I feel like the comments made by Dean McGreevy in this article deserve special attention (and elucidation):
“We’re trying to create the best economics conversation we can have at Notre Dame,” McGreevy said.
These words blatantly ignore the recent history of economics at Notre Dame. As Nick has shown here and here, the forced-split of the department in 2003 resulted in ECOE growing four-fold in number of faculty while ECOP’s saw its faculty halve. ECOE also became home to the graduate program. Looking at the evidence, we can conclude that by the word “best,” McGreevy cannot possible mean “widest,” “broadest,” “most diverse,” or “open,” because the trend at Notre Dame points to the opposite. It seems that the “best” conversation, in his view, is not even a conversation, but rather a monologue.
“There are lots of places around the University where we need economists,” including at the Kellogg Institute, the Kroc Institute and the Poverty Studies program.
These words blatantly ignore the current situation of economics at Notre Dame. ECOP currently has five faculty who are fellows at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies; ECOE has zero. ECOP has seven faculty affiliated with the Poverty Studies program; ECOE has two. ECOP has four faculty that are members of the Higgins Labor Research Center; ECOE has zero. This isn’t an issue of “maximizing” the economics faculty’s reach and “impact,” as the faculty in ECOP already have a large and active presence in many programs and institutes around the university. Citing the “need” for economists elsewhere in the university ignores the numerous examples of collaborative and cross-disciplinary work already done by ECOP faculty while overshadowing the near-absence of any ECOE faculty outside of their narrow disciplinary boundaries (whether this is a good thing of a bad thing is another issue…).
McGreevy said that moves to other roles in the University could allow Economics and Policy Studies professors to have a larger impact. “Our colleagues in Economics and Policy Studies have much expertise,” he said. “We’re asking where in the University they can have the most impact.”
Here is one of the biggest ironies, for “impact” (or lack of impact, according to mainstream, quantitative standards) was one the primary reasons for splitting the department in the first place. However, I think it is an important concept, but the utilitarian argument (“most impact for the most people”) is really a farce. The issue, it seems, is not “impact” in the abstract, but about who the faculty of ECOP are able to impact. The goal of disbanding the ECOP faculty is not to disperse the “impact” of these faculty, allowing more open “conversation,” but is intended to delimit their impact to certain groups – that is, anyone who isn’t an economics or business student. By denying ECOP faculty the ability to teach introductory economics courses, a vast amount of students will be presented neoclassical and ONLY neoclassical theory as “economics.” This does not only “impact” economics students, but political science, business, sociology, and many other disciplines whose students take an introductory economics course.
McGreevy’s comments clearly show that the economics “conversation” he wishes to see at Notre Dame is one in which only neoclassical economists have a voice.
Note: While this post focuses directly on the comments made by Dean McGreevy, he is only one of a number of administrators involved in the decision to close ECOP. Still, I find his tone and rhetoric to mimic other administrators who have worked to carry out this decision and frame it as a non-political, “benevolent” decision.