Graduate Economics: A Needless Casualty
The budget cuts Dean Forman handed down last Friday will have a devastating impact for many undergraduates in Emory College. However, the cut that will hurt all Emory undergraduates the most is one not mentioned in the dean’s email—the elimination of Emory’s Economics PhD program.
When the news broke, I was shocked but not surprised. Over the last ten years, Emory has not supported its Economics program. Even though Economics is Emory’s second most popular major, it has the highest student-teacher ratio of any academic department. Economics majors will tell you how impossible it is to get into Economics courses, particularly electives, some of which have grown from 20 students to over 90. These overcrowded classes make it harder for even the best teachers to provide adequate instruction for their students.
Last year, when I asked my Intermediate Microeconomics professor about these problems in his department, he said that when the department approached the administration about hiring new faculty, the administration was unreceptive.
According to this professor, who has since left Emory, the administration claimed Economics was a “bubble” field and the number of students in the department would decline. This prognosis could not be farther from the truth—enrollment in the Economics department is higher than it has ever been and continues to increase.
When these cuts hit, the already depleted Economics department will start bleeding professors as older professors begin to seek retirement and the stars of the department look for brighter skies at institutions that care about their field. Furthermore, up-and-coming economists will not want to come to Emory—as Dr. Shomu Banerjee told The Wheel last week, the lack of graduate students will stunt incoming professors’ potential for research and collaboration. Thus, the teaching quality in the department will decline as the department fails to attract the best teachers and researchers. Combined with classes that are already over-enrolled, the Economics department will be in shambles and the Economics Bachelor’s degree at Emory will be devalued.
Assuming the administration is aware of the impacts these cuts will have on undergraduate education in the department, the question remains: why cut Economics? Certainly, funding Economics PhDs is not more expensive than funding PhDs in other departments.
The answer is the rapid rise of the Goizueta Business School, currently ranked #5 among undergraduate business schools by Bloomberg Business Week. If an Emory undergraduate likes numbers and wants to raise the probability of making a good living straight out of college, he or she is confronted with a choice between Economics, which the administration does not support, and Goizueta, Emory’s top ranked pride and joy. By increasing the incentive for students to choose a pre-business track, competition for acceptance into the business school will increase. The administration hopes that this competition for a limited amount of spots will result in the quality of the students at the business school improving, the acceptance rate going down and Goizueta’s ranking going up.
For some undergraduates, the choice between Economics in the College and business at Goizueta is an easy one, as they do not want to take a wide range of classes and the stringent requirements of a B.B.A. are what they want out of their undergraduate experience.
However, most Emory undergraduates (myself included) came to Emory because of its liberal arts mission: the ability to experience a wide range of course offerings and become a well-rounded student and person. By compromising the Economics department, the opportunity to develop quantitative skills along with the qualitative skills from a History, English or Linguistics major becomes significantly harder to realize. Although undergraduates can and do double major and receive degrees from Goizueta and the College, their schedules do not allow them to take additional offerings in any other subjects.
Because the Economics major requires fewer courses yet still gives students a quantitative skill set, it provides a way for undergraduates to gain marketable skills without compromising their academic and professional goals.
I chose to double major in Economics and History because of my deep interest in both subjects, my desire to take courses outside my major and the professional flexibility my majors will afford me after I graduate. Yet, the administration does not seem to understand these reasons for a strong Economics department.
Ironically, by stripping the Economics department, the administration is also devaluing its B.B.A. program. Prospective Goizueta undergraduates have to take Introductory Micro and Macroeconomics or Business Economics to matriculate into the business school—these students will have to compete for fewer seats in these classes with lower quality faculty. Thus, the sophomores applying for the business school will be weaker students than they were before the cuts, which will negate the gains the administration hopes to make by pushing students toward business.
In pushing undergraduates towards Goizueta by dismantling the Economics department, Emory’s administration is forcing students to make a choice they should not have to make—whether to follow their passions or follow the money. However, the question Emory, as a liberal arts institution, should be posing to its students is, why not both?
Ben Leiner is a College Junior from Baltimore, Maryland.