Bill Maurer
Shown here with trillion-dollar Zimbabwean banknotes, Associate Dean Bill Maurer – credited with founding the anthropology of finance – jokingly says he’ll take any funding he can get for graduate research. Michelle S. Kim / University Communications

He may have a bone to pick with the whip-wielding Indiana Jones, but Bill Maurer, UC Irvine anthropology professor and director of the Institute for Money, Technology & Financial Inclusion, can’t deny more than a few parallels between himself and the archaeology professor of cinematic fame.

Both are teachers with a sense of adventure. Maurer, like Indy, is perfectly comfortable behind the scenes of international museums. (He’s currently helping the British Museum construct its new money exhibit.) Both can carry off a fedora, and – like Dr. Jones in his latest big-screen appearance – Maurer also recently added the title of associate dean to his growing list of credentials.

As the School of Social Sciences’ associate dean for graduate studies & research, he officially hit the ground running July 1 by relaunching the Junior Fellows program, which gives recent social sciences Ph.D. graduates an opportunity to continue their research while on the job market.

In addition, Maurer is whipping up plans to ensure more applications to the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program, and he’s begun developing several new graduate programs – a path he ventured down in his former role as anthropology chair.

Working with Chancellor’s Professor of law Chris Tomlins, Maurer – also a law professor himself – spearheaded a joint J.D./Ph.D. program that has since expanded into the full-fledged Program in Law & Graduate Studies, which allows students to simultaneously pursue a law degree and an M.A., MBA, M.D. or Ph.D.

“There are few faculty who rival Bill’s energy and multifaceted contributions to essentially every aspect of academic life,” says Barbara Dosher, social sciences dean.

As chair from 2006 to 2011, Maurer worked to build the department’s impressive research profile and devised innovative collaborations with industry, the philanthropic sector and traditional funding agencies to better support graduate student research. His efforts paid off, as the department finished at the top of the field in the 2010 National Research Council rankings, alongside programs at Stanford University, Harvard University, the University of Chicago and UC Berkeley.

Maurer’s own research, which has focused on offshore finance, alternative and Islamic banking, and the use of mobile phones for money transfer, is both pioneering and significant.

His publications have won accolades from organizations as diverse as the Society for Humanistic Anthropology, the Law & Society Association, and the Association for Computing Machinery. In May, he received UCI’s 2011 Faculty Achievement Award at the 41st annual Lauds & Laurels ceremony.

Maurer’s mobile money work – part of the larger field of anthropology of finance, which he is credited with founding – has become increasingly important since the onset of the global financial crisis and has brought him to the halls of industry and government.

In June, he traveled to a major industry summit in Singapore to report on new platforms for money transfer using mobile phones, and he recently returned from Washington, D.C., where he was the inaugural speaker for USAID’s Mobile Financial Services Seminar, attended by regulators, policymakers and industry professionals.

In 2006, Intel Corp.’s research arm, Intel Labs, came knocking on Maurer’s door in hopes of collaborating on digital money and electronic payment system research. Seeing the academic/industry crossover work as a new adventure, he joined the team, and soon its findings began to get noticed. A year later, Maurer got a call from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“The foundation had been talking to economists about mobile phone-based money transfer systems, an area of growing interest in the developing world,” he says. “They realized they needed better insight into what money is, what it means to people, and how they actually use it in their daily lives – not just to buy things but to express their values. So it was time to talk to an anthropologist.”

In 2008, the Institute for Money, Technology & Financial Inclusion was established at UCI, thanks to a $1.7 million grant from the multibillion-dollar philanthropic foundation, headed by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda.

Since then, the IMTFI has funded more than 100 researchers studying everyday monetary practices in 32 countries, including applied projects in Haiti and Afghanistan that have received international press attention.

“My work with IMTFI is immensely rewarding,” Maurer says. “The grants support scholars in developing countries who otherwise would never have had access to research funds and who have been able to use their association with IMTFI to further their own research careers and even advise the governments of their home countries.”

Maurer himself fields almost daily inquiries from government and industry leaders seeking guidance on the policy and design implications of mobile phone-enabled financial services.

Given his hectic schedule running an institute, conducting research and – until last quarter –chairing the anthropology department, it might be easy to assume that Maurer spends less time on his instructional duties. Not so, says Susan Bibler Coutin, criminology, law & society professor and associate dean of the Graduate Division.

“Bill is not someone who neglects teaching or service for the sake of his research. Rather, for him, teaching, service and research are integrated and mutually reinforcing activities,” she says.

Maurer has received numerous awards for his work in the classroom, which one of his current graduate mentees, Seo Young Park, describes as stimulating.

“Professor Maurer’s passion for the subject matter is never in question, and there are few professors who can explain things as clearly and expertly as he does,” she says. “He has a unique ability to direct classroom conversation without controlling it, leading us all toward that ‘Aha!’ moment.”

The same energy that drives his teaching is apparent in Maurer’s administrative service. He has held active roles in UCI’s Academic Senate and Center in Law, Society & Culture, as well as other research entities on campus.

Off campus, his leadership has earned him election as president of the Association for Political & Legal Anthropology, board membership with numerous professional societies, and editorial roles with eight academic journals. Maurer also is active in local politics in his home city of Long Beach, where he’s involved in efforts to create new park space.

In his post as associate dean, Maurer is picking up where economics and law professor Linda Cohen left off. In her five-year tenure, Cohen – true to her discipline – helped the School of Social Sciences leverage state support to garner dramatic increases in extramural funding for graduate research and education.

Says Assistant Dean Dave Leinen: “Linda was able to craft financial support packages from multiple sources for multiple years to grow and improve our graduate programs during a particularly challenging budget climate. This was simply phenomenal.”

Cohen also was known throughout the Social Science Plaza for the rather large straw hat she would tape to her office window as a signal to those in other buildings that she was in.

Commenting – tongue in cheek – on Cohen’s many accomplishments, Maurer says, “I have a very big hat to fill.”

Cue the “Raiders of the Lost Ark” theme song.