In light of the Dean of Arts and Letters’ recommendation to the Academic Council to close ECOP, I have sent the following letter to him and the members of the Academic Council.
Dear Dean McGreevy,
I was saddened when I learned of your decision to recommend the closure of the Department of Economics and Policy Studies to the academic council. I’m sure you are familiar with the arguments I could make against this decision; they are well-documented on the blog to which I contribute (openeconomicsnd.wordpress.com), which I shared with you last spring, as well as in the petition that I signed along with over one thousand others this fall. We also discussed these issues at length during two private meetings while I was a student. Whatever the merits of my arguments, your recent decision has seemed inevitable for at least eighteen months, and the purpose of this letter is not to change your mind. Instead, I’m writing you today to express my belief that your execution of this decision does not fit the high standard of transparency and dialogue that your position demands and that the academic community at Notre Dame deserves.
It was encouraging that on two occasions, you opened the doors of your office to my peers and me so we could share the experiences of our economics education. At the time, I expressed how blessed I felt to take a diverse and stimulating course load that emphasized rigorous quantitative analysis as well as descriptive critical thinking. Although I did not know it then, it was this diverse skill set that helped me secure a job as a research assistant in the Africa Growth Initiative at Brookings Institution. On a daily basis, my job requires this whole skill set. As I pursue a career path, I am confident that Notre Dame has provided me the foundation to make a meaningful contribution in whatever field I choose to enter.
After meeting with you twice, my general sense was that you understood our feelings, and more encouragingly, you relished getting to know us and our stories. You demonstrated a desire for a degree of pluralism and openness, while cautioning the limits of your understanding of the divides within economics. Although we were aware of the broader institutional pressures at work, it seemed to me that these stories, and the interests of the students that they represented, would affect your decisions about economics and the way in which you executed them.
It is for that reason that I now write to you with great dismay. The candor you demonstrated to my peers and me behind closed doors has been lacking in the last three months. Particularly disturbing is that you have declined to engage in a forum with economics students, requested at the behest of the Economics Club, to explain what the decision means and how it will impact them, as well as to answer lingering questions. By citing sensitivity and personnel issues as reasons to not engage, more accurately you have chosen to dodge potential bad publicity from the situation, and more importantly, missed a teachable moment. Since you are first and foremost an educator, it is hard to imagine a successful student-oriented decision process without your participation in such a forum, or a similar event organized on your own terms. The perception of this decision for some students will be that it occurred behind closed doors; more disconcertingly, a greater number will remain in ignorance because of your omissions.
Having thought very carefully about the issues facing the economics discipline, I can understand the erroneous thinking that led to your decision. I can understand the sociology of a profession in turmoil as well as the long-run socio-political causes and implications of this retreat from pluralism. Even with that understanding, I realize that it is not my place to judge your job performance; that is the job of your peers, some of whom will be engaged in the decision to close ECOP in the months to come. It is for that reason that I have chosen to include the members of the Academic Council on this letter as well, since I believe strongly that every decision, however major or minor, or however painful to think about, must be held to a high standard and a healthy dose of transparency. I believe that you have not only made a poor decision, but have failed to meet the expectations of the highest academic official in the College of Arts and Letters. I sincerely hope that the members of the Academic Council consider openly the merits of your recommendation and the way in which you have arrived at it.
The detriment of your decision to students present and future will not be obvious. Inevitably, Notre Dame’s standing among ‘peer institutions’ will increase in the field of economics, and the number of economics majors will continue to rise because of the great interest in the discipline. I’m sure your decision will be regarded as a bold and courageous one, and the results I mentioned above will continue to serve as proof of its merits.
Few students will know what they are missing; I know that I may never have been exposed to heterodox ideas under the proposed future arrangement. Indeed, the fact that much of this process has occurred in the shadows has ensured that ignorance of heterodox ideas will persist. However, as a shaper of young minds who will be our future leaders, I question how you can justify this result. In the context of social action, ignorance breeds inertia, and your decision and its execution will contribute to the maintenance of a status quo that we all agree is fundamentally unjust and unsustainable.
We live in troubling times indeed. As our economy continues to change, and another economic crisis comes and goes, it is inevitable that more discontented young intellectuals will thirst for a more critical approach to economics. Your decision makes it impossible for them to pursue this approach at Notre Dame. This hidden legacy of your decision will be the most deleterious and, I fear, the most lasting.