Bubble bursts on economist’s ‘alternative’ course

Lecturer’s contract not renewed after he set up out-of-hours module to broaden curriculum

May 15, 2014
Disillusioned: Sakir Yilmaz says ‘mainstream’ colleagues did not support his attempt to broaden economics curriculum

Source: Alamy

A lecturer who will not have his contract renewed at the University of Manchester despite helping to prepare an “alternative” economics course to meet students’ demands has criticised the “stubbornness” of some staff at his institution.

Sakir Devrim Yilmaz, a lecturer in macroeconomics in the School of Social Sciences, who had been teaching in the department for several years, will not have his temporary contract renewed when it expires in the summer, it has been revealed.

Earlier this academic year he was asked by the university to prepare a module covering alternative approaches to the economic crisis, after a student group – the Post-Crash Economics Society – called for the curriculum to better reflect non-mainstream economic theory.

But the course, called Bubbles, Panics and Crashes, was later rejected by the university. In response to this decision, Dr Yilmaz and the PCES offered the module across 10 out-of-hours sessions, on a voluntary basis. More than 50 students opted to attend, the lecturer claims.

In an email on a public forum to members of a Post-Keynesian Economics Study Group mailing list, Dr Yilmaz says that his experience over the past 12 months has left him disillusioned with the idea of working for a “mainstream” economics department.

“The stubbornness of the mainstream people in the department was incredible, as well as very nasty and non-scholarly at times towards me and the PCES,” he writes.

There was “immense pressure from some people within the department and the school of social sciences, and over 240 economics student’ signatures, for me to stay and [for] the Bubbles module to run as an official module”, he adds.

At the time of writing, 245 people had signed an online petition calling for Dr Yilmaz’s course to run.

Joe Earle, spokesman for the PCES, said that economics students were “greatly inspired by and grateful to” Dr Yilmaz. “His dedication to his students and his teaching is truly remarkable.

“Whatever the reasons for Manchester’s decision not to renew Sakir’s contract, we are greatly saddened by the news and feel that it sends out a dangerous message to any other lecturers thinking about sticking their heads above the parapet in the name of delivering a broader, more comprehensive economics education.”

A University of Manchester spokesman said that although the students’ petition and the Bubbles module had been considered “very carefully”, the institution had decided that it “did not fit well” with the current macroeconomic curriculum.

Dr Yilmaz’s teaching obligations, which include macroeconomic modules for first, second and third year students, would be met by colleagues on permanent contracts, the spokesman said. “We are now developing an ‘alternative approaches’ module which, from September 2015, would be taught by existing staff on permanent contracts.”

He said a new second-year economics module on financial crises, at Manchester Business School, would be available to economics students from September this year.

A second-year module on the economics of public policy would be delivered by renowned economist Diane Coyle, and two new politics modules on global capitalism would also be made available to economics students from September, the spokesman added.


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Reader's comments (3)

The bias towards neoclassical economics at the expense of any alternative view is alive and well in Australia as well. Refer to the PhD by Dr Tim Thornton (Latrobe University Archive) now teaching at Swinburne University Michael Pusey in Economic rationalism in Canberra (1991) first identified the link between bureaucrats in Canberra who were trained nearly exclusively in neoclassical economics and their ability to persuade Australian politicians that this was the preferred regulatory model (probably because they weren't aware of any other).. However, our universities here are still suffering from market driven policy which has been reflected in a narrowing of the curriculum across many faculties to offer demand driven courses related to current job opportunities and time poor students who prefer online lectures as they are too busy to attend university lectures as they are all working.. I am not sure how this approach prepares students to contribute to the intellectual development of a society or the promotion of concepts related to the common good. Please refer to the PhD by Dr Tim Thornton (Latrobe University Archive, Melbourne ) now teaching at Swinburne University Melbourne for detailed research on strategies required to develop a pluralistic economics curriculum. . Jillian Carroll ( PhD student on the impact of neoliberal policy on the university sector in Australia)
Dear Chris, Certain things need to be made clear here. I wrote explicitly in my email to the PKSG mailing list that "... I would prefer if the discussions could focus on the more important subject of economics education more than my personal contract, particularly considering that an another round of international media hype will start on Monday with the announcement of "A call for pluralism in economics" signed by student societies in over 25 countries. If my contract issue will be raised, I would be happy if it is raised within this broad agenda." This piece does not take what I said into account and focuses on my contract issue almost entirely. Once again, the important issue is not my contract here. It is what will be taught in an economics degree. I am delighted to hear that there will be a module on alternative approaches at Manchester in 2015-16 academic year, that makes all the struggle worthwhile. But on the other hand, it completely discredits the argument that my module "did not fit well” with the current macroeconomic curriculum and was rejected only for that reason. Dr. Sakir Devrim Yilmaz
Dr Yilmaz, Thanks for your comment. Although this article does focus on your position (as well as the petition for your module to be taught, and the eventual fate of that module), we have endeavoured to cover the wider issues of this debate both on this website and in the magazine. We have looked at the PCES and its campaign to change the curriculum (http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/news/manchester-economics-students-withhold-nss-cooperation-over-curriculum-demands/2012235.article), its report on the issue (http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/news/manchester-students-take-on-economics-curriculum-in-report/2012879.article) and published reader comments (http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/comment/letters/taking-the-crash-on-board/2013154.article) on our letters page. We will continue to follow the debate, which I'm sure will develop further. Chris

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