Wednesday, May 30, 2007

A football program with a university attached to it?

This rightfully ought to wreck Notre Dame's academic reputation:
For the past few decades Notre Dame has had one of the few economics departments where grad students interested in non-mainstream topics could study and find advisers for their dissertations. But the faculty's heterodox focus froze it out of the top-ranked journals, which generally don't accept non-neoclassical work, and resulted in a low ranking. In the early part of the decade, as Notre Dame pushed to raise its national stature, the department's poor ranking came under increased scrutiny, and in 2002 a blue-ribbon committee was commissioned to make recommendations aimed at raising its reputation.

"They wanted a more highly ranked economics department as part of a more highly ranked university, and as long as we were eclectic we wouldn't do that," David Ruccio told me recently. Ruccio is one of the department's stars, a wildly popular professor who has been teaching intro economics to undergrads for twenty years. He specializes in postmodern economics and Latin American political economy. With his curly white hair and goatee, working-class inflection and ubiquitous Marlboros, he's the very model of the cool, rebellious professor. When I asked him if his wife was an economist, he was horrified: "Oh, God no!" he said. "She's an anthropologist."

Ruccio emerged as de facto spokesperson for his heterodox brethren at Notre Dame. The administration "made a number of threats to close down the program unless we published in the top five journals," he says. "We resisted that. They brought in an outside chair to punish us and then they...decided to create a new 'real department of economics' and make us the department of 'flaky economics.'" One department, which would focus on neoclassical economics, would get the name Department of Economics and Econometrics, as well as the money to hire several new tenure-track professors and the bulk of grad students, and the other, called the Department of Economics and Policy Studies, would be the home of the heterodox economists (who, it should be noted, constituted the majority of the department). Crucially, though, the heterodox department would be frozen out of the graduate student admissions process: Of the five-person graduate committee, four of the seats went to the neoclassical department.

"We opposed the split," Ruccio says with wearied agitation, "the college council opposed the split. Then through a series of machinations, the chair and the president of the university got the academic council to support it. It was very ugly. We know of no other situation in the world where this exists."

And how did they justify the split? "The official line was, These were--let me see if I get this right--'separate but equal.'"

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