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Academic Council votes to dissolve Econ dept.

John Tierney | Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Academic Council voted to dissolve the Department of Economics and Policy Studies (ECOP) at its meeting Thursday.

The department will cease to exist effective at the end of the semester.
The existing Department of Economics and Econometrics will be renamed the Department of Economics, and will serve as the University’s sole economics department.

The University has supported two economics departments since 2003, when the Academic Council voted to split the Department of Economics into Economics and Policy Studies and Economics and Econometrics.

Since 2003, the ECOP, which emphasizes alternative economics theories, has not been allowed to hire new faculty members or accept doctoral candidates.

John McGreevy, dean of the College of Arts and Letters, initially proposed the dissolution of ECOP last year. Continuing to support two economics departments is “not sustainable,” McGreevy said in September.

Fate of the Faculty
The tenure of ECOP faculty members will be respected, McGreevy said. The University is currently working with the faculty to identify new institutional areas for them. McGreevy said he hopes to find new departments for ECOP professors by the end of the semester.

Some Policy Studies professors might move to the reestablished Department of Economics, but they will have to be invited by the department itself, McGreevy said.

“It’s a mutual process,” he said.

McGreevy cited the Kroc Institute, the Kellogg Institute and the Poverty Studies minor as potential homes for ECOP faculty.

The Poverty Studies minor is currently administered by the Department of Economics and Policy Studies.

“We envision [the minor] as part of the Center for Social Concerns,” McGreevy said.

Faculty Senate passed a resolution calling for ECOP faculty to be allowed to return to the reestablished Department of Economics.

The resolution protested the “removal of a faculty member from a continuing department without his or her consent.”

Because current ECOP faculty members were tenured in the pre-2003 Department of Economics, Faculty Senate claims these faculty members “have been involuntarily excluded from the Department of Economics,” according to the resolution.

Faculty Senate was concerned about the “treatment of the faculty in this particular case,” Seth Brown, chair of Faculty Senate’s Administrative Affairs Committee, said.

Concerns about Academic Freedom
Economics and Policy Studies faculty members protested the plan to eliminate the department in a letter released last month. The letter expresses the unanimous opinion of the ECOP faculty, department chair Jennifer Warlick said.

Dissolving the department would “undermine the strong and vibrant conversation about economics that currently exists within our University,” the letter said.

“[The Academic Council’s action] represents a dangerous precedent for academic freedom and university governance,” the letter said.

Dissolving the department inhibits ECOP faculty members’ ability to “participate in the education of our students, to conduct our research, and to engage in service activities,” the letter said.

The decision to dissolve the department, however, was made in part to broaden the “economics conversation” at the University, McGreevy said.

“We’re not eliminating their ideas, and we hope they continue to make as big a contribution as they have made,” he said. “The faculty may be in different units, but I’ve always thought that’s less important than the broader conversation.”

McGreevy said the new Department of Economics will be “open to different ideas and methodologies,” as opposed to embracing only one approach to economics.

Faculty Senate did not argue “that there was some particular affront to academic freedom in this face,” Brown said.

The Senate’s concerns about academic freedom were part of its concerns about tenure.
“The purpose of tenure is to safeguard academic freedom,” Brown said.

Reducing the protections of tenure makes faculty members less willing to pursue unpopular or cutting-edge research, according to Brown.

Student Involvement
Student Senate passed a resolution calling for the delay of the decision to dissolve the department last week.

“We opposed this on the grounds that student input hasn’t been included,” student body chief of staff Ryan Brellenthin said.

Student body president Grant Schmidt said he has gotten feedback from many students.
“We emphasized that students were frustrated with the process,” Schmidt said.

After the decision was made to dissolve the department, student government hopes to make the Department of Economics as academically viable as possible, Schmidt said.

“I have confidence the Economics Department will continue to be successful,” Schmidt said. “It’s important for us to continue to be a part of the conversation.

“We want to have a spot at the table when it comes to discussing major academic decisions.”

Brellenthin said he hopes to work with McGreevy to “ensure that the aspects of the old department that were beneficial continue to exist,” he said.

“We want to make sure the decision doesn’t take anything away from the undergraduate education,” he said.

McGreevy cited the sensitive nature of closing a department as a limitation to how much he could dialogue with students before the decision was finalized, but he said he is open to student input.

 “Students need to take charge of their education at Notre Dame,” he said.

McGreevy said he welcomes student involvement in economics now that ECOP has been dissolved.

“I am happy to think through with groups of students how we can best build an economics major at Notre Dame,” he said.