My real crime in UVM’s Econ Dept: Being a popular heterodox teacher who was using heterodox textbooks

Heterodox textbook used by UVM’s purged lecturer in the Dept of Economics, John Summa.

UVM’s allegation that I did not teach standard economics models ‘fully and fairly’ before criticizing them stems from visits to my international trade theory lectures by three peers. Two of them made the serious allegation even though the models had already largely been presented during the two weeks prior to their visits (with precision and full evaluation of the merits, as the factual record clearly shows). There was one final trade theory section on supply/demand and consumer/producer surplus presented during the first of the three peer visits, but that is it, which was a straightforward delivery of the model and its merits. The rest of the lectures visited by peers were designed to explore critiques of the standard models and present alternatives, as the syllabus clearly spelled out

This did not matter to the peers out to malign me. They ignored these facts and just took any provocative statements I made to claim I did not teach the standard model fully and fairly before criticizing it. An intentional conflation. The record of lecture slides, handouts, homework and an exam I gave earlier, contrary to peer claims, fully covered all aspects of what every teacher presents  in trade sections — the Heckscher-Ohlin (general equilibrium) trade model and then a comparative advantage (partial equilibrium) trade model. The peers cleverly evade mentioning this, but students would know this because they were tested on all the important aspects of the standard models, and were given related handouts and homework assignments.

During the trade theory lectures, I used dynamic slides (with semi-automatic animation) to present trade models, and presented partially live/partially predrawn multi-colored, chalk- drawn diagrams as ‘onion layers’ to tease out certain underlying principles students might not have mastered (or had forgotten) from intro level courses (I took pictures of these diagrams for evidence). All this teaching was done mostly over several weeks prior to peer visits. The last trade section, mentioned above, was a straightforward presentation of the merits (viz-a-viz consumer/producer surplus effects) of a move from autarky to free trade in a two-country, one-good, standard model. My criticism of the model came later, again following the full presentation of the partial equilibrium model and the neoclassical Hechscher-Ohlin trade model.

So how could they conclude I did not teach the standard model(s) fully and fairly before criticizing them if they did not observe me teaching most of the material? Criticisms I developed began after I finished presenting all the standard models. They can not explain this. What they did is crucify me because I made ‘provocative’ statements, period. It did not matter that I actually made criticisms only after finishing the presentation of the standard models (the last section of chapter 3 on the surplus in supply and demand trade model). This is the sleight of hand in their peer assessments, particularly the Chair’s comments. Nor did they let on that I actually made reasonable, albeit assertive, criticisms.  My criticisms, for example, (that models are ahistorical and assume no global capital flows) are well known even by some neoclassicals.

Yet I have the right to criticize (and be provocative as a teacher) — both constitutionally and pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement with UVM.  To mischaracterize my actual teaching and use it to get other department members to vote against me is a violation of my academic freedom. Again, my criticisms were made after I had taught — fairly and fully — the standard models found in chapter 3 of the textbook. Their entire claim of teaching ‘not fairly and fully’ the standard model(s) before I criticize is thus a ruse, as anybody could see if they actually looked at my teaching materials. Their claim is out of step with the teaching sequence found right in my syllabus (which they had), which shows, for example, that I had presented several prior lectures, given handouts, homework and an exam clearly exploring the merits (not weaknesses) of the standard models. Just the opposite of what they falsely claim.

Arguably, and at risk of appearing self-aggrandizing, I am probably the only one in the department who teaches the standard models fully and fairly. Why? Because I teach the models rigorously first (been doing it for nearly 30 years) so that I can then deconstruct them by drawing on well-known critiques in the literature which, to many inside and outside neoclassical schools of thought, are well known (and I used a textbook that structures this all for students to follow).

Provocative? Perhaps. Unbalanced? Absolutely not, and any such claim is simply not supported by the evidence. Just take a look at the textbook to see the structure (chapter 3), a textbook choice that really must have offended certain neoclassical and even so-called progressives members of the department (who teach with standard model textbooks only; I was the only faculty member using heterodox textbooks).


PS, It is my right to select a textbook. Regardless, the Chair is supposed to review teaching materials in annual reviews and periodic reviews, yet she maintained under oath in a deposition that she did not know I was a heterodox teacher, using heterodox textbooks. Really? I guess she didn’t supervise her only lecturer very well. Or she committed perjury. I would say the latter because she signed my self evaluation blue sheets in 2013 where I explicitly defined myself as a heterodox teacher, and explained exactly why, and what the term means. I used the term ‘heterodox’ four times, and she read it and supervised it (with feedback), and then signed it! With just one lecturer to ‘supervise’ it is hard to imagine that she forgot, especially since most students know me and my challenging approach (it was welcomed by students generally and word gets around after 8 years) and talked about it with other faculty.~JS