Archive for April 8th, 2009

Since the split of Notre Dame’s Economics Department in 2003, chronicled in a number of more esteemed outlets than this one (see The Nation and Chronicle of Higher Ed), a lot has changed. The heterodox department (ECOP) has not hired new faculty or admitted graduate students, while the econometrics department has been adding faculty quickly (4 new hires for the 2009-10 academic year). The fact of the matter is that the ECOP is losing its influence and its ability to reach students.

Of course, these sound like generalities, and I wanted to make them a little more factual, based on actual rates of instructions from the departments. I went on to the ND class search applet and figured out, semester by semester since Fall 2005, how many courses in each category were being taught by ECOP faculty or graduate students. Only looking  at courses of 3 credits with 10 or more students, I divided courses into 3 categories: Intro (anything 100 level, i.e. micro, macro, and a couple seminars); Core (Principles of micro and macro; intermediate micro and macro; and stats for economics and econometrics, the last only after Fall 2006 when it was made a requirement); and Upper level (anything 300 or 400 level not in the Core). I also did totals, which are not simply a sum of these previous 3 because of overlap in the core and intro. The excel data, semester by semester, is available here.

I think this chart captures pretty well what’s going on:


Up until the present, there have been pretty steady numbers across the board for ECOP’s instruction. What is striking is that the from Fall 2006-Spring 2009 is the vast majority of upper level classes were taught by ECOP, but only slight majorities in Intro and Core classes. I think this is problematic in its own right; students need more non-neoclassical instruction in the early courses so they are taught to question assumptions on which neoclassical models are based. On the other hand, it’s encouraging that for so long, the upper level elective courses have had a lot of ECOP faculty instructing.

Of course, that distracts from the main point of the graph, which is the set of data points for next semester, Fall 2009. Intro and Core instruction drops to almost nothing; the total ECOP instruction falls in half.What the hell is happening here? Well, for one, I know of two professors who are retiring and two more who will be on sabbatical next year. With only seven faculty left, there’s only so much they can do. Meanwhile, with the four new hires, there are now nineteen in the econometrics department. Talk about inequality.

Now, given this situation, it seems there’s an obvious solution- hire more faculty into ECOP. I believe there was some notion at the time of the split that the departments should be brought to equal strength, and given that ECOP started from a much stronger position in terms of numbers, this meant more for econometrics. I didn’t make the equal strenght idea up, though. I heard it straight from the horse’s mouth in the Irish Rover article from February (pdf- page 10).

Richard Jensen, chairperson of the Economics and Econometrics Department commented that one reason for the split was that all hiring would be for Economics and Econometrics until “the two departments were at equal strength.”

Equal strength? I think maybe, just maybe, we could argue that Econometrics is finally just a bit stronger than ECOP now, to the point that they could afford to let ECOP hire more faculty. I’m not sure what their reason is for this not happening. Whatever it is, I’m not buying it- something is clearly wrong and it needs to be fixed, and hiring now is the best solution.

The state of heterodox economics at Notre Dame is not good. Last week, Prof. Wolff was here for his lecture, which had 200 attendees by the way, a cry for heterodox perspectives if I’ve ever seen one. Before the talk made a comment to me (and I paraphrase here without his direct permission): “I think it’s ironic that just at the time when neoclassical economics is going to [bleep], Notre Dame is once and for all enshrining it as the only economics taught on this campus.” Ironic indeed. Also sad.

While elsewhere, the ivory tower is at least beginning to shake in the winds and reevaulate itself (even leading to more heterodox hires, according to Prof. Wolff), Notre Dame is choosing double down, pile up the sandbags, and pray for the weather to break just in time. I’m not sure how long it will take for this intellectual edifice to go bust. Meanwhile, however, the economics students of the future will be denied the pluralistic education they deserve. Something has got to change.

Update: The hazards of late night blogging. I should clarify that ECOP is not actually a heterodox department. It has some heterodox economists, some neoclassical, but in general has more plural/open/whatever you like to call it course offerings.

Second, I hope I didn’t make it seem that ECOP was responsible for not hiring more profs. They were prohibited from doing so. The blame lies somewhere in between the Provost’s Office and the Dean’s Office (which, if you’re familiar with the campus, would ironically be the Math building- I kid).

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Hat tip: JP (from http://www.toothpastefordinner.com)

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