Harvard students protest 1% economics teachings. Having left a Ph.D. program for similar reasons, I’m glad to see students take a stand. Article above; letter below. From Olga.
Students Walk Out of Ec 10 in Solidarity with ‘Occupy’
By Jose A. DelReal, Harvard Crimson, November 02, 2011; updated Nov. 3, 2011
Harvard students and community members gather in front of John Harvard statue in solidarity with the Occupy Movement and Occupy Oakland.
Nearly 70 Harvard student protesters walked out of Economics 10 on Wednesday afternoon, expressing dissatisfaction with what they perceive to be an overly conservative bias in the course.
The walkout was meant to be a show of support for the “Occupy” movement’s principal criticism that conservative economic policies have increased income inequality in the United States.
“Today, we are walking out of your class, Economics 10, in order to express our discontent with the bias inherent in this introductory economics course. We are deeply concerned about the way that this bias affects students, the University, and our greater society,” read a statement issued by the organizers.
Economics 10—more commonly referred to as “Ec 10”—is taught by professor N. Gregory Mankiw, and has the highest enrollment of any course at the College, boasting over 700 enrollees.
Mankiw, who was aware that students would be staging the walkout, began lecture by announcing his office hours.
“I was going to announce this at the end, but I have a feeling people might leave a little early,” he said.
At 12:15 p.m. students stood up en masse and walked out of Sanders Theatre, where Ec 10 lectures are held. Some students carried signs, but most left carrying just their backpacks. As the demonstrators marched out of Sanders Theatre, a small crowd booed them in support of Mankiw. Most students remained in their seats
After walking out, the group gathered in the hallway outside of the theater, standing in a circle and speaking out about the event.
“Harvard graduates have been complicit [and] have aided many of the worst injustices of recent years. Today we fight that history,” said Rachel J. Sandalow-Ash ’15, one of the students who organized the walkout. “Harvard students will not do that anymore. We will use our education for good, and not for personal gain at the expense of millions.”
Gabriel H. Bayard ’15, another organizer of the walk out, said that he believes the course is emblematic of the economic policies that have led the financial crisis.
“Ec 10 is a symbol of the larger economic ideology that created the 2008 collapse. Professor Mankiw worked in the Bush administration, and he clearly has a conservative ideology,” Bayard said. “His conservative views are the kind that created the collapse of 2008. This easy money focus on enriching the wealthiest Americans—he really operates with that ideology.”
Mankiw served as the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers during the second Bush Administration and is currently an adviser to former Mass. Governor Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. Mankiw declined to comment for this article.
Sandalow-Ash ’15 said that the course too heavily asserts conservative economic claims as fact.
“It’s a class that’s very indoctrinating, and does not encourage diversity of views. Economic questions are not always clear-cut. Multiple views should be presented in this course,” Sandalow-Ash said.
Many undergraduates remained skeptical of the demonstration’s mission.
Mark S. Krass ’14 said he believes the walkout’s intended goals were unclear, which detracted from the walkout’s message and comprises its integrity.
“Those of us who are supportive of Occupy Wall Street are trying very hard to combat the view that there is no set of objectives or ideology motivating that movement,” Krass said. “It was really distressing for people to advertise a walkout of Ec 10 on the basis of high textbook prices and bad teaching.”
Jeremy Patashnik ’12, an economics concentrator who authored a lengthy piece in defense of the course for the Harvard Political Review, rejected the notion that Ec 10 carries a conservative bias.
“I self-identify as a liberal on these issues, and I don’t see the conservative bias. I think this walkout misses the point of what Ec 10 is supposed to be,” Patashnik said. “This class is not attempting to give normative answers about how to address social issues. It’s meant to introduce students to economics as a social science.”
Krass noted that the topic of Wednesday’s lecture—income inequality—might have been particularly interesting to those who participated in the walkout.
“It’s incredible that in the name of advancing a more liberal view of economics they chose to walk out of a class on a social issue they care about,” Krass said.
According to those who walked out, part of the discontent with Economics 10 stems from what they say is the limited number of opportunities to express skepticism toward the material taught in the course.
“I’ve definitely written question marks in my textbook, but we never really get to question [what he says] in section,” said Alexandra E. Foote ’15, who is currently enrolled in the course. “I don’t know very much about economics, and it’s not really fair that I’m getting a skewed perspective.”
—Staff writer Jose A. DelReal can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Steve: Let’s hold the space for Prof. Mankiw indeed taking the walkout seriously and altering his approach to economics – without making him bad and wrong. Why? Because this world needs to work out for everyone.
Wednesday November 2, 2011
Dear Professor Mankiw—
Today, we are walking out of your class, Economics 10, in order to express our discontent with the bias inherent in this introductory economics course.
We are deeply concerned about the way that this bias affects students, the University, and our greater society.
As Harvard undergraduates, we enrolled in Economics 10 hoping to gain a broad and introductory foundation of economic theory that would assist us in our various intellectual pursuits and diverse disciplines, which range from Economics, to Government, to Environmental Sciences and Public Policy, and beyond.
Instead, we found a course that espouses a specific—and limited—view of economics that we believe perpetuates problematic and inefficient systems of economic inequality in our society today.
A legitimate academic study of economics must include a critical discussion of both the benefits and flaws of different economic simplifying models. As your class does not include primary sources and rarely features articles from academic journals, we have very little access to alternative approaches to economics. There is no justification for presenting Adam Smith’s economic theories as more fundamental or basic than, for example, Keynesian theory.
Care in presenting an unbiased perspective on economics is particularly important for an introductory course of 700 students that nominally provides a sound foundation for further study in economics. Many Harvard students do not have the ability to opt out of Economics 10. This class is required for Economics and Environmental Science and Public Policy concentrators, while Social Studies concentrators must take an introductory economics course—and the only other eligible class, Professor Steven Margolin’s class Critical Perspectives on Economics, is only offered every other year (and not this year).
Many other students simply desire an analytic understanding of economics as part of a quality liberal arts education.
Furthermore, Economics 10 makes it difficult for subsequent economics courses to teach effectively as it offers only one heavily-skewed perspective rather than a solid grounding on which other courses can expand. Students should not be expected to avoid this class—or the whole discipline of economics—as a method of expressing discontent.
Harvard graduates play major roles in the financial institutions and in shaping public policy around the world. If Harvard fails to equip its students with a broad and critical understanding of economics, their actions are likely to harm the global financial system. The last five years of economic turmoil have been proof enough of this.
We are walking out today to join a Boston-wide march protesting the corporatization of higher education as part of the global Occupy movement. Since the biased nature of Economics 10 contributes to and symbolizes the increasing economic inequality in America, we are walking out of your class today both to protest your inadequate discussion of basic economic theory and to lend our support to a movement that is changing American discourse on economic injustice.
Professor Mankiw, we ask that you take our concerns and our walk-out seriously.
Concerned students of Economics 10