1 out of 1 members found this post helpful.
I spoke with a Professor at Chapman. The program simply has not had many students apply to Ph.D. programs. Combined with the fact that the program is only a few years old, and with the quickly-evolving reputation of behavioral, experimental, institutional, and political economic work, I'd say the likelihood that Chapman can be a credential-booster is *extremely* candidate specific. It will probably very much depend on the work you do there, and the letters you do or don't get as a result of it. As a bonus, one might expect a closer, qualitative look at your package (no not down there), from adcoms if you have a credential from a new program (for which there aren't knee-jerk "oh we've never had luck with their candidates" responses) that has gained considerable notoriety in its research. "Hmmm" factor might go up.
Angling for V. Smith's letter is probably not a good idea, for the same reasons angling for Gary Becker's letter as a Chicago undergrad probably isn't a good idea -- interests and personalities are more likely to diverge than not if your primary motivation in seeking a scholar is their stature, and these people will most likely see right through to purely (or mostly) strategic motivation.
Does his reputation boost the notoriety of the department? You bet. But the scholars there are very active and respected researchers, and the chances you will be working with them are much better, if only because they take the largest slice of the percentage of faculty. I would take a broad sample of the working papers and pubs coming out of the department before passing judgment (which are in my opinion astounding in the questions being asked - e.g. "where do property rights come from?" "will people discover comparative advantage and mutually-beneficent trades without being directed to do so?" "does fairness work as a utility argument, or is it inextricably socially derived?").
There is no micro theory in the program. There is some advanced metrics training, and to boot you get extremely hearty empirical training and are guaranteed to understand economics and experiments extremely well after. As long as you can cover the "theory signals" in some other way, with advanced math courses, I don't see any reason the program couldn't be a compelling addition to the dossier of someone who's very sure they have an interest in the field and want to track that direction.
An additional note: for those not completely sure they want to go the academic route long term, the program will be especially useful. Swaths of industry is pretty much convinced Behavioral Economics is the DaVinci Code, and coming from a program like Chapman's, fully able to conduct experiments (for market research firms, say, whom are already used to hiring psychologists etc), would make you (I imagine) an extremely salable candidate.