VTDigger.org story out…but there are missing facts about the purge by UVM’s Dept of Economics

The VTdigger.org report is out about my purge from the Dept of Economics at University of Vermont  (sorry for the hyperpole, use of “purge”, but it is absolutely an accurate description of the move by the Dept of Economics at UVM, now rubber-stamped by the Dean).  So far, neither the Dean, nor the media reports out, have actually evaluated the evidence I presented, and available for all to see, which, if examined, would immediately lead a reasonable person to conclude that the so-called concerns by peers in the Dept of Economics are merely sleight of hand tactics designed to discredit my teaching. Let’s take a look at one of these so-called “concerns” and see how it is manufactured by peers with an agenda.
While a darn good story by Morgan True, it was not granular enough to let readers see what is really at work here, and did not cite from some key records made available by me to the reporter, namely my own grievance documents, which could have been quoted, in which I make clear how the claims leveled by the Chair and Dean are red herrings. Don’t get me wrong, the reporter had to stay at a less granular level for space reasons. Yet, for the record, there is substantial evidence to undermine the so-called peer concerns. [See this earlier post, where I produce evidence that refutes a “concern,” yet it has been ignored in the grievance process.]

For example, one of the “concerns” about my teaching is that I was not using enough “academic” material in my highly-rated, even by many conservative students, Global Financial Crisis seminar class (EC220), and that I was having students read too much “non academic” literature. Let’s take a look at how I structured this seminar to see why this is misleading.

By design, we spend the first half or more of the seminar reading a variety of publications — legal documents, books, online news reports, and official reports (like the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission’s excellent report on the 2008 subprime crisis, a bipartisan US Congressional official report). In terms of books, we read autobiographies by former Wall Street executives, like the former Lehman VP, Larry McDonald’s,  and those of other insiders. Also, students are regularly assigned articles from the required compendiums for the course, Financial Crisis Reader (Dollars & Sense) and a companion reader, Real World Banking and Finance (Dollars & Sense), both filled with articles written by mostly academics. While what constitutes academic material can be debated,  I will make the assumption it means peer-reviewed material. And my peers would probably agree. Now let’s see why this “concern” reflects cherry picking the part of the seminar that fits the “concern” and imparts a maligned view of me.

In my syllabus is the structure of the seminar, where the evidence resides to destroy the peer “concerns”.  Read on…

After wrapping their heads around difficult financial concepts (like derivatives, CDOs, etc.) through a variety of sources, mostly not peer-reviewed, students are required to dive into the peer-reviewed literature, exclusively! This is part of the design of the course, stated in the syllabus, and is aimed at helping students better digest difficult to understand, peer-reviewed lit. through mostly non-academic material. This is to help students acquire necessary conceptual clarity for tackling later the typically turgid and obtuse writing (poorly explained concepts) that students often find too challenging in peer-reviewed literature.

AhHA! So, you see, it is this omission that allows for my “peers” to make their negative claim about my teaching. They don’t mention that this effective, proven pedagogy has been used for 8 years, and it works!

Students, to be clear, per the syllabus are required to pull a minimum of  7 peer reviewed  articles for their proposed research papers, and they must annotate them. They each must then present before the class one of those articles that are peer-reviewed, which we, as a class, then discuss (all students read the articles, and each class has two students as interrogators).

Let me be clear, unmentioned by the peers is the fact (which peers were made well aware of) that each research paper requires a minimum of 7 peer reviewed articles centered on a student’s key research question (e.g. “Does competition in financial markets produce efficient market outcomes,” and so on). and one of those is presented in class by a student, making for at least 18 peer-reviewed articles assigned for all to read, and presented by students during the last third of the semester in well-prepared PowerPoint slides (prepared well ahead of time by each student, who is assigned a day to present).

So, in short, I do have them read peer-reviewed literature, but only after they have mastered some of the key concepts, critical perspectives and debates around the issues related to the subprime crisis, and then they are free to choose peer-reviewed articles related to their own paper topics. They are required to present all perspectives on the key questions and are graded on how well they do just that.

You don’t need to be a teacher to know why students like this course so much. I give them control of their own learning! Sadly, my department wants to eliminate this type of teaching. The real agenda and source of the criticism of my teaching, meanwhile, among certain department members, the three who reviewed this particular seminar, is their disdain for developing strong anti-neoclassical arguments, perspectives drawn from alternative schools of thought, namely, Marxian and left-Keynesian. Criticism of neoliberalism from alternative paradigmatic perspectives using a jeopardy game organized class was dismissed as not effective because students were said to be idle while they waited for competing teams to take their turn at the jeopardy game (e.g., “Rao for 40”). A fun class, where students learned, and enjoyed learning!

These are perspectives that involve completely different modelling approaches to markets, and thus are not merely tinkering around the edges of the standard model with some criticism (which is all that is tolerated, actually, in UVM’s Economics Dept). The core curriculum (100 percent neoclassical), in short, is seriously challenged by the seminar, and this annoys many who either are wedded to it professionally, or are tired of being caught flat footed when a student of mine has the audacity to think on their own, empowered by a non-neoclassical idea they mastered in one of my classes, and then challenges another teacher in his or her class. If I were to point to one key reason (common denominator among faculty) for my expulsion from the Dept of Economics, this would be it!

Additional related concerns cited were that there was not enough theory being taught related to the financial crisis and financial markets. However, there was a full theoretical arc established, framing the seminar inside a non-neoclassical vs. neoclassical conflict way of thinking. Theory related to Marxian “social structures of accumulation” methodology, however, and work of other non-neoclassicals, was deemed not theory!! This clearly exposed the bias of the reviewers, who could only think inside neoclassical parameters. Anything not inside was simply not valid.

Welcome to the Machine — the thought control machine — run by largely neoclassical, academic bullies! Oops, please excuse my hyperbole (and perhaps a bit of self-aggrandizement?).

Hope to see you at the Night of Rage Monday night, April 10, at Radio Bean, starting at 8 p.m.