor.
“I was really focused on taking complicated subjects and trying to unpack them,” Jackson said. “I’m a teacher by nature. Teaching is in my blood — my mom’s a teacher, and I think there’s real value in having government officials who want to take complicated ideas and explain them.”
Jackson combines personal experience with his academic research to shape policy proposals; his research-heavy approach has been noted by fellow commissioners, including Democratic Minority Commissioner Allison Lee.
“It’s rare to have a commissioner like Rob with the ability and willingness to identify relevant data, then gather and analyze it in novel ways,” Lee said. “His data-driven approach to policymaking, coupled with his skill, has been profoundly useful to the Commission. I think he has, in some ways, reimagined the role of a commissioner.”
As a minority commissioner — an independent in a Republican-leaning group under the Trump administration — Jackson has often ended up leading the opposition. Barbara Roper, Director of Investor Protection at the Consumer Federation of America, worked with Jackson on investor protection policy throughout his term and commented on his work ethic as commissioner.
“It’s difficult to be effective as a minority commissioner in this environment, where they’re not really looking for bipartisan consensus and they’re willing to forge ahead with partisan measures,” Roper said. “He really sort of highlights the policy weakness and the procedural failings of the commission, and does it in such a nice way.”
Politically independent Chairman Jay Clayton has sided with the two Republican commissioners on several policy votes, which have been met with strong opposition from Jackson. However, Jackson said that their clashes demonstrate what a productive commission looks like.
“Chairman Clayton, himself, was a teacher at [the University of Pennsylvania Law School] as an adjunct for over a decade, and when he and I would get in a room, if you had been there, you would have thought, ‘This is good,’” Jackson said. “This is what these guys should talk about, because we would just debate. We debate ideas.”
Email Emily Mason at [email protected]