According to today’s Chronicle of Higher Education, in an article titled “Notre Dame Plans to Dissolve the ‘Heterodox’ Side of Its Split Economics Department,” this sign (and the department it designates) will be eliminated within the next 2 years.
“In light of the crash of the economy, you would think there would be some humility among economists, some openness to new approaches,” says Charles K. Wilber, a professor emeritus of economics at Notre Dame. “There’s not a lot.”
David F. Ruccio, a professor in the economics and policy studies department, says that he cannot imagine being comfortable anywhere other than an economics department. “We have a letter from 2003 guaranteeing our tenure,” he says. “But we have no idea at this point how this is going to work. Which departments will be our tenure homes? What’s going to be my course load? Who’s going to be my boss? Who’s going to be paying my salary? None of these questions have been answered, so I don’t even know how to approach somebody in some other unit.”
“I’m preparing a proposal for a meeting with Father Jenkins,” says Felipe Witchger, a 2008 graduate. “It would be a serious problem if there were no longer a home for critical engagement with economics or for an analysis of the current crisis.”
“I valued the exposure to mainstream quantitative approaches that I received in the econometric courses,” he says. “But I’m most grateful that I was exposed to other approaches, which allowed me to put the neoclassical model in its proper context.”
Alli deJong, a 2007 graduate who now works for a nonprofit organization in New Orleans, echoes that view. “The major taught me to question my assumptions and to question the logic of social systems,” she says. “I could only have gotten that in a department with a strong heterodox component.” Orthodox economic models of human behavior, she says, would never have allowed her to make sense of post-Katrina New Orleans.
“If you’re looking at a school like Notre Dame, with a long Catholic tradition of looking at how values fit into economics,” Mr. [David] Colander says, “that seems to make much better sense than becoming a neoclassical department like every other neoclassical department. There is a pervasive attempt in economics for everyone to try to become just like a small set of elite schools. And that’s crazy.”
And what will be the fate of the courses taught by the heterodox department? Mr. McGreevy says that faculty members in economics and policy studies will be able to continue to offer their upper-level courses, from whatever new departmental perches they find. But they will no longer teach any of the major introductory or intermediate economics courses, a prospect that makes Mr. Ruccio despair.
“When we are no longer in the core of the economics curriculum, students are not going to be getting these diverse perspectives,” Mr. Ruccio says. “And what that means is that nonmainstream ideas, openness to a variety of traditions, are no longer going to be central.”
Mr. Ruccio is on leave this semester, completing a book in Vermont. “I’m actually a bit conflicted about this,” he says. “On the one hand, I’m sorry to be far away from my colleagues as they’re going through this. But on the other hand, I’m glad to have some distance. It’s hard to watch.”