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Future of economics department uncertain

John Tierney | Friday, September 11, 2009

The College of Arts and Letters plans to discontinue one of its two economic departments in the next two years, according to College Dean John McGreevy.

In the future, McGreevy said there will not be two economics departments in the College of Arts and Letters. Currently, the College houses the Department of Economics and Policy Studies and the Department of Economics and Econometrics.

McGreevy said any action he takes will ensure that the voices of the Economics and Policy Studies professors continue to be heard.

“We’re trying to create the best economics conversation we can have at Notre Dame,” McGreevy said. “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.

He said the University has not made a final decision on what to do with the Department of Economics and Policy Studies, but that there will not be two departments in the future.

“What I’ve said in a meeting with both departments is that two departments is not the best strategy long-term,” he said.

The Department of Economics and Policy Studies was the primary economics department at the University until the creation of the Department of Economics and Econometrics in 2003, according to Professor of Economics and Policy Studies David Ruccio.

“The University decided in 2003 to create another economics department,” Ruccio said. “The majority of people in the existing department voted against the idea and the College Council voted against the idea.

“The people who wanted to create a new department went to the Academic Council and got a positive vote,” Ruccio said.

Of the 21 economics faculty members in 2003, 16 voted against the split and five voted in favor, according to Ruccio. The five members who supported the split went to the Department of Economics and Econometrics, which supports only neoclassical economic theory.

The 16 members who voted against the creation of a new department remained in the Department of Economics and Policy Studies, whose mission statement is to teach and conduct research in “a distinctive way” that is “related to the Catholic identity of the University.”

“Economics and Policy Studies has a more open or pluralistic approach to economics so lots of different theories are taught and used in research,” Ruccio said.

He said this pluralistic approach is especially valuable in the current economic crisis, when the neoclassical approach “has been most called into question.”

Ruccio said he believes his department “is going to be dissolved over the course of the next two years.”

Ruccio said that the different approach of the Department of Economics and Policy Studies helps “make Notre Dame distinctive.”

“Lots of universities only teach neoclassical economics,” he said.

Notre Dame is different “partly because of the Catholic tradition of social justice.”

“Now students will only get one approach and that’s a shame,” Ruccio said.

Without the Department of Economics and Policy Studies, “there won’t be a department that would be devoted to a conversation rather than a monologue on campus,” Ruccio said.

Students are less likely to be exposed “to a variety of different theories, when the department no longer exists,” he said.

“That’s especially true if Economics and Econometrics teaches all the intro courses,” he said.

Ruccio said the need for different approaches in economics stems from the concept of the liberal arts education.

In a liberal arts education, “students are exposed to critical thinking and the only way to do critical thinking is to be exposed to a variety of approaches,” he said.

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.”

McGreevy said the tenure of Economics and Policy Studies professors will be respected.

“We can’t be fired,” Ruccio said. “But from what we’ve heard, we have been encouraged to find another position either inside the University or outside the University.”