Re: Problems in the economics department

Letters published in the Manitoban are edited for spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Views expressed in the letters are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Manitoban.

Enough is enough: it is time that the president of the University of Manitoba stop denying the existence of serious problems in the department of economics and start resolving them. These problems have been acknowledged, in writing, by the current dean of arts who has tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to address them internally. The current head of economics, appointed on a promise to deal with the problems that were openly acknowledged at that time and to bring the department together, has made the situation much worse.

The problems are major: curriculum changes that significantly reduce the heterodox content of our degrees; the discriminatory treatment of graduate students working with heterodox supervisors; the negative treatment of heterodox colleagues at departmental meetings; the selection of external reviewers for the undergraduate program who would not be sympathetic to the heterodox approach; the aborted attempt to re-assign macroeconomics to a proponent of the orthodox view; the intimidation of the labour studies members of the department and then their removal from the department; the arbitrary reviewing of a course taught by a heterodox professor and then assigning it to someone with an orthodox view; the dramatic deterioration of collegiality with respect to retreats and invited speakers, especially by ignoring the heterodox interests; the undermining of the achievements and work of heterodox members of the department and the absence of hiring a heterodox economist for a decade after the former dean, Richard Sigurdson, cancelled a hiring search where heterodox women candidates were shortlisted and the top candidate interviewed.

It is not a small minority raising these serious issues but a sizeable minority, made smaller by the exclusion of the labour studies program from the department, intervention in recruiting by the former dean and by bringing in the head from outside. This minority is hardworking and accomplished, bringing the university great credit for its teaching, graduate supervision, research, and grant-raising record. Yet at no time has the president approached them to hear their concerns.

On the contrary, when the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) inquiry was announced, the president encouraged the majority not to participate in the exercise and implicitly supported their positions, thereby helping scupper any process that might have improved the situation.

His actions helped create what he now finds deficient in the CAUT report. Also, contrary to his assertion, the problems are not being dealt with in-house. The president’s reaction of attacking CAUT only diverts attention from the real issues. Especially baffling is his critique (in his recent speeches to the Senate) of the University of Manitoba Faculty Association, which has played no role in the inquiry. Making veiled threats to the participants in the report borders on intimidation.

What has been allowed to happen in economics must be addressed by the university community and resolved, not ignored. The president must start becoming part of the solution instead of part of the problem.

John Loxley
Ian Hudson
John Serieux
Robert Chernomas
Ardeshir Sepehri
Fletcher Baragar

Department of economics, University of Manitoba