Matt made some nice points on the article in Notre Dame’s student newspaper, highlighting the tenuous status of heterodox economics at Notre Dame. Of course, he failed to post the Drudge siren, which is a shame.
On a serious note, however, the writing has been on the wall with regards to this decision for a while. Last spring I posted empirical evidence of the sharp decreases in teaching and faculty from the Department of Economics and Policy Studies, which houses all the remaining heterodox faculty at Notre Dame. Even before that research, however, it was clear to most people familiar with the department that without hiring power, things were not looking good. The department chair of the mainstream Department of Economics and Econometrics even admitted as much in another student newspaper article:
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.”
Regular readers of this blog will not be surprised when I express concern about the sins of omission and commission lying behind these decisions. However, I want to make it clear that these developments do not surprise me. The decision was made over a decade ago, when the External Review was conducted at the behest of then business professor, and now Executive Vice-President John Affleck-Graves, that mainstream economics was the only relevant party in economics discourse at Notre Dame. Everything since then has been dotting i’s and crossing t’s. The strategy has been an intelligent one: divide and conquer; pay lip service to pluralism and discourse but allow them only outside the context of a true economics department; cite publishing and citation rankings that are more a function of the discipline than of the writer.
When Richard Wolff, a Marxian economist, visited campus to deliver a talk in April (which attracted over 200 attendees on a Thursday evening), he commented that Notre Dame was choosing to enshrine neoclassical economics as the only form of economics just when it was seeing its nadir. The fact of the matter, however, is that these decisions are completely walled off from current conditions. Instead, they are part of a natural progression, the result of the sociology of an entire profession that has developed over the course of decades.
It is encouraging, nonetheless, that the Dean of Arts and Letters does pay lip service to pluralism and conversation in a discipline like economics, both publicly and privately. However, he is entirely misguided in thinking that true conversation occurs best horizontally, across disciplines, and not just vertically. Of course, at the end of the day, conversation (at least substantive conversation) is quite difficult between neoclassical and heterodox economists. Fundamental assumptions can be entirely different, to the point that there is really nothing to talk about. Of course, some economists, like Paul Krugman, for example, seem to straddle this divide a little more delicately than most in policy discourse (see The Night They Reread Minsky), but at the end of the day, his models are decidedly neoclassical. And, most of the neoclassical macro folks at ND haven’t read Minsky (and don’t even ask about Polanyi, just hope that they’ve at least read Keynes).
Despite that reality, the proper place of heterodox economists is in an economics department, one that has a vibrant discussion within itself, and also present meaningful alternatives to the neoclassical paradigm that dominates. That doesn’t happen under the current arrangement, and it certainly won’t happen if ECOP is disbanded. Surely some mechanism can be invented whereby two sets of economists exist in the same department, with equal strength. It will be tough, but disbanding ECOP is without a doubt the easy way out of this situation for the Dean. He will take a lot of heat in the short term from people like myself, as well as the to-be-dispersed faculty, but that pales in comparison to the long-term difficulty of balancing those divisions.
So, the way forward is not just about making the short-term very difficult for decision-makers, but by challenging them intellectually to better serve the campus. The only thing that remains to be seen is whether the will exists in the campus community to hold the Dean and others to account for their decisions, expose their plans, and demand true pluralism.